Limestone Springs, host of the 2005 State Amateur Championship
By Ian Thompson
Limestone Springs will complete a noteworthy trifecta June 9-12 when this fine golf course hosts the State Amateur Championship, coming on the heels of hosting the inaugural State Matchplay (2001) and the State Fourball (2003).
It must be something about odd-numbered years for this course that opened in Oneonta in 1999. I wonder what’s in the works for 2007?
The subject of the State Amateur was broached by Simon Coulls, Director of Golf and General Manager, and also a Vice President of course owner Honours Golf, with the Alabama Golf Association’s Director of Rules & Competitions Fred Stephens.
“We are delighted to host the State Amateur,” Coulls said. “This is a great venue...one we are only too proud to showcase in this way.”
Coulls indicated the 6900-yard layout would not be tweaked significantly for the amateur (indeed very little has changed with the course since opening day for the simple reason that it hasn’t been necessary).
“We do plan to mow to a lower height around a lot of the greens, creating some roll off and grow the rough in on certain fairways.”
He indicated the rough would be in the two-inch deep range, plenty deep enough to cause trouble (see last year’s rough at Bent Brook as an excellent example). Also, the always speedy greens would measure around 11 on the stimpmeter.
A very solid layout, fast greens, rough deep enough to be problematical, run off around greens...sounds like a recipe for championship golf.
“6900 yards may be short in today’s golf, but I’m not a great believer in adding length for length’s sake. We have plenty of other ways to make this course quite the challenge.”
Coulls credited course superintendent Chad Burke and Mark Langner, now at FarmLinks (a Honours Golf managed-facility) and formerly at Limestone, as integral to the process of having the course ready for the best amateurs in the state. He also noted the valued input of Limestone Springs member John Gibbs.
Coulls knows a thing or two about tournament golf himself, having, in another life, played golf on the European Tour. He once rubbed shoulders with the likes of Seve, Nick, Woosie, Sandy and Bernhard, but that’s a story for another day, another article.
Now let me look back at an article I wrote about scenic Limestone Springs back in 1999 upon its opening.
When golf course designer Jerry Pate told me some years ago now that he was starting work on something special, I took note. Pensacola, Fla. native Pate has made quite a name for himself in local golfing circles, and further afield, as a top designer. The name of the course? Limestone Springs.
It's located a little over 30 minutes north of downtown Birmingham in Blount County. The nearest town is Oneonta and once you near the location, the beauty of the surroundings will overwhelm you. You climb a hill hewn out of limestone to reach the entrance to the facility, while to your left hills and valleys spread before you.
To reach the clubhouse you still face a drive of a couple of miles that winds you through parts of the golf course. You rise in elevation until you reach the clubhouse facilities. It's not until you step onto the first tee however, that the true majesty of Limestone Springs appears before you.
Limestone Springs was the brainchild of Alan Cheney Jr., who's father purchased the property in 1980 from U.S. Steel, primarily for the limestone found in abundance on the site. The family business, Cheney Lime and Cement Co., is located in nearby Allgood. Mr. Cheney Sr. has since passed away, and Alan and his fellow family members have since sold the facility to Honours Golf.
Numerous residences have been built on the property, but the layout of the lots has been carefully planned so as not to encroach upon the course. With 2400 acres, there's certainly enough property to go around.
Scott Pate of Seaside Golf Development Co. built the golf course based upon his brother Jerry's design.
“God built this golf course,” Scott Pate said. “We just tried not to mess it up.”
This quote alludes to the stunning beauty of the natural terrain. The changes in elevation, limestone outcroppings, running water, mountain backdrops and dense woodlands all add to its allure.
There is a lot more to Limestone Springs than just golf. A stunning clubhouse sits atop a bluff, surveying Nos. 1 and 2 below it. A resplendent cedar deck has been built to the rear of one of the two buildings that make up the clubhouse facilities, to provide a view through the trees of action on the second green.
The driving range is more picturesque than most golf courses. Limestone boulders dot the right side of this practice facility, that features an expansive tee from which to hit into the valley below.
One of the highlights of the course is No. 7. Measuring only 148 yards, it is by far the shortest hole on the course, but there is a lot of golf packed into that short yardage. The tee and green are on approximately the same level, but you must traverse a valley filled by a lake that is fed by a waterfall that is fed by water flowing from various lakes found on the hillsides above. The green is built into the hillside and features man-made rock work near the cart path running behind the green. This is as opposed to the plentiful natural limestone outcroppings further up the hillside. Any tee shot slightly miss-hit will roll down a steep incline into the water or may catch one of the two bunkers dug into the hillside.
Adding to the character of the hole is a smokehouse that has been left intact next to the member's tees and a storm shelter built into a hillside on your way to the hole from No. 6 green.
Standing on the tee the hillside behind and adjacent to the green seems to rise almost to the sky with the dense tree line punctuating the clouds.
Indeed every hole is worthy of a paragraph or two, but space constraints do not allow more. However, the beauty about the host for this year’s State Amateur (and last year’s too) is that it is open to the public and thus you, you and you can get your group together and play there.
Previously the State Amateur had been the exclusive domain of private clubs. I applaud the AGA for their foresight in opening their eyes to the many superb semi-private/daily fee courses that merit consideration. Also to Limestone Springs (and Bent Brook) for biting the bullet of lost revenue for the prestige hosting this championship. Long may this recent trend continue.