Wedgefield Plantation’s new owner promises improvements to course, facilities

ablondin@thesunnews.comJanuary 2, 2014 

The 18th green sits in front of the brick plantation house at Wedgefield Plantation Country Club in Georgetown County.

THE SUN NEWS FILE PHOTO

Ray Watts has made Wedgefield Plantation in Georgetown his second golf course on the Grand Strand, and he has vowed to keep the course in operation and refurbish the historic property’s buildings and amenities.

Watts, the owner of Apex Homes who splits time between Charlotte, N.C., and the Strand, purchased Wedgefield from the Marlowe family of Georgetown in a deal that closed Dec. 19.

He bought Island Green Country Club off S.C. 707 in Myrtle Beach in late December 2012 as the first course he has owned to operate and has made improvements to its facilities over the past year.

“I think the historical nature of the clubhouse is what really attracted me,” Watts said of Wedgefield. “It’s a beautiful facility. We’re going to do a lot of renovations like we did at Island Green. We’ll see what we can do with it.”

Watts’ two bargain-priced public-access courses will have reciprocal memberships. “It will be a real benefit to our members because both golf courses are very different,” Watts said. “I think by combining the two that’s a turnaround in itself.”

The Wedgefield golf course property is 168 acres, borders the Black River and is surrounded by and includes many centuries-old large oak trees, including several that overhang its entrance road.

The sale includes a manor house, guest cottage, several buildings including one that contains a snack bar and another that houses the golf pro shop, a swimming pool, maintenance barn, restaurant that seats more than 100, and two tennis courts, including one that was recently refurbished.

The sales price is documented at $1.15 million, though Watts said he made some concessions that added to the price. The course was most recently appraised at $1.5 million three years ago. It is a 7,034-yard Porter Gibson and Bob Toski design that opened in 1972 on the site of an old rice plantation.

Renovation work will begin next week.

Watts plans to renovate the inside of the venerable brick manor house, including its floors and a large bar that will be put back into use, and renovate the two guest cottages – one currently houses the pro shop, which may eventually be moved to a building that was once slave quarters.

“We’ll work on all the cosmetics of the manor house and the two guest houses out there for people to stay and play or stay for events,” Watts said.

He plans to renovate and enclose the existing large pool and build an outdoor pool and exercise facility. “It will be a full country club again,” Watts said. “It just didn’t get the attention it needed.”

Wedgefield’s setting already makes it popular for weddings, but Watts wants to build a couple more structures around the clubhouse to increase its capabilities.

“I don’t think the vista out front and other amenities have been utilized like they can be for events,” Watts said. “We plan to turn up the heat for events.”

Island Green head professional Larry Crouse and assistant Blake Landreth are splitting time between the two courses, and Watts said all of the existing Wedgefield workers have been retained, including superintendent Mitch Thompkins and his staff. Ross Marlowe continues to work in the pro shop to help with the transition.

“The golf course is in great shape,” Watts said. “I drove around there looking for something to complain about but I couldn’t find anything. They’re doing a great job with the golf course, just all the amenities need to be redone.”

Wedgefield has approximately 80 members, though there are more than 400 homeowners in the community that surrounds the course and Watts hopes to boost the membership. Island Green has approximately 110 members, and last year Watts reopened its amenities center, which also has a steady membership. Watts plans to keep the restaurant open for dinner and offer separate Wedgefield memberships for the pools, health club, etc.

“It’s just not golf to us,” Watts said. “We do something more comprehensive. Just golf is a long row to hoe to make profits. I always look at the community too, to see if it is one that supports the facility, and I think these are two good communities.”

Rates at Wedgefield have been between $25 and $60. Marlowe said an introductory rate will remain $25 through January.

The Marlowe family, which includes George and sons Ross, Wade and the late Scott, bought Wedgefield in 2004 from the local Wagner and Rhodes families, sold it to three area businessmen in 2007, and bought it back again in 2009.

They had high hopes for the property, but Scott died of a heart attack at the age of 53 in June and George has been battling cancer in recent months.

“After Scott died and we found out dad had cancer, it wasn’t the same for me,” Ross Marlowe said. “It wasn’t the same business. It’s tough for one man to stay on top of it and be able to market it. It’s time for the Marlowe family to step down and let somebody else tackle Wedgefield.

“… Wedgefield’s a beautiful piece of property. It just needs marketing, and the sky is the limit with Wedgefield. I’ve always believed in it. It’s a forgotten property down here because there are so many courses at the beach.”

Watts said he may soon be purchasing at least one more course outside the area, and is still looking to expand on his golf holdings on the Strand. “I’ve had a couple others that sort of fell through, but I’m always looking,” Watts said.

Contact ALAN BLONDIN at 626-0284.

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