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[corner-ad id=2]Course officials have spent last two months working to get Indian Oaks back into playing shape

Here is a look back down the No. 11 fairway at Indian Oaks. On the cover, the 14th green shows the benefits of the care given it by the course's new owners.

Here is a look back down the No. 11 fairway at Indian Oaks. On the cover, the 14th green shows the benefits of the care given it by the course’s new owners.

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

Through nearly four decades playing on and running golf courses of all manner of design and conditions, Ron McClellan has a pretty good handle on what the golfing public wants.

It’s pretty much a “Field of Dreams” analogy with a golfing component.

“If you build it – with good greens – they will come,” McClellan said.

The greens, of course, are the measure of any golf course and the focus of most of the questions McClellan has fielded since being asked to oversee the golf operation of the revitalized Indian Oaks Golf Club.

The Saks area course opens to the public under new, community-based ownership Saturday morning. Golfers showing up on the front door with high curiosity and low expectations may leave rethinking their strategy.

It’s not Cider Ridge or Silver Lakes – two public-access facilities that weren’t even on the drawing board when Indian Oaks first opened its doors — but it’s not meant to be. What new owner Ronnie Cofield and the investors envision is an affordable golf course the homeowners can be proud of and the local golf community will enjoy playing.

And since taking the keys they’ve been working to get it that way – first to restore the effects of recent years of indifference and neglect, and then working on the playing surfaces that will keep golfers coming back.

“I think people are going to be pleasantly surprised,” McClellan said. “From where it was almost a year ago … there’s no comparison. I tell people that and they look at me (funny), but I’m telling you (it’s better).

“I really and truly think there’s going to be more positive feedback. Based on past experience they going to say ‘it ain’t any better;’ well, it is. I don’t care, yes, it is better.

“It’s not the same old golf course it was. These guys have worked tirelessly to get it in shape. Does it need some more? Yes, it does, but you let Cider Ridge go for six months and don’t do anything to it, see what it looks like. You’ll be selling houses left and right leaving.”

Cofield’s impetus for buying the course from the Mason family that held it the past 18 years was helping restore his fellow residents’ property values. He’s had several turf management experts look at the property, including former U.S. Open champion Jerry Pate, and all had something constructive to say.

“We had one who said everything you’ve got can be saved,” Cofield said. “He said all you need is water, feed, water, feed and more water.”

Dee Loucks, the former superintendent at Cane Creek Golf Course, has been lending hands-on expertise to the operation, which McClellan called “a blessing.”

While some greens still have rough spots and some are better than others, most are receptive to shots and have enough grass to allow the ball to roll true. And there’s grass in the fairway, too much of it in some cases, which is better than not having enough.

“We’re getting there,” Cofield said. “It’s come a long way.”

Even as he spoke, volunteers were spreading fresh mulch through the landscaping around the clubhouse and workers were out cutting fairways. A few hours later, two golfers from Heflin pulled into the parking lot looking to play only to be told they had arrived a few days early.

Course officials would consider 100 players Saturday a successful opening. Memberships and investment opportunities will be available.

All 18 greens will be open to play when the courses open at 7:30 Saturday morning. The owners had considered going with several temporary greens on the more troublesome putting surfaces, but, Cofield said, “we’ve had a change of heart.”

Now, the only temporary green will be on No. 5, but the primary green will remain open to play.

“When you say ‘temporary’ people start looking for other places to play,” Cofield said.

A unique element to the course will be dedicated par-3 teeing grounds on all 18 holes. There are no intentions to turn the front nine into an exclusive par-3 course, but golfers will be able to play it that way if so desired. In time, all of the course’s bunkers will be eliminated.

There are no other plans to disrupt the design of the course, a layout that has developed some of the county’s best players of their generation.

“It is a good test of golf, I don’t care what anybody says,” McClellan said. “I won’t say it’s not a beginners’ golf course, but on a scale of 1 to 10, if you’re not a 7 you might not find it as enjoyable.

“I’m really pretty excited about getting started. We’re chomping at the bit.”

This is the approach shot that awaits players at the par-5 13th at Indian Oaks.

This is the approach shot that awaits players at the par-5 13th at Indian Oaks.

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