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Golf Course to Help Owner Maintain Open Space

Tue December 19, 2006 - Southeast Edition
James A. Budd

As metropolitan Atlanta’s commercial and residential growth rapidly spreads into historically rural areas, the demand for vital services among the growing population has increased along with a corresponding jump in property tax values.

The phenomenon has sent owners of large agricultural tracts of land scrambling to find creative ways to keep their once-rural property, while at the same time trying to figure out how to pay the higher taxes associated with skyrocketing land values.

Many large landowners simply sell their tracts to developers, take their profits, and buy an estate farther away from the city — or retire to a beach in Florida.

In Cherokee County, approximately 40 mi. north of Atlanta, Matt Callahan and his family— faced with rising tax bills — decided to convert half of the 500 acres the family has owned for more than 125 years into a golf course rather than sell out. They expect the revenues generated from the golf course to pay the taxes.

“We didn’t want to give up the land, but we couldn’t make it farming,” Callahan said. “We’re too close to Atlanta and the taxes are too severe to keep it by raising cattle.”

Callahan, an avid golfer, said 250 acres of his family’s ancestral land have been set aside for a golf course, but the actual course will take up 152 acres of the tract.

“The rest will be kept as a natural area,” Callahan said.

Callahan hired veteran golf course Contractor Rick Franke, president of Fore Front Construction Inc. in Woodstock, Ga., to handle the task.

Construction of the $4.5 million project started in March and is on target to finish up in August 2007, said Franke, who has constructed nine courses in the Southeast in the past 10 years and revamped more than 60 during the same time frame. Actual construction costs will be $3 million, with the remaining $1.5 million for a clubhouse, maintenance building and other amenities, he said.

“This is one of the prettiest pieces of property you could ever want to put a golf course on,” Franke said.

Although the exact yardage hasn’t been determined, Callahan Golf Links will be an estimated 7,000 yds. (6,400 m) from the back tees and seven of the 18 holes will include ponds and other water hazards. Two creeks cross the rolling land, which has incredible views of the Appalachians just to the north of the property.

The area is rich in Native American history, but Franke said the permitting process wasn’t too difficult. The site isn’t far from the Battle of Taliwa, where in 1755, historians said approximately 500 Cherokees defeated 1,000 Creeks, who were forced to abandon much of their stake in northern Georgia to the victors and were shunted south of Atlanta.

“The land has been pretty much farmed over and the state said it wasn’t too significant,” Franke said.

Course Construction On Target

Unlike a significant number of golf courses, Callahan Golf Links isn’t residentially-driven. In many cases throughout the region, developers set aside 200 to 300 acres of a residential project for a golf course, which is primarily used as a marketing tool for homes.

“It is unique in that it’s not development-driven,” Franke said. “There are no homes to consider. The course will play a lot more open than a residential-type layout.”

Callahan said the course will give players a chance to play in a pure environment, as golf was intended.

“We’re giving something back to golf,” Callahan said. “You don’t have to worry about hitting a house [when you stray off the fairway] and having angry people yelling at you. We’re putting integrity back into golf.”

Despite the relative ease of construction — made easier because there are no home sites to work around — Franke said more than 500,000 cu. yds. (382,000 cu. m) of dirt will have to be moved and there is a 200-ft. (61 m) elevation change along the golf course.

Materials expected to be used include 3,500 cu. yds. (2,700 cu m) of concrete for cart paths; 8,500 tons (7,700 t) of sand for greens and bunkers; 4,000 tons (3,600 t) of gravel for drainage; 1 million sq. ft. (93,000 sq m) of sod; 50,000 ft. (1,500 m) of drainage pipe, ranging in size from 6 to 36 in. (15 to 91 cm) in diameter; and 60 acres (24 ha) of Bermuda grass sprigs.

Total Turf Solutions of Tuscaloosa, Ala., will install the turf grass.

In the early stages of construction, Franke rented a Kobelco 330 crawler-excavator and two Cat D400 articulated trucks to reshape the course and to excavate three new ponds to go along with the existing four ponds on the layout. Franke said he uses several Atlanta-area rental companies including Neff Rental, Rent Rite Inc. and Cowin Equipment Co.

Franke owns an array of smaller equipment for shaping and preparing the course for drainage, including a Kobelco 210 crawler-excavator and a Takeuchi TB145 compact excavator. He uses a Vermeer RT450 and Vermeer V-8550 for trenching.

“The Kobelco 210 is versatile and useful in any small excavation project,” Franke said. “It seems like it is vital for golf course construction.”

Franke uses the Kobelco 210 for much of the construction and excavation of his greens, which are built to United States Golf Association specifications: drainage pipe, 4-in. of gravel, topped with a 12-in. mix of 90 percent sand and 10 percent peat moss (known as greens mix) and completed with bent grass.

Fore Front Construction also uses a John Deere 750 tractor and John Deere 5310 tractor for shaping and hauling, along with a Kioti DK 55 tractor. His dozers, which include a John Deere 550 and a Cat D-5, are used for fine grading. A Toro Sand Pro is used to contour sand traps and for installing materials for the greens.

“We use the small stuff for bunkers and greens and most of the heavier equipment is used in the first part of the job,” he said.

The project also includes a driving range and a 9,000-sq.-ft. maintenance building. Franke, who is using a crew of approximately 30 workers on the project, said he will subcontract the construction of the maintenance building to Rob Dobbins Inc. after his crews complete site prep.

Fore Front also will prepare the site for the estimated 2,000- to 3,000-sq.-ft. clubhouse, which is in the planning stages.

James Haslam, director of operations of HMS Golf of Woodstock, which will manage the golf course, said details haven’t been finalized on the clubhouse. Most likely it will have offices, a pro shop and a grill.

“Callahan’s is going to be a quality operation without the residential component and there will be an emphasis on traditional golf, so there won’t be a need for a huge clubhouse,” Haslam said.

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