E.A. Sports Today

His place now

Etter takes formal ownership of Pine Hill Country Club, a course he has been a part of running for the past 11 years

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

Cory Etter has played on golf courses, run golf courses and owned golf courses. The one thing he has come to discover is the owning, while a lot of work, is a lot of fun.

Etter fulfilled a lifelong dream Friday when he took outright ownership of the Pine Hill Country Club he has been part of running for the past 11 years. He bought the course from Allen Goodson of Nashville, who held the deed to the 18-hole Choccolocco facility for more than 20 years.

“It’s something I’ve wanted to do,” Etter said. “I like the ability to be able to control what takes place on and around the golf course. The difference between running a business and owning a business is then you can make suggestions on what happens, now you can actually control what happens.”

Etter, 36, actually has been running the course as “owner” since the first of September, but was reluctant to speak publicly about his interest until the deal formally closed. He has been working on purchasing the course for about a year and “fortunately everything fell into place.”

The Pennylsvania native tried his hand at ownership earlier this decade when he and Jason Edwards entered a lease-to-own arrangement with Goodson. Etter handled the golf side of the business and Edwards, the former greens superintendent at Cider Ridge, handled the agronomic side.

Etter left the partnership after three years in March 2013, getting out of the golf business altogether. He returned to the course six months later as the operator when the property was returned to Goodson.

“I like the fact I’m doing it by myself this time,” he said. “One lesson (from the previous experience) is don’t bite off more than you can chew to start with. We went in and did a lot of expensive things to start with to try to make it too nice too fast too quick; now, we’ve got a three-year plan that we’ll try to stick with step-by-step.

“I was optimistic when we started last time, but from lessons learned I’m 100 percent optimistic on how this is going to be a successful venture. I’ve lived and learned from the last time what to do and what not to do.”

One of the first things he did in anticipation of a successful transition was hire John Grubbs as the course’s new superintendent. Grubbs most recently was an assistant superintendent at Cider Ridge and has worked at Augusta National.

“I have a lot of trust in this guy,” Etter said. “It’s hard to find many as knowledgeable as he is; he’s worked at one of the best courses in the world. I think he’ll do great.”

The immediate plan calls for cleaning up depressed areas and removing and trimming trees. Among the tree scheduled to go is the aged oak on the right side of No. 11 fairway. The landmark tree in the middle of No. 18 will not be touched, but operators do have ideas to make the area around it more playable.

Additionally there are plans to build a new tee box on 11, which would lengthen the hole some 30 yards and bring both water features into play, and the par-3 14th. As for any work on the greens, “several things” need to be in place before they start any project of that nature.

Away from the course there are plans to spruce up the pool area and lease out the restaurant.

It is Etter’s intention to pay off the $1.2 million purchase price as quickly as possible. In the meantime, he is committed to providing the those golfers who come to the first tee the same level of service they’ve come to expect from him behind the counter.

Accessibility, walkability and ease of play have always made the course popular with the public. The club currently has 180 members, Etter said, including nearly 60 junior members, hailing from as far away as Pell City, Leeds and Georgia. His goal is to increase the rolls to 250 by March at which time rates are expected to increase. Daily fee rates will increase as they improve the course.

The facility has been one of the busiest in the region with nearly 140 tournaments booked this year. If the club hits its membership goals the number of events are likely to decrease in favor of stronger events.

It might even put in a pitch to be considered for the rotation of Sunny King Charity Classic, the largest event on the season’s calendar.

“I don’t think the time’s right yet,” Etter said. “Once we get the greens in better shape and the turf quality better, absolutely. Because we can offer the rounds of golf to be the fastest pace in the series and we saw that the last time we had it.

“On the flip side if I were hosting it I wouldn’t get to play in it and it’s one of my favorite events, but I like the fact of hosting it, showcasing your facility, and I think with just a few changes for the better we’ll be there. We’ll have the quality course we need.”

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