By Brad King
Brett Miller has worn many hats in the Carolinas golf industry. He’s a lifetime member of the PGA of America and former longtime president of the Great Smokies Mountain Golf Association, the area’s regional co-op of golf course owners promoting golf tourism.
Miller also played collegiately at Western Carolina University, where he was team captain and a three-time All Southern Conference selection, and is a member of the university’s Athletic Hall of Fame.
Today, his company, MMA Golf, which Miller founded in 1996, focuses on buyer and seller brokerage, and consultation in the southeast region, where Miller works with a wide variety of clubs and owners.
Miller says he has worked for just a few women in ownership positions at golf facilities during his three decade-plus golf course consulting and brokerage career — and all were involved through male family members or inheritances.
So, when Reems Creek Golf Club in the heart of Weaverville, N.C. — 10 minutes north of downtown Asheville and picturesquely carved into the valley of the Blue Ridge mountain range — came up for sale last year through a bankruptcy, Miller assumed the deal would eventually be settled by either a closure, or a typical purchase by a local businessman or golf course industry professional.
But then, developers began discussing the idea of purchasing the golf course, closing it and instead developing more product for the area’s red-hot residential market.
That was when a pair of determined women, Summer Greene and Pam Faerber, stepped forward and grabbed the reins.
Greene and Faerber had recently retired and followed their dream of moving to a golf course community, between holes No. 13 and 14 at Reems Creek. Theirs was one of about 200 homes in the community nestled on 130 pristine acres.
Reems Creek Golf Club was designed by Hawtree & Sons, a British firm that sculpted a layout reminiscent of the look and feel of the Scottish Highlands, including wall-to-wall bentgrass, in a relaxed and secluded setting that captures the area’s splendor and rustic beauty. The strategic holes offer plenty of elevation change, doglegs, blind shots and beautiful views, along with beautifully manicured greens and breathtaking views.
Reems Creek tests your course management, along with your physical fitness with its sloping fairways and elevated greens.
Yet during the past few years, the golf course — which is semi-private and has averaged 23,000 rounds, based on a season that runs from April to early November — had lost its luster. Most of the bunkers had become unplayable and not maintained. After heavy rains, many low points on the course were becoming water logged. The owner, Warrior Custom Golf, which had a golf equipment business and owned approximately 15 golf courses around the country, filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy in early 2019.
Enter Greene and Faerber. “If the course had been sold to a developer, it would have been devastating to the community and local golfers,” Greene said. “So, this is what our retirement now looks like. We’ve never owned a golf course or run a golf course, so we’re approaching this from new perspective.”
Greene and Faerber closed the deal on the last day of 2019 and jumped feet first into renovations of the golf course, as well as the clubhouse. They are in the process of turning 35 sand traps into grass bunkers, with fescue grass, pompous grass or wildflowers, and have recently finished a major storm water, drainage and sinkhole project. They ground down all the tree roots on the cart paths, and a new fleet of golf carts with GPS is nearing arrival.
“It’s a new day at Reems Creek,” Greene said.
In addition, the new owners have just gutted the 4,000-square-foot clubhouse and are planning to triple the size of the bar, renovate the kitchen, reduce the footprint of the pro shop from 1,500 square feet to 800, and change the formal restaurant seating to more living room or family kitchen style. They are also busy constructing a 6-foot, linear, two-sided fireplace as a signature piece, and adding a fire pit and casual seating, so members and guests can enjoy the amazing sunset views.
Greene said their goals are to focus on “pub grub” type food and alcohol sales. They are also adding craft draft beer to the bar menu. “The previous owner just did cans and bottles,” she said. “We will have very limited menu but have theme dinners monthly – making it a place for people to hang out after golf or early dinner and enjoy comfortable relaxing atmosphere.” Greene said they are only stocking basic goods such as tees, divot tools, balls, hats gloves, towels and some polo shirts in the pro shop.
A grand re-opening at Reems Creek is planned in March.
“This is quite inspirational to all for the game of golf,” said Miller, who worked with Greene and Faerber in their acquisition of Reems Creek. “They were very thorough in their investigation of the property and the ramifications if it was repurposed in a negative way. They took the lead, as their passion for the community is unsurpassed.”
Greene and Faerber also recently hired Diane McHeffey as the club’s new director of golf and teaching pro. Recognized as the LPGA Teaching and Club Professional National Teacher of the Year, McHeffey was founder of the WNC Junior Golf Association, has co-authored golf lessons and tips with Dottie Pepper as well as Meg Mallon, and most recently served as head professional of the Newport Vermont Country Club.
In the past 30 years, McHeffey has played on the LPGA Women’s Future Golf Tour, served as head professional at the Sombrero Country Club in the Florida Keys, and at one point owned her own 26-acre golf and game facility in Hendersonville.
At Reems Creek, she will be teaching privately as well as offering clinics, league play and just plain fun stuff. McHeffey said her plan is to make golf at Reems Creek more inclusive and introduce new people to the sport because, “we believe golf is good for the whole family.”
“The previous reputation of this course was it was not women friendly,” Greene said. “I experienced that first hand when we moved here last year. We wanted to send a message to the women in the area — we have 170 LPGA amateurs in our local chapter — that we were serious about engaging them.”
Greene said Reems Creek started with zero members, yet within the first month had 45 founding members. “They were paid in full based on blind faith and a vision,” she said.
“The winds of change are taking place in golf, with women like Summer and Pam blazing the trail,” Miller said.