Over its 92 years in business, any number of preconceptions and stereotypes have built up about Columbia Country Club: It’s just “the old club.” The golf course is too short. The club is too stuffy. But now, eight years before its centennial, the club has renewed itself across the board starting at its core: the golf course. A redesign by award-winning course architects at Fry/Straka is rejuvenating the course, so much so that it’s been nominated for the best new remodel in the country in Golf Digest magazine’s biennial course survey.
The course’s full 6,527-yard, par-71 course opened this August. To complete the renovations, 10 of the course’s 18 holes were rerouted and fully rebuilt. According to course design firm Fry/Straka, the holes are wider and more playable for less experienced players but still feature challenging green shots for more skilled players. Drought- and disease-resistant grass features throughout keep the course playing well even during times of extreme weather. “I get goose bumps just talking about it,” Joe Herzog, course superintendent, says.
The course remodel has faced some difficulties because recent developments have it made impossible to expand the club’s small property. However, the designers at Fry/Straka planned around these difficulties by integrating the new course with the area’s natural features, such as Hinkson Creek; the designers integrated features such as the creek and its tributaries into the new course.
The club was driven to upgrade the course because of the planned extension of Conley Road to East Boulevard. When the extension was first being considered in 2005, the club’s golf course occupied land necessary for the proposed route. By undergoing this redesign, Columbia Country Club has made way for the extension while improving its facilities.
‘A dynamic product’
The club’s golf course is not the only change drawing attention. The club has improved and expanded its amenities, including new putting greens, a double-sided driving range for private lessons and a 90-yard short range. Dining areas have also been improved with a new greenside patio, deck and covered veranda. “Employees and members have been commenting a lot about how we’re always doing something new.” Herzog says.
Brett Bieske, the club’s general manager, says the renovations will provide members with more options for dining than the traditional “rules, rules, rules” country club experience. “It’s more social and more relaxed,” he says. “We’re known as the ‘original Joes’ kind of club. Anyone can come here and enjoy it.”
Along with the collegial atmosphere, Bieske cites the club’s amenities, high-quality service and flexible payment plans as its main draws. Club members pay only a monthly fee and are not subject to the required monthly spending minimums common at other clubs. And members have access not only to the newly renovated golf course but also the club’s swimming pool, tennis courts at Stephens College and a masseuse, among other amenities. Agreements with Tanglewood Golf Course in Fulton and Hail Ridge Golf Course in Booneville allow members to use those courses for free. Ultimately, Bieske sees the recent improvements as bringing the facilities up to the standard that’s been set by the club’s dedicated service.
“The staff here is trained and bred in the philosophy that everyone is alike and that you’re always going to be warm and welcoming.” Bieske says. “The product now matches what our philosophy has always been.”
1915: A group of Columbia residents come together and begin to plan the city’s first county club.
1921: Six years after its conception, the club opens with a nine-hole golf course designed by J.M. Watson.
1940s: The club plays host to legendary PGA professionals Ben Hogan and Sam Snead for exhibition matches on its course.
1987: Sixty-six years after opening with a nine-hole course, the back nine is added. The new holes, designed by Larry Packard, extend the course to an 18-hole, par-71, ranging 6,436 yards.
1989: The Columbia Daily Tribune ranks six of Columbia Country Club’s holes among the best 18 golf holes in the area.
2011: Columbia Country Club partners with Stephens College to act as the home course for the college’s recently revived women’s golf program.
2012: Work begins on a total remodel of the club’s golf course, designed by award-winning course architects at Fry/Straka.
August 2013: After more than a year of construction, work on the renovation finishes, and the club celebrates the course’s grand reopening.