More than one person questioned Alex Johnston’s sanity when he interviewed for a job at Salem Glen Golf & Country Club.
Sure, the facility still boasted the only Nicklaus-designed golf course in the area. There was, however, that little matter of Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, which Salem Glen remained under when Johnston went job hunting last March.
“I rolled the dice and I got lucky,” Johnston admitted with a smile. “It was very rocky. I got to see the tail end of it, and probably the worst of it. It had gone downhill, members were leaving, and there was not a lot of daily-fee play.
“It was discouraging because there’s so much potential here,” Johnston added. “I think we have something special here, and word was getting around that we were going downhill.”
Fast forward a year, and it’s time to start spreading a new message: Salem Glen is back.
A year after Johnston took his gamble, things no longer look dicey for the course that opened in 1997, earned a “Best Places to Play” award from Golf Digest in 2007, and spent 18 months in bankruptcy protection before emerging last June.
Johnston can be counted among the few employees at the club to have seen it through the valley to this current peak. Course superintendent David Love has been a fixture, but new general manager Chris Minkel recently arrived from Bermuda Run, as did head golf pro Daniel Byrd.
Any questions the newcomers may have had about tackling such a project quickly got put to rest.
“We’re kind of rising from the dead,” Minkel said. “It’s always exciting to be a part of bringing something back to the high level it once was. That’s the exciting part, to see the changes before your eyes and have that satisfaction.”
There are plenty of changes, and even more satisfaction, to go around these days. Those heading up operations at the course following its emergence from bankruptcy opened their wallets for “everything we needed,” Minkel said: chemicals, fungicides, clearing and other beautification projects needed over the winter.
“We finally have the money to spend to get the club and the golf course into great condition,” Minkel said. “The mortgage company spent quite a bit of money ensuring that this spring golf season is going to be a good one.”
Added Johnston: “They came in and saw what Salem Glen could be. They’ve been very good communicating with the membership, getting feedback. They’re taking more of an ‘actions are stronger than words approach.”
People certainly noticed. From its depths last spring, membership has nearly tripled. Much of that came thanks to word of mouth from current members pleased with Salem Glen’s direction.
“We could tell they were finally happy when people started referring others here,” Johnston said. “They could take pride in their club again, and that was a good sign.”
Now, the push is on to let others in the community know of the rebirth at Salem Glen. The course, once a mainstay on the regional tournament circuit, has picked up a U.S. Amateur qualifier in July, recently hosted a Peggy Kirk Bell junior girls tour major, and is working hard to schedule area fund-raising and charity events.
Salem Glen also has become a host site for First Tee of the Triad, which focuses on teaching life lessons to youths through the game of golf, and joined forces with Robert Linville’s Precision Golf School, serving as a practice site for the popular teaching tool.
“We want the community to know to come out and play,” Johnston said. “We want to get people talking about Salem Glen again – the new Salem Glen.”
What people loved about the old Salem Glen remains intact. It’s still got the two-courses-in-one feel, with the front nine a links-style layout over flat, scenic ground by the Yadkin River and the back nine a mountain-style layout with tree-lined fairways and dramatic elevation changes.
It’s what Johnston, a 2000 graduate of West Forsyth High School, remembers playing in his youth. It’s why he so eagerly jumped at the chance to help get Salem Glen back on its feet.
“We have the product, we have the course here,” Johnston said. “We’ve been taking care of the things that had been neglected. The course and layout speaks for itself when it’s in the proper condition.”