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Cherokee Run returning to former glory

The view down one of the fairways at Cherokee Run Golf Course. The city of Conyers continue rehabitation of the Arnold Palmer-designed course afther it took over day-to-day operations after the former managment filed for bankruptcy in 2010.

The view down one of the fairways at Cherokee Run Golf Course. The city of Conyers continue rehabitation of the Arnold Palmer-designed course afther it took over day-to-day operations after the former managment filed for bankruptcy in 2010.

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Linda Schmitt works on her swing on the driving range last week at the Cherokee Run Golf Course. She has been playing golf for 7 years and tries to get out on the course at least once a day. Schmitt said she started playing golf because she loves being outside and enjoys the challenge of the game. Top, the view down one of the fairways at Cherokee Run. Conyers continues rehabilitation of the Arnold Palmer-designed course after it took over day-to-day operations after the former management filed for bankruptcy in 2010. Staff Photo: Erin Evans.

CONYERS -- When the city of Conyers took over management of the Cherokee Run Golf Course, officials knew it would take a lot of work to restore the course to its former glory.

Though the city has owned Cherokee Run since its construction in 1994, the city began leasing the course to a management company in 1995.

"In 2006, (the management company) came to us and wanted to resign the lease. They brought a management team, led by a man named Mr. (Silvia) Kim," City Manager Tony Lucas said. "We really didn't want to do the deal at the time, but for various reasons we allowed the sublease."

Though the course was once named one of the "Best in State" by Golf Digest magazine, it quickly fell into disrepair under Kim's leadership.

"Mr. Kim did not have a strong record. He wasn't putting the money that he needed to put into the course; he was falling behind on making his payments," Lucas said. "We eventually ended up in federal bankruptcy court, and we spent two years getting the course back. We ended up getting it back through default and through bankruptcy court."

The city re-acquired the course on Sept. 27, 2010, and immediately began work. The course re-opened on Dec. 10, 2010.

"He had just driven it into the ground. All the greens were dead, the fairways were dead; the clubhouse was in terrible condition," Lucas said. "We immediately went to work to rehabilitate it. It still is very much a work in progress."

Lucas said all the greens on the course were dead or dying and had to be completely rehabilitated. Many of the tee boxes had no grass at all and have also been rehabilitated. Half of the 96 sand traps or bunkers have been rebuilt. In the clubhouse, the kitchen was completely torn out and replaced. Rotten wood was removed and the building was repainted inside and outside.

"We're working very hard to bring back its prominence," Lucas said. "We've done a great deal of work and we're proud of what we've done to this time. We've got more projects in store for this winter."

Winter projects include continuing to rehabilitate the course greens, adding landscaping and removing tree cover.

"We've taken out 500 trees, so far," Lucas said. "That may seem like a lot, but there was 15 years of growth that had not been managed. We had to free up much of the area around the green so you could get sunlight and air flow to the green."

Another winter project includes possible replacement of all of the greens.

"These are Crenshaw bent grass greens, which is a cool weather grass. They will be terrific through the winter and the spring. But in the summer they take a lot of work," Lucas said. "We're going to make a decision on whether or not we will convert the greens to one of the Bermuda hybrids. It's a double-edged sword. This bent is a cool grass and it's starting to get into good condition."

Cherokee Run is a 72 par course with a 143 slope, 7,016 yards and a 75.1 rating. It was designed by Arnold Palmer and Ed Seay of the Arnold Palmer Design Company. Lucas said the design of the course requires lots of maintenance to preserve the course.

"I think those that played it before and those that played it now will see a difference. We just had too big of an investment to let it go into disarray," he said. "We're committed to making it the finest facility in Rockdale and east of Atlanta, as it once was."

Lucas said the club has found much success with its banquet service since its reopening, and is booked every weekend from Thanksgiving through New Year's.

The course will host the first City Amateur Championship tournament this weekend, beginning with a practice round Friday. Organizers are billing the tournament as the first of an annual event for Cherokee Run.

"We would really like for more of our locals to come experience Cherokee Run. Something we're having to fight is the reputation it got from 2006 to 2010," Lucas said. "What we're asking is 'Hey public, give us a chance. Come see what we've done.' We're returning it to the true Arnold Palmer standards. Give us a chance -- come play the Run."