By MICHAEL GRAFF
Way out west, past where most golfers from Winston-Salem and the Triad draw the line, past dozens of other golf courses on Interstate 40, pushing into the hills and fields of Davie County, on a big and sweeping golf course, in the middle of the fifth hole, there is a silo.
It’s white and tall and made of concrete. It’s about 200 yards from the tee box. It’s just on the right edge of the rough. And it sounds hard when a golf ball hits it.
Thankfully, the rest of the Pudding Ridge Golf Course is pretty wide open.
The silo on the fifth hole may be a singular and most memorable manmade landmark at Pudding Ridge, but there’s plenty of natural beauty to go around. Pudding Ridge, opened in 1994, sits on 189 acres of old dairy farmland near Mocksville, and in its 6,800-yard layout from the back tees the distant course gives golfers plenty of chances to look out into the distance.
That fifth hole, for one, is a 550-yard par-5, straightaway from tee to green without much to get in the way, except for a big bunker at the green and, of course, that silo.
“I hit it just the other day,” says Pudding Ridge general manager and head pro Dan Ward, who’s played the course hundreds of times since joining the staff in 1997. “I hit it halfway up and bounced right back. It looked like I’d hit a 150-yard drive.”
That’s the way it’s gone at Pudding Ridge, for the most part. There are challenges – distance from the city being the main one – and occasionally a shot will bounce back, but still, this pretty and gutsy course way out west has carved out its place in Triad golf.
Years ago, when Ward Groce looked out over the land where he owned a dairy farm, he told his son Earl, “God intended for that land to be a golf course.”
Earl helped make that happen. It was 1994 when Earl, his brother Gary and sister Diana Duich joined with Lewis Walker, who owned a neighboring section of farmland and turned the land into Pudding Ridge Golf Course.
“It’s just so picturesque,” Earl Groce says. “There’s a lot of nature out here. You can be playing golf with rabbits and blue heron.”
Before Ward Groce had his vision for the land, another man who passed through here long ago named it.
General Charles Cornwallis gave the Pudding Ridge area its name when he marched his troops through the region during the Revolutionary War. The rumor and legend is that when Cornwallis saw the soil, he thought it looked like pudding; and when he saw the ridge (which is still here); he knew it was a ridge – so he nudged the two words together and left town.
They call that soil – clayish in texture but not all that red – Buck Tyler soil around these parts. And in that soil, people farmed for years. But just below the ridge, much of the land was in a flood plain. So when Earl Groce and the group decided to join to start a golf course, it made sense. They built a few houses on the land, but much of it didn’t pass percolation tests, so there are only 37 lots on the golf course, meaning there are only a few houses to block those views. And, of course, that silo.
The Groce brothers, Duich and Walker turned the course completely over to golf in October 1994. Business was “gangbusters” for the first few years, Earl Groce says. But then several more golf courses started going up in the area in between Pudding Ridge and Winston-Salem, and even these can-do owners began to feel a little overwhelmed by the complexities of running a golf course.
So they hired a management company. That company was in place one year, and it brought plenty of unfulfilled promises, before the owners realized they needed to take it back over.
What did they learn from having a professional management company from a completely different area of the country show them how to run a golf course?
“We got the knowledge that we knew more than we thought we did,” Earl Groce says.
But there were some good things that came from having the management company. That company was the one that hired Dan Ward.
Ward, born and raised in Davie County, was just a few years out of Appalachian State when he joined Pudding Ridge’s staff in 1997. He’d sold insurance and knew he wanted something else. He’s been at the course ever since.
While he was an employee of the management company in 1997, he watched the course become tight and the greens become firm and the customers become fewer. The average golfer doesn’t want to drive 30 miles out of town to play a course that’ll beat him up, Ward thought. But he didn’t say anything, until the management company was sent packing. Within a few weeks, Pudding Ridge’s fairways became wider, the rough became shorter, and the greens went from 12 on the Stimpmeter to about 9, and the course was advertising itself as a friendly course again.
People started coming back.
Pudding Ridge remains one of the top values in the area, with the most expensive round being $35 on weekends before 11 a.m. Just about every other hour of the week, it costs $25.
And for that, the setting is tough to beat. The only hangup, Ward says, is on the 11th hole, where the water gets in the way of most average golfers’ second shot. A lake runs through the course and is in play on four holes, but for the most part, the water stays out of the way.
There’s a lot to love about Pudding Ridge, Ward says. Even that silo that’s out here, way out west, way out in the country, way out of the way of the rest of the world – yet somehow still in the way of a golf shot from time to time.
“We get about 70 percent of our business from Forsyth County,” Ward says. “They’re driving by at least three golf courses to get to us. So we keep the course in really good shape, we make it playable, and we keep our rates reasonable.