By Josh Peterson, editor
The State of Tennessee has agreed to sell the land that was formally home to Old Stone Fort Golf Course to local developer Tink Driver, who plans to reopen the golf course.
According to a letter sent from Tennessee Department of Parks and Conservation deputy commissioner Brock Hill to Representative Judd Matheny dated Aug. 1, TDEC has “determined that the best option for the State of Tennessee is to put the land in question up for sale as surplus.”
Driver originally offered to purchase the land from the state or exchange land he owns that is adjacent to the park.
“The price will be negotiated, of course, but from that point if we keep [moving forward] then I plan to continue to operate it as a golf course,” Driver told the Manchester Times Monday.
Along with partner Pete Jackson, Driver plans to use additional land adjacent to the golf course to build lodging and, possibly, expand the course to include nine more holes. It is currently a nine-hole course.
“We would build overnight lodging on the land right next to the course,” explained Driver.
If the land is eventually sold, the state will use the proceeds for capital improvements at Old Stone Fort State Archaeological Park, according to the letter by Hill. The current nine holes at the course will require significant work before they are ready to be played on again. The state closed the course in September of 2011, allowing it to “revert back to its natural state.” Since then the property has been open to walkers, runners and bikers as a trail.
Driver recognizes that much work is needed.
“The greens have to be redone, irrigation needs to be rebuilt … it will be quite an undertaking,” he said. “It will take at least a year to get the infrastructure back to what it used to be. But I have the equipment and the knowledge to do it.”
Driver added that the endeavor is for the benefit of the Manchester community.
“It will be good for the city of Manchester,” Driver said. “If we have lodging it can bring in outsiders and bring in revenue. The seniors around here need a place to play golf, too. They are going out of town now and I want them to have a place to play at a reasonable rate.”
Ted Hackney with the Coffee County Industrial Board added that the board supports Driver and Jackon’s efforts.
“Obviously that just adds a recreational activity to our community,” said Hackney. “The board supports him in his efforts to get the course reopened.”
Matheny said he will be working to expedite the process of the state actually selling the land to Driver.
“The state obviously sees a determined community to resurrect that golf course,” Matheny stated.
As far as the future of the course, Driver said the land adjacent to the course can be developed to include more holes and/or lodging.
“I want it to be a links-style course,” Driver explained. “I could keep it at nine holes or there is room to add nine more. Whatever we do I want to have a good course for this community to be proud of.”
According to Hill’s letter, prior to selling the land TDEC is required to receive authorization from the United States Department of Interior National Park Service and to comply with any conditions it imposes. Once the National Park Service authorizes the sale, TDEC may proceed. Matheny said that permission appears to be a formality.
“Nothing indicates to me that there will be a problem. I’m really excited we have a chance to do this.”
The state originally closed the course Sept. 18, 2011 for financial reasons and after not receiving any proposals at the time to lease the course.
The course was originally the Manchester Country Club, which purchased the land from Driver’s family.
At the time of its closure, the course was in better financial shape than all but two of Tennessee’s state golf courses – The Bear Trace at Harrison Bay and Warriors Path. During its final five years of operation, Old Stone Fort operated in the red by $171,115, according to numbers from TDEC.