New Owners Bring CCWP, Foxfire Hope
From all indications, the years of frustration and financial concerns are over for residents and members of the Country Club of Whispering Pines and Foxfire Resort and Golf Club.
The purchase of the two facilities by Brown Golf Management earlier this month appears to end a long period of uncertainty about the operation and success of the two highly regarded facilities, both of which were being operated by a bank following bankruptcy procedures.
Stephen Johnson, who is familiar to many area residents through his association with the Arnold Palmer Company during the construction of the Woodlake Country Club Palmer Course and The Carolina, has been named chief operating officer and general manager of both properties by Brown Management, and he’s already making some heady impressions.
“We’re offering two clubs with four courses for one membership,” Johnson said. “You get unlimited golf at four of the best courses in the area, free range balls and free instruction from our teaching professionals.”
This sounds like a bargain, and to some members and residents of the area it may also sound too good to be true. Both Whispering Pines and Foxfire have struggled financially for years, and many hopes and dreams have gone unfulfilled.
Johnson is very aware of this and is quick to address the concerns.
“John Brown is president of the company,” Johnson said, “and he’s a master professional who has been involved in operating courses for more than 30 years. He had the opportunity to join with Joe Topper in forming the company and they started buying courses. They started with two, Pine Crest Golf Club and Island West Golf Club in Bluffton, S.C., and they now own Stone Crest and Eagle Creek in Ocala., Fla., Blue Ridge Golf Club and Colonial Golf & Tennis in Harrisburg, Pa., as well as managing two properties in the Poconos.”
Despite these credentials, long-suffering members of the two local facilities can’t be blamed for a wait-and-see attitude.
“All we ask is for our members to watch what’s happening,” the enthusiastic Johnson said. “The day before we closed on the sale, we had 180 new golf carts delivered. We saw two clubs here with a great membership base. We recognized the financial straits they were in, but with our business background we knew we could come in and energize the membership and turn the properties into successful and profitable clubs. And the address of Pinehurst certainly isn’t a drawback.”
So exactly how is Brown Management going to succeed where others with good intentions have failed?
“We’ll succeed because we have the financial means,” Johnson said. “We’re paying cash for everything — the property, the new carts and the equipment. We’re not going to have any debt overhead to worry about. Both courses are bought and paid for. That gives us the flexibility to take care of things that have been neglected over the years.
“We’re bringing the capital and we’re here to stay. We’re not flip artists. We’ve already spent $1.5 million, including a half million on carts.”
The first thing the new owners did was hire Danny Barrett away from Hyland Golf Club. The popular Barrett, who had been out of golf for several years, had been hired as the director of golf operations at Hyland a few months ago. He will operate from Foxfire, but is also an assistant to Johnson in the operation of both facilities.
“It’s a great opportunity for me,” Barrett said, “and one that I’m excited about.”
Another move was to retain Rodney Russell at Whispering Pines as director of golf.
“We’re excited about having Danny and Rodney with us,” Johnson said. “Not only are they both great people persons, they have a personal relationship that goes back to when they were kids. In fact, Danny’s father gave Rodney his first golf club.
“It’s an understatement to say that I’m excited,” Russell said. “I’ve always seen the potential of Whispering Pines and I think we can realize it now.”
Mike Leonard and Scott Sorgent are being retained as course superintendents, and Johnson sees this as another plus.
“They’re both great guys, and they’re excited that we’re giving them the resources and tools to bring the courses back to the level we expect,” he said.
“These guys — Danny, Rodney, Mike and Scott — are all rejuvenated. They’re kind of feeding off each other.
“We’re all proud of the tradition of both facilities. We’ve got two Ellis Maples courses at Whispering Pines and two Gene Hamm courses at Foxfire. That’s two hall of fame architects, and we have the Harvie Ward connection at Foxfire.
“We want to revive the memories of those three legends. We’re going to have the Ol’ Harv Pub at Foxfire and the Ellis Maples Grill at Whispering Pines. We’re getting all new signage at both places and we’re bringing back the old logos.”
“I like to say we’re going back to the future,” Russell said.
Another project already under way is the restoration of 41 golf villas at Whispering Pines that may be used for members on a short-term basis as well as for package groups.
Some other key employees are Lisa Thompson, the food and beverage director at Foxfire, and Justin Walters, the director of events and membership at Whispering Pines.
“We’re also excited about our new five-star chef at Whispering Pines,” Barrett said.
The new chef is John Turner, who describes himself as “a perpetual student of food who never stops learning.” A native of New Jersey, Turner is a lover of fusion cuisine and a fan of combining new tastes. He promises members that they can expect a wide range of cuisines, from French to Creole.
Turner has worked at Soho Steakhouse in Wilmington, St. James Plantation, the Meadowland Sports Complex in New Jersey, and Evander Holyfield’s New South Grill in Atlanta.
For information regarding tee times or memberships at Whispering Pines, call (910) 949-3000.
For Foxfire information, call (910) 295-5555.
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