E.A. Sports Today

‘There’s no place like The Hill’

Longtime Anniston Municipal members (above L-R) Pat O'Brien and Tom Sawyer talk about old times before The Hill's 80th anniversary tournament. (Below L-R) Roger Jackson and Keith Robertson cut the birthday cake.

Longtime Anniston Municipal members (above L-R) Pat O’Brien and Tom Sawyer talk about old times before The Hill’s 80th anniversary tournament. (Below L-R) Roger Jackson and Keith Robertson cut the birthday cake.

hill pix 005Loyal players celebrate muni’s 80th birthday

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

The morning air was heavy and the sky was dark and threatening, seemingly ready to burst at the seams like it often does atop the city’s highest golf course during a mid-afternoon in summer. It was the kind of day that would keep most players home and far away from the golf course.

But there were 40 hearty souls milling around the clubhouse Saturday ready to celebrate the course where many learned the game and always came home to play.

Anniston Municipal Golf Course – The Hill – turned 80 Saturday, or at least that was the day the membership designated for the party. The format was a four-man scramble, but the event was more about the fellowship – as it usually is on this beloved nine-holer — than the flip wedges into most of the greens.

“To me it’s a landmark for the City of Anniston,” said Jerre Dingler, who has been playing here for nearly 45 years. “It’s beautiful place to just get away from your work. Get up here and if you don’t play good golf it’s still a great place to relax. It just feels like home up here, just a good place to go.”

No one Saturday knew the exact date Anniston Municipal opened its fairways in 1934, the fruits of a government works project, but for the longest time it was one of only three courses in town – and the only one open to the public.

You had to be a member at the private Anniston Country Club and you had to be military to play at Cane Creek Golf Course on Fort McClellan. But The Hill was always there for the public, and generations of golfers took advantage of it.

Guys like Pat O’Brien and countless others learned the game there, finally relenting to their buddies’ continual coaxing. Neighborhood kids like Tubby Bass, if they could find a break in the groups, would sneak in through the woods to play a couple holes. Money games on The Hill back in the day were legendary.

In recent years, however, the course has fallen under the threat of closure, cited by critics as a financial burden on a city challenged to save money or move it to other services. But the property on Johnston Drive was deeded by the Anniston Land Co. to the City for the purpose of a golf course and if that ever ceases, the rolling hills go back to the land company.

“I don’t know where I’d go,” said Tom Sawyer, whose experiences at The Hill are going on 50 years. “I hope we don’t ever have to see that — not in my lifetime.”

Maybe not. The city council recently threw its support toward the course, even leasing five new golf carts for the fleet. It is also exploring some unique golf-related uses for the facility to increase revenue. There has been talk of linking it to the First Tee and recently there has been discussions about bringing Foot Golf to the course that is gaining some traction.

“There’s a different attitude on the council than there has been in the past about this course, and I don’t see it going anywhere at this point,” said city councilman Jay Jenkins, whose ward includes the course. “I think people understand its value to the community.

“It’s not the best course in the city and it runs at a little bit of a deficit but it’s not a significant deficit every year. I’m of the opinion that recreation and quality of life issues are always going to run at a deficit — but you get it back in other ways.”

And its members have done a lot in recent years to keep the momentum going. Its newly formed men’s golf association regularly volunteers for maintenance work. ln the last nine months they’ve raised more than $2,000 for improvements.

“I think the city ought to be pleased with us now,” Bass said.

It’s hasn’t gone unnoticed.

“The community that supports this course does more than just speak about it, they walk the walk; you don’t see that a lot of places,” Jenkins said. “Everybody else wants to go pay their money and play.”

That’s because to many of them it’s home. Many of the golfers on hand Saturday play other courses, ones that are better conditioned and more challenging, but there’s always something that keeps them coming back.

“It’s not Augusta National,” O’Brien said, “but I’ve brought guys up here who don’t live in Anniston, they play here one day and they just say how special it is, just for the people. It’s a good place to have fun.”

Al Muskewitz is Content Editor/Senior Writer of East Alabama Sports Today. He can be reached at musky@wrightmediacorp.com and followed on Twitter at @easportstoday1.

Here are the results

The Hill’s 80th Anniversary Scramble

Championship A

Jackson Bonner, Steve Rogers, Tim Mullendore, Steve Mullendore — 57
Trey Sawyer, Tom Sawyer, Pat Blankenship, Mickey Travis — 59
Ron Wheeler, Dick Brittian, Andrew Tyson, Richard Banks — 60
Keith Riley, Steve McClellan, Steve Hughes, Woody Adcock — 60
Adrian Geeting, Al Tatton, Steve Shockley, Phil Stout — 60

Championship B

Lynn Oswalt, Danny Whittaker, Paul Wade, Henry Higginbotham — 62
Jake Goggans, Mike Shook, Clay Bass, Tubby Bass — 62
Grant Jackson, Brian Johnson, Jay Jenkins, Matthew Wright — 64
Mike Zinn, Pat O’Brien, David Ray, Norman Thomas — 65
Byron Preston, Gary Thomas, Ryan Williams, Jerre Dingler — 66

Closest-to-the-pin: Jake Goggans (2), Trey Sawyer (4), Grant Jackson (7)

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