Back to The Future
Doug Thompson knows something about excellence in golf. He once scored nine birdies in a row during a round at Hyland Hills Golf Club.
But Thompson doesn't play that much competitive golf now. He spends his time perfecting and promoting his new love -- the Country Club of Whispering Pines.
"This is such a great place," Thompson said of Whispering Pines as he showed off the facilities during a North Carolina Golf Panel outing on Monday. "It's not just the two great Ellis Maples golf courses, but the spirit and the hospitality that you find here.
"We want everyone who comes here to feel that and go home and tell their friends about us. That's the kind of atmosphere we're developing here."
Thompson admits that hasn't always been the experience at Whispering Pines. The club was owned by the members until being purchased more than two years ago by Avestra Golf, a management company that also owns Foxfire Resort.
The club fell on hard times, and some things were neglected. That has changed under the direction of Avestra, according to Thompson.
"We're going back to the heritage of Whispering Pines," said Thompson, the director of golf operations. "We're even going back to the original names of the two courses. They're known now as the East and West courses again instead of The Pines and The River."
The new theme is showing through in a variety of ways. There's a new bag drop near the parking area, and guests are welcomed there by attendants who place their clubs on a cart for the drive to the clubhouse. If the visitor is there for some reason other than golf, he's offered a ride to the clubhouse.
"You don't see people parking and lugging their golf bags to the clubhouse anymore," Thompson said. "That's just one of the more visible changes.
"We're bringing back the atmosphere that was here when it was run by Avery Beck," he said, referring to the late Carolinas Hall of Fame professional who operated Whispering Pines for many years. "Avery Beck entertained people. He made this place so popular that people felt good about being here. And that's the way we want it. He was growing a club and so are we. We want to create an atmosphere where it's popular to be a member at Whispering Pines."
Thompson doesn't mean for his remarks to be disparaging to Whispering Pines members. Far from it. He thinks they handled matters about as well as they could, but managing a club of this magnitude was a demanding task and members weren't all that excited about bringing in outside play.
"We have more than 400 members, and they're very important," he said. "With two courses and the great clubhouse we have here, we need 650 members to be comfortable. We want it to be nice, something our members can be proud of and something our guests will enjoy and remember. The way we see it, each guest is a potential member and our ultimate goal is to get them to join.
"We want Whispering Pines to be the best club selection in town."
Thompson thinks the image of the club is changing after years of struggling to survive.
"The opinions people have about the township are changing," he said. "A lot of people want to be a part of the energy that is the new Whispering Pines."
There is no shortage of outstanding amenities at the club. Along with two excellent golf courses are an Olympic-size pool and two tennis courts. There are villas located near the clubhouse that can house 80 people for corporate or other outings. Eight of the rooms are attached so as to open up to each other for gatherings.
"There's nothing we can't pull off, including huge weddings," Thompson said. "We're looking at the business in a new way. Instead of waiting for something to happen, we're making it happen. We're being proactive instead of reactive.
"I don't mean this as a knock against anyone who was here before us, but sometimes you just need fresh eyes. We're a little off the beaten path in this area and we want to make it worth people's time to come here. We want to be on the list of great courses in the area and we have two great ones here.
"The diversity of our two courses is unbelievable. There's no similarity between them, including the soil structure. The West Course is hardwoods and clay, while the East is sand and pines. They're so different they could be in two different sections of the country.
"I don't know of any other courses that have held their own against equipment technology any better than these. They played to 7,000 yards when a 270-yard drive was pretty long, and they still have the ability to play long.
"Mike Leonard is our superintendent, and he and Brook Vickery, who's in charge of both courses, have done a lot of aerifying to get the greens in great shape. They're excellent and it's not by accident. They're the ones who make it happen and the reason the courses look great. I say, 'Thank you.'
"We're going from a bad impression to a good impression and that's all part of it. It takes a team."
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