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Old Chatham Golf Club Membership Cost

old chatham golf club membership cost
old chatham golf club membership cost

DURHAM, NC — More than 400 acres of pristine forest was secured in 1999 in the booming Triangle area of North Carolina, with legendary architect Rees Jones hired to execute a pure golf experience.

“The buzz around Old Chatham was something,” Old Chatham golf director John Marino says. “There were already 125 members with no clubhouse, no trailer — just a maintenance facility and a bunch of dirt. They would bring guys out here and tour them around and we talked about the vision, the promise and the hope. They were really selling the hope and the promise.”

Hope and promise are two commodities Marino and his management team unknowingly would have to rely on sooner than later once the course opened a few days prior to 9/11.

“I remember we were going to open up in early August but we had a bad rain storm one night and we ended up waiting another month because the golf course was trashed and we wanted to open when it was absolutely perfect,” Marino says.The club’s board of directors christened the private club on Sept. 7 with celebratory rounds. The membership was able to play over that weekend before closing for routine maintenance that Monday. Then Tuesday morning, Sept, 11, 2001, was a sunny start to a picture-perfect North Carolina morning that would soon turn tragic.

“Everybody was coming in to work for their first full week and everybody was excited,” Marino remembers. “Our club president called me and he asked if I had the TV on and I said ‘Yeah we’re watching SportsCenter and he told me to put the news on. It was surreal. Opening up then was weird; I don’t know any other way to put it. We had golf still but people didn’t travel. There was a little bit of a somber feeling to opening. It was tough.”

“For us (on the staff) it was a shock,” Brian Powell, director of golf course management, adds. “It was an invitation-only membership and we were adding members left-and-right. And then 9/11 occurred and it was like a water faucet had been turned off. Everything froze in its tracks.

“People see places like Augusta National and Pine Valley for what they are there now, and they think it has always been like that. Well it wasn’t, and for us it wasn’t the case either. We only saw a few members join that year.”

The private club, with the help of its high-profile membership, limped along for a few years before plans began for a clubhouse. Few could have predicted the financial crisis of 2007-08 surrounded that project as Old Chatham was faced with yet another major challenge.

“You know we opened that clubhouse in the middle of a recession and we accessed the members and didn’t lose a single one,” Powell recalls. “It was amazing.”

Part of the solid foundation of Old Chatham Golf Club can be traced back to Jones, Marino and Powell. It’s rare in such a transitory business to see the same architect, director of golf and superintendent remain together with a golf club more than two decades like this trio.

Jones returns at least once a year, if not more often, and the group calls each other to exchange birthday and holiday wishes — and of course to chat about golf and the club’s progress. The architect’s most recent work — new bunkering, greens and a few hole modifications — was showcased during recent U.S. Open Final Qualifying rounds. Old Chatham, located less than 15 minutes from Raleigh-Durham International Airport, also hosted the 2019 U.S. Senior Amateur.

“My wife is from North Carolina and she went to the University of North Carolina, so when I got to hang out with (Hall of Fame basketball coach) Dean Smith it was really a big deal,” Jones says of his early days at Old Chatham. “When I played golf with him he turned to me one day and said ‘Rees, you’re probably the most knowledgeable non-graduate of North Carolina when it comes to North Carolina basketball. That was a high compliment coming from coach Smith.”

Jones recalls accepting the design job for Old Chatham because of its desire to develop as a pure golf experience. More than 20 years later there are still no homes beyond the non-descript gate entrance to the club.

“When you get those types of projects, the membership is in it for the golf and the game and the friendships, and that’s what Old Chatham is all about,” Jones says. “It’s more than just golf — it’s really a second home for a lot of those people.”

Ditto for Marino and Powell, who likely have seen each other more than their own families.

“Our founding board members was a Who’s Who list of people in the Triangle area — state Senator Howard Lee, state Senator Tony Rand, developers Roger Perry and Smedes York, and newspaper publisher Frank Daniels,” Powell says. “Those guys generally didn’t make a lot of mistakes. They realized that in the other walks of life they were in that a revolving door in staff is not good. Having to tell a superintendent where the third hole is is not a good thing.”

Marino and Powell — two of the most respected players in their field — have had other job offers over the last two decades, but head into their 22nd year together as loyal Old Chatham visionaries.

“The philosophy from Day One has always been we want to separate ourselves; we want to be the greatest; we want to deliver on that promise every day, whether it’s coming out for lunch or hitting some golf balls on the range,” Marino says. “We want premium golf balls, we want the range to be set up at 3 p.m. just like you would like to find it set up at 8 a.m. Attention to detail is a big thing for us. And then the golf course — how can we keep improving our asset, how can we keep making it better every year.”

When it comes to the asset — the golf course — Jones and associate Greg Muirhead are the linchpins to Old Chatham’s past, present and future.

“One of those guys is on this property every 12 or so months,” Powell says. “We talk, we have feedback, I see them at conferences and when I talk to them they want to know how things are playing. These guys have had an opportunity to watch their creation mature and they’ve been able to watch the game of golf change where the golf ball is flying farther than it used to, and ball goes straighter so some of the bunkers on the side of the holes are no longer in play.

“So, we’ve gone out and made tweaks over the years. When we pull them back in for these tweaks Old Chatham is rare in that these are things that have been thought about for years. They have already been revised five times before it’s put into the dirt. That is a tremendous advantage because then you end up with something that fits, something that should have been here from the beginning. There is so much soup de jour or architect-of-the-day and you can often get so much disjointed architecture doing that. If I talk to Rees or Greg and I throw out the third hole those guys immediately say ‘Oh yeah, is that where that crooked tree is?'”

With more than 100 people moving to this area every day, Marino is often asked about the prime real estate that houses Old Chatham, and if homes would ever be built here.

“Hopefully this golf course will be here in 100 years,” Marino says. “There is no reason to be anything else. We’re not looking to change what we are. Everything is blooming and blossoming around us; we are this great oasis and it’s very valuable and we certainly understand that but the value to what we have here for our members is greater.

“Yes, in 21 years we’ve had our ups-and-downs, but we have never veered from the vision, never changed to try to chase, we always stayed true to who we were, we always stayed on the path that our founding fathers set out to what they wanted it to be. And now 21 years later we have a full membership at 385.”

Next up for Old Chatham is the potential design of a par-3 course.

“Old Chatham is like all the great golf courses, they do not stand still, they are always moving forward,” Jones says. “It’s sort of like Augusta — it’s improvement after improvement. It’s an Augusta-type of membership. It has a great Augusta-sense of purpose.”