New practice facility in the works at Johnson City Country Club

Joe Avento • Updated Jul 25, 2019 at 7:19 AM

If practice does, truly, make perfect, Johnson City Country Club is going to be the home of some improved golfers in the near future.

An ambitious project to overhaul the club’s practice area began in earnest this week, although plans have been in the works for a few years.

The practice putting green is being moved to where the scoreboard currently sits. A new short-game area, complete with a green, various chipping areas and a bunker, is also being built. The teeing area on the current range is being moved back a few feet and enlarged.

It’s all part of a master plan that could someday include a restoration of many of the course’s original features designed by famed golf course architect A.W. Tillinghast.

“It’s exciting for the club,” said Brian Marion, chairman of JCCC’s greens committee.

Marion and former club president Ben Crumley were at the course on Tuesday when Bill Bergin, an Atlanta-based golf course architect, arrived. Crumley and Bergin had been discussing and planning this project for several years.

“Short-game areas and practice facilities in general are such an important part of developing skills to play the game,” said Bergin, whose company is Bergin Golf Designs. “They’re great areas where if you have a limitation on time and you really don’t have time to go play 18 holes, you can come out here and have a great golf experience and improve your game.

“It’s a great place for lessons, kids, for any type of player who wants to improve your game. This is that spot.”

Bergin spent Tuesday marking the ground for the construction crew to begin digging. The work is expected to take 3-4 weeks. Then the growing period will begin for the new grass.

“I’m very excited about it,” said Bergin, who played in three U.S. Opens and two British Opens during his competitive golf days. “We love doing practice areas. We do them all over the place. Every club we work on seems to want something new, and it’s really time well spent.”

As Bergin spoke, he held his design plans and looked over the area where the work will be done by Southeastern Golf, Inc., a golf construction company from Georgia.

“It’s a good space and it’s centrally located,” he said. “It’s so easy to see from the clubhouse, from the golf shop. You go right from here to the first and 10th tees right here. You really get a good sense that everything that’s happening is right here.

“This is a social spot. It’s a spot where you come hang out with your friends, have a little competition and have a good time.”

Making the new practice area a social spot is a big part of the plan.

“From the practice facility side, the goal is to now only renovate, but to add in features like music,” said Marion, who added that two-third of the project’s cost had been raised by member donations. “We’ll eventually put in some speakers out there so that people are entertained. We want to create some of that atmosphere that helps attract some younger members and families. That helps attract juniors, which then become members in the future. I think it makes for a vibrant club.

“In today’s world, people don’t have 4 1/2, five, six hours to play golf. We want to create an area where they can come and not just stand around and hit balls and sweat. But they can spend time and enjoy it, spend an hour or two hours and go home.”

The practice area renovation is the first stage of what some hope will be a restoration of the course. That decision hasn’t been made yet, but Bergin says he’d love a crack at it should the club decide to go in that direction.

Bergin’s company restored Oak Country Club in Tulsa, Oklahoma, a Tillinghast course, and that project was chosen as the fourth-best re-do in the country.

“We’d love to take what we did there and bring it here and update the Tillinghast golf course,” Bergin said. “The bunkers here, you can see we just had a rain storm. Maintenance is one of the things on a golf course that’s necessary, but you want to set the superintendent up for success. And you want to put him in position where he can give the membership quality conditions all the time, not just when the weather’s good.

“There’s nothing worse than bunker maintenance. It’s a bit demoralizing. You can have those bunkers perfect yesterday afternoon and today they’re wiped out. And the way we do bunkers, that doesn’t happen. Once we do a couple bunkers on this golf course, the members are going to demand that we do the rest.”