Swinging forward: Occoneechee Golf Club still going strong after 50 years
There is tranquility here at Occoneechee Golf Club.
The pine trees rise and the gentle slopes slope and the sounds of spring are loud and crisp. There are cardinals and robins and wrens and crows – and there are birdies, too. For those who walk the historic paths that course from the club house to the first tee box and eventually to the final tap-in, 18 holes later, it is the quest for birdies that are in high demand.
Occoneechee Golf Course is the last remaining golf course north of Chapel Hill, in Orange County. The course began in the fall of 1963, and 50 years later, even though some of the holes have changed, management remains with a member of the Ray family. Where his grandfather Marvin began the course and his father, Jim, managed the course, Scott Ray holds the reins of the course, guiding into the next 50 years, or as long as golfers seek to complete a round in search of birdies.
“Not much has changed since it opened, except we are smarter with how we manage the course and we’ve had to lengthen some holes as golf equipment is better than it was then,” says Ray.
Certainly, Ray is a humble manager. After a major renovation last year of the course’s greens, the Occoneechee Golf Course is poised to move into the next round as better stewards of the land. “Last year we planted a new type of Bermuda on the greens that requires less water and is more drought resistant. It was the first time since the course opened that we shut down, completely,” says Ray.
Though the grounds at Occoneechee have improved, it is doubtful that a PGA tour event will be scheduled in the near future, which is just fine with Ray. “We under-sell and over-serve here at Occoneechee,” says Ray.
The concept behind the historic and continued success of Occoneechee is that the course is a course that anybody can play. “Even though we still have members, we are open to the public and we are reaching out to the public to offer exposure to golf that has never occurred here before,” says Ray.
Golfers, as a rule, must learn the game and learn the game by playing the game, and Occoneechee is investing time and resources into the concept of introducing golf by introducing families to golf. Currently, the golf pro staff at Occoneechee is offering a Parent-Child curriculum, where both parent and child receive fundamental instruction and play the course during special hours. “Our Parent-Child concept his held on Mondays at 5:30 (p.m.) and the classes will run through June. Our professional teaches golf to a parent and their child, and during the week we open the course to them where they go out and play from specific locations on the course and with an abbreviated score card that is designed for kids,” says Ray.
The current sessions are filled, however if interests exist, another session may be offered in the near future.
Ray says that any success at Occoneechee is only as good as those who work with him. He cites employees that have been with the course for years. Ray doesn’t just manage, he works the mowers and weed trimmers and his hands are as dirty as those who work alongside him. Workers arrive at the course at 6:30 a.m., every day, and they maintain and mow the course, keeping the greens at .110 of an inch along with the other necessary chores a course requires.
Yet, through all of this work, Ray sees his role and life here at Occoneechee as something more than managing a course. “When we were closed, there were times that me and dad would be out on the course alone, mowing. I remember seeing him and thinking how special it is that even though we are on different machines, we were together,” says Ray.
Having attended N.C. State and then Appalachian State and obtaining his MBA from Elon University recently, Ray knows that all of the education and experiences he has acquired are only as useful as his role in keeping customers happy. “If they play here and are not happy, then I want to know about it so I can fix it,” says Ray.
Moving the course forward has been and remains a labor of love for Ray. This grandson of a course constructor is proud that management of the course is based on experience and that he sees his role as a steward of the land both here and what happens into the future. Ray remains passionate about spreading the word of Occoneechee and believes the quality experience found within these 18 holes is a great value for any golfer, young or old, experienced or just beginning.
Recently, Ray moved the course into the Twitter-nation, updating all of the followers of Occoneechee how the course is on a given day and any important updates that may affect play. “We are up to 11 followers and I am not sure if they are all even in this country,” says Ray. “Still, we are trying to provide something here for everyone and we are trying to move golf into a more inclusive pastime and sport, and that is something that is really important for Occoneechee now and Occoneechee in the future,” Ray says. Interestingly enough, even though Ray manages and lives on the course, he admits that he played for the first time in many years, following the re-opening last year. “Like I said, the course is inclusive. Anyone, even as bad as I play, is welcome here,” says Ray.
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For more information on Occoneechee Golf Club, visit www.occoneechee.com or www.facebook.com/OcconeecheeGolfClub. The course, located at 1500 Lawrence Road in Hillsborough, is open to the public. Contact them at 919-732-3435 or on Twitter @OcconeecheeGolf. Hours are Monday: 8 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.; Tuesday-Friday: 7:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.; and Saturday-Sunday: 7 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.