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Posted: August 4, 2012 5:57 p.m.

Ashton Hills Golf Club to open Aug. 14

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Golf pro Bryan Raines kneeled down to inspect the putting green. The specially created MiniVerde Bermuda grass was taking root, spreading and thatching to create a smooth surface. The green had been dusted with sand, the fine grains of which find their way into crevices to fill in any imperfections.

Elsewhere on the renovated and soon-to-open Ashton Hills Golf Club, workers were finishing construction on the cabana that will serve sandwiches, hot dogs and drinks at the turn between ninth and 10th holes. The bunkers were being filled with bright white sand, and mowing crews were preparing to make another pass at the course's fairways and rough.

Course and restaurant opening
Ashton Hills is less than one week from opening to pre-registered members, while the course will have its public grand opening Aug. 14 at its 10400 Bypass Road, Covington location. For non-golfers, the day will see the addition of another restaurant as the Village Grille will make its home at the course's renovated club house.

Residents used to playing and eating at the former Indian Creek Golf Club will notice an improved experience, as owners, businessmen Neil Baines, Randy Dickerson and Eddie Miller, attorneys Philip Johnson and Brian Pulliam and former owner and golf pro Raines, combined to invest more than $2 million in the club's renovation.

The Village Grille will welcome back classically-trained chef Brett Ricardi, who also headed up operations at the former Golfside Grill. Raines said the menu won't be drastically different, but will see a few changes while offering a variety of sandwiches, salads, hamburgers, steaks and seafood options.

Lunch will be served seven days a week from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., dinner will be available Thursday through Saturday from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. and breakfast will be served on Saturday and Sunday from 7:30 a.m. to 10 a.m.

Course changes
As for the 178-acre, 18-hole course itself, Raines said golfers will find a more player-friendly course with slightly wider fairways, shorter rough and greens with more forgiving slopes on some holes, though those same greens will play faster with the MiniVerde Bermuda grass as opposed to the former bentgrass.

Though the holes have been renumbered, Raines said the former holes 3, 5, 7, 8, 10, 15 and 16 all received significant changes, while the remaining holes had minor adjustments. The changes were overseen by Raines and Athens-based golf course architect Mike Young, who has designed more than 40 golf courses, including several in Georgia, according to his website.

The course was recently re-rated by the U.S. Golf Association and received a rating of 72.9 for the longest tee marker, actually slightly higher than previously because of the faster greens. The rating is what a zero-handicap golfer (a pro-level golfer) would shoot on a given course. Ashton Hills par will remain 72, so a pro golfer would be expected to shoot right around par. From the shortest tee markers, the course rating drops to 65.

"The ratings went up because of the pace of the greens, the new turf, but I would say the overall hardness of the golf course was lessened slightly," Raines said. "It's not a new, totally different course. The greens have changes; we changed a couple of fairways. It's more playable for the average guy."

Signing up
As of Friday, 72 members had signed up, and Raines had received a total of 97 commits from members. The benefits to signing up early include dollar credits on accounts, two monthly friend passes and free range balls to use on the driving range, in addition to getting to attend the early opening which is from Friday through Tuesday, Aug. 13.

"These (early signups) are the guys and ladies who have supported us blindly. These people have joined over the past 2-3 months, basically sight unseen, because they trust the ownership and me, and they know we're going to do everything we can to give them the kind of product they want," Raines said. "I felt these people are joining without playing and not knowing what the conditions are going to be, so we wanted them to have the treat of five days for themselves."

One of those early members is Ralph Ingerson, who also lives in the neighborhood adjoining the course.

"We're all anxious to play," he said simply, noting a group of former members has been going to golf courses around the area. Now, they're ready to settle back into a home course.

There will be a secondary early signup period until Oct. 1, when new members will still receive free range balls and one monthly friend pass, while everyone who signs up after Oct. 1 will not receive any extra benefits.

The owners are hoping to get up to a couple hundred or more members, as running golf courses is an expensive business. The maintenance alone costs more than $500,000 a year.

The golf club's phone number, (770) 385-0064, and website, ashtonhillsgolfclub.com, will be up and running by the middle of next week for those wanting more information.

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