By Steve Huffman
The Challenge Golf Club in Graham will be closing at the end of May for a major refurbishing.
When the course reopens in August, it’ll have everything from new greens and sand traps to a new logo and entrance.
Long-time patrons may have a hard time recognizing the place.
“When we reopen, I want people to come out and go, ‘Wow!’” said Todd Smith, the course’s director of golf.
Smith said the refurbishing will include replacing the bentgrass greens with Champion Bermudagrass. The bunkers will be reworked with new sand and improved drainage. A few of those traps might be removed while others are added. The tees will be leveled and given new life.
The new course will be plush, with any bare spots in the fairways or rough a thing of the past. Additional yardage markers will be everywhere.
“It’s going to be like a whole new golf course,” Smith said. “We’re really committed to this effort.”
The Challenge opened in 1997 and has over the years gone through a number of owners. Smith has been the director of golf for only two months. Most area golfers will best remember him for the five years he spent as director of golf at Stoney Creek Golf Club in Whitsett.
Smith said that before taking the job at The Challenge, he and Ritchie Belton, the course’s owner, discussed the improvements they wanted to make. Belton has owned the course about two years. He also owns Mebane’s Quaker Creek Golf Course.
“Everybody loves the layout,” Smith said of The Challenge, “but there have been issues with just about everything else. The course just needs a complete overhaul.”
He said the improvements he and Belton agreed upon start at the pro shop and include addressing the friendliness of the staff. Smith said Belton readily acknowledged that improvements were needed.
“Ritchie is committed to turning it around,” Smith said. “The timing is right.”
He said that while the course has always been admired for its layout, “Some mistakes were made by previous owners.” Smith said he and Belton are determined to correct those errors.
The group hired to do the conversion of the greens is Champion Turf Farms of Bay City, Texas. According to the company’s website, they’ve been in business more than 50 years, and their specialty is converting greens. The company’s employees have replanted greens at more than 700 courses across the United States, including Pinehurst No. 2 in 2014.
Belton said everyone involved in the reworking of The Challenge is excited. He said he’s heard from residents whose properties border the course who’ve told him they’re happy with what he’s planning, that they’re glad someone has bought the course who is committed to returning it to its former level.
Since buying the course, Belton has already reworked the aprons around the greens and taken other steps toward making things better.
“When it first opened, it was a 4-star course,” Belton said. “We’re trying to get it back as close as we can to that level. We’re going to make it a very competitive layout, as good as any in the area.”
He said part of his decision to close the course for much of the summer while the tract is reworked resulted from his hiring of Smith, who he said is recognized as one of the top directors of golf in the state.
“He has created a lot of real positive buzz about the course,” Belton said. “We just decided that if we were going to do everything we wanted done, we didn’t have any choice but to close the place. We looked at a handful of other options, but they weren’t feasible. We decided to go ahead and make the big investment and do it right.”
Belton said the end results will be worth the effort.
“We’re excited about our grand reopening,” he said. “The course will be in tiptop shape. It’s going to be a pleasure to play.”