A clipping from an ancient Triad Golf Today magazine hangs in a frame in Mark Charles’ office at Olde Homeplace Golf Club.
The story about nearby Maple Leaf Golf Club features an old photograph of a kid in the trenches – literally – during the construction phase of the course.
“I was 12 years old and my dad was doing the front nine at Maple Leaf,” Charles recalled. “I put in all the irrigation pipes.”
Now 46, Charles still feels at home on the golf course. When Don Charles had a chance to build another course right down the road from Maple Leaf, he jumped at the chance. Olde Homeplace opened June 3, 1993, and Mark Charles has been running the popular course since Day One.
“I’ve had different roles,” the general manager said. “I was cart boy yesterday. Thirty years and I’m a cart boy again!”
Mark Charles was destined for a life in the golf industry. His father, Don, built about 65 courses around the Southeast, and Mark helped with about 15 of them. After Olde Homeplace was constructed, Don completed two courses in Kentucky, Greensboro National and Bermuda Run West in the Triad area, and then retired.
He still calls Olde Homeplace home, though.
“He’s out here almost every day. He drinks coffee and harasses the customers – and me,” Mark said with a laugh. “I don’t think I could work at another golf course for somebody. At most golf courses, people don’t stay very long. It’s a stressful business, but I enjoy it immensely.”
There’s plenty to like about Olde Homeplace. The silo and barn still loom over the 150 acres of what used to be a dairy farm. The second tee backs up to what is now the maintenance barn, while the ninth doglegs around the silo.
Granted, a lot of golfers don’t quite make the turn: “It gets hammered,” Charles said. “It’s a fun layout.”
The course has remained largely unchanged for 21 years. Two new holes were built in 2000 and No. 17 got a new senior tee and had some bunker work done more recently. The greens have been in great shape for years, helping Charles stay away from the “switch or don’t switch” debate that has plagued so many North Carolina courses in the last decade. They’re still bentgrass, helping Olde Homeplace keep up its steady winter play without excess maintenance concerns.
The course is easily accessible from Interstate 40, Highway 311 and Highway 109 in the outskirts of Wallburg, where the Davidson and Forsyth county lines meet. The price of a round of golf went up for the first time in six years in 2014 – by a dollar, and only on credit card transactions. But Olde Homeplace has more going for it than its location and price.
“I’m so old-timey we still use a paper tee sheet,” Charles said, picking one up that shows row after row of hand-written names. “Not that I’m opposed to change, but what we do here has worked pretty good through the years. We sell golf here.”
Once upon a time, they sold food. But the full-service grill got in the way of selling golf, and so Olde Homeplace went back to the typical golf course snack bar. The clubhouse has a few clothing items and gear for sale, but not a lot. The seating areas in the clubhouse provide a good place to grab a cup of coffee while waiting for the foursome to arrive; they’re not expansive or expensive.
“We try to give people a good golf course at a good price and treat them nice,” Charles said.
In 2000, the course added a full-length driving range and a chipping green with the course’s regular bentgrass alongside two bunkers. That’s in addition to the practice green that previously had been in place on the other side of the clubhouse.
A bucket of balls will cost a golfer a few dollars just like any other driving range, but the chipping green is free.
“Most people like the course condition, but they also really like our practice facility,” Charles said. “We have a lot of people come out here in the afternoon to chip and putt.”
Charles wouldn’t mind a little free time to work on his game. Before becoming general manager, he served stints as the course superintendent and club pro, but his cousin – Toby Tilley – now takes care of the grounds, and Charles admitted that his own days as golf pro are over.
“If you want a sure-fire way of not playing golf, work at a golf course,” Charles said with a laugh. “When I’m out here, I always feel guilty that there’s something I should be doing. I try to play with my kids because they enjoy it. I need to play more with them.”
It should come as no surprise that Charles’ children are active in the game and getting that way in the family business. Isaac, 16, works in that timeless role of cart boy that Dad once held. Elizabeth is 14 and likely will pick up some hours in the snack bar in the coming years. Ethan, just 9, already is clamoring to work at the course, still blissfully unaware that “work” and “fun” don’t always coexist.
Who knows? One day, Mark Charles might be the old-timer in the clubhouse, sharing coffee with the next generation of senior golfers while giving his kids grief about Olde Homeplace on its 50 anniversary of being a Triad landmark for a great golfing experience.
“We’ve been blessed here,” Charles said. “We’ve got a lot of golfers, the course is always in good shape; the same main guys have been working with me for years. All I know is God’s just been good to us.”