Big change at Crockett Ridge

By Jeff Birchfield

STAR Staff

   You're unlikely to confuse Chris Waller or the other management of Crockett Ridge Golf Course with Dolly Parton, but they are trying to duplicate one phase of the singer's success.
   Almost 20 years ago, Parton bought an amusement park named Silver Dollar City, retooled it and made Dollywood one of the top attractions in the Southeast. Waller and Freedom Golf Services, the company he works for, has purchased the former Old Island Golf Course between Kingsport and Blountville. They have renamed and improved the course and is looking for the same type of result as Parton experienced with her park.
   "It was private owned," said Waller, the course's general manager and head pro. "They had a one-person maintenance crew and many volunteers working in the office. It was a different situation than what we have.
   "First and foremost on our agenda is the golf course. The irrigation was fine, but we had to sow some rye grass to keep the color in the course all year long. The tees and greens looked fine when we took over, but the biggest hurdles were the fairways."
   The par-72 course, which is a Clark design, has many attributes to lure Carter County golfing enthusiasts over to Blountville. "It's very appealing to all golfers," said Waller. "High handicappers can have a lot of fun, while scratch golfers will find it challenging. There's a lot of elevation with the slopes that add a lot of character to the course."
   For those of you familiar with the course under the previous management, you will notice some changes that have occurred. "Our number 9 hole is number 1 now," explained Waller. "We changed the holes, where before you had to drive to get to the first tee. Now, you finish up at the club house. We can manage the play better.
   "Most of the holes remain unchanged, but we changed the mowing patterns on many of the fairways. We eliminated bald spots on number three. There was nothing drastic. We set up the four sets of tees with good turf quality on most tee boxes. So many people loved the layout. We just wanted to get it in the best shape possible."
   The new ownership has also invested a lot of money on a brand new cart fleet, replacing many older carts that needed serious brake work.
   Waller benefits from having spent most of his PGA life in the state of Florida. He also worked in Pinehurst, North Carolina for three years. The area around Pinehurst is one of the true hotbeds of the sport, with 40 courses in Moore County alone. Waller was in Pinehurst when the town hosted the U.S. Open. How well the event was organized and how smoothly traffic problems were solved made a huge impression on Waller.
   While he doesn't envision anything on that grand scale at Crockett Ridge, he gained a bundle of valuable experience from seeing how the major event was run.
   Rates for playing at this high quality course are affordable with $24 for 18 holes on weekdays, and that price does include the cart. On weekends, the price is $30, but Waller is quick to point out that with coupons placed in area papers, players can play a round for $17 on weekdays and $24 on the weekends.
   "Our motto is, Quality, Affordable Golf," said Waller. "We are going to be competitive priced. We're not going to set on our laurels and we're not going to have too much pride and say this is a $40 or $50 golf course and not have players show up. We feel we are offering the best product for the dollar."
   They also are working on the driving range that will be very affordable for those just looking to improve their swing. Golfers can hit a large bucket of approximately 75 balls for $5 and a small bucket of approximately 40 balls for only $3.
   Don't be confused if trying to find the course, you still see some signs with the Old Island insignia. Waller has talked to the local Department of Transportation and the signs are in the process of being changed. Soon, the golf course will be advertising with billboards on both the North and South bound sides of Interstate 81.
   Knowing how to market the course is where Waller feels the new owners have an advantage over many of their rivals. "Our competition doesn't advertise," said Waller. "I've worked on the marketing side and our executive vice-president is a PGA member and he also knows marketing. We are going to spend the time to track our play and see where our customers come from. There's a lot of detail work involved, but we know our business."
   For those of you interested in setting up a tee time or for more information about the course, you can call the clubhouse at (423) 279-1700.