Plans to revive the former Jones Creek Golf Club course could fall into jeopardy unless its former clubhouse, under separate ownership, becomes part of the development deal.
The course in Evans' Jones Creek subdivision closed in September 2018. In 2019 the course's clubhouse and adjoining parking lot was purchased by homebuilder Mark Herbert's company MBH Holdings, and the building continued to be rented to a catering business while the course itself, still seeking a new owner, fell into disuse and later foreclosure. The course failed to sell at public auction in October 2020.
Now Herbert is asking Columbia County to change the zoning designation of his property so it can be used only as "event, hospitality and meeting space; restaurant space; and catering space and kitchen." Under the request, the building could not legally be permitted to operate as a golf clubhouse.
But golf event services company Bond Golf Global has told the Jones Creek HOA about its interest in helping rebuild the 48-year-old course into a "full-scale training facility" to open by September, partnering with veteran golf pro Darren May of golf development company Black Cat Athlete. The plan is to "have Jones Creek in full functionality by the end of 2024" with a reopened golf course, Bond Golf founder Andrew Brooks wrote in a letter to the HOA.
That course, Brooks said, will need a clubhouse.
The clubhouse "is the nucleus of the golf course, providing a natural center and meeting place for golfers and the community, with its parking and storage areas designed for the golf course," he noted. "It would be very important for the clubhouse to be part of the development plans. If the clubhouse separates and gets rezoning away from the facility, it makes the sale of the golf course and existing plans for the academy very difficult to navigate, thus reducing the potential of a future for Jones Creek golf course."
Harry Revell, attorney for current course owner Julian Saul, agreed. Many legitimate buyers and "a lot of bottom-feeders" have expressed interest in buying the property over the years but all negotiations had stalled. Bond Global had emerged as a new bright spot, and Saul has been supportive of the company's work so far in trying to refurbish the Jones Creek golf facilities.
"We were very optimistic we would have a deal but the clubhouse killed it, because without exception everybody who expressed interest in buying the property must have the clubhouse," Revell said Sunday. "It just will not go without the clubhouse."
The clubhouse at Jones Creek Golf Club in Augusta, Ga., will not be part of the auction. (Augusta Chronicle file photo)
What are the complications?
Dozens of members of the Jones Creek Homeowners Association filled chambers Sunday afternoon at the Evans Government Complex to learn more about Herbert's rezoning request and its possible impact on the golf course's future.
County Manager Scott Johnson, whom the HOA invited to its meeting, told residents it was "almost incumbent" on Herbert as the new property owner to seek rezoning of the property so he can use it how he likes.
Other ownership factors complicate the property. While the golf course has one owner, Saul, and the clubhouse has another owner, Herbert, Jones Creeks' swimming pool and tennis courts are owned by the HOA. The only access to those amenities is through vaguely defined easements through the private clubhouse property.
"To the best of my knowledge that easement is not defined. That's a problem, and I'm telling you all this upfront because I feel like that's a problem for you guys," Johnson said. "If you really wanted to get down to brass tacks, if MBH Holding said, 'You cannot trespass on my property to get to the pool or the tennis courts' and he put up gates, I don't know there's a whole lot you could do. You have an easement but it's not a defined easement. What we really need is a defined easement."
Tripp Nanney, president of the Jones Creek HOA, said 79% of respondents disapproved of the clubhouse's proposed rezoning, according to a poll he sent recently to residents. He said he will present those results to members of the Columbia County Planning Commission, who will vote to approve or deny Herbert's rezoning request Feb. 2, and members of the full Board of Commissioners, who are expected to render final approval or denial on the request Feb. 21.
"I'd like to think our collective voice would make a big difference on that," Nanney said. "We'll see."
Revels said that in his professional dealings with the county, "I'm convinced that commissioners, all of them, want to see a golf course back at Jones Creek." However, adding his opinion outside of his professional capacity, "if another person buys this property, is successful in getting it rezoned and puts something in there that's commercially viable, whatever that might be, you will never have a golf course here - ever."
Looking ahead: 2023 men's major championship venues include Augusta, Royal Liverpool
Story originally appeared on GolfWeek
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