It sure seems like Newton County is going to miss The Oaks golf course for more reasons than having one less local golf course to play.
The Oaks recently ended operations after 32 years at the corner of Brown Bridge and Crowell roads on the north end of Porterdale.
Beyond being a nice place to play, according to its members, it hosted numerous fundraising tournaments.
Golfers, which are the life-blood of many nonprofits, literally raised millions for charities such as Cure Childhood Cancer, which benefits work to find a cure for the youngest cancer patients; and the Almond J. Turner Foundation, which funds scholarships for worthy Newton County students in need of college tuition money.
The Piedmont Newton Hospital Auxiliary often hosted its annual Bill Taylor Classic Golf Tournament at The Oaks which helps purchase needed medical equipment for areas like the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. Other groups raised money for youth sports programs, or for the B.C. Crowell Scholarship Fund for local high school students.
Numerous such fundraisers also have used the links at Ashton Hill Golf Course, as well.
But Oaks operators Richard and Nancy Schulz continuously opened their course to fundraising tournaments when they could have just as well closed it to all but paying customers.
Richard Schulz, a Chattanooga native, was already a veteran of Metro Atlanta golf courses when an investment group formed in the late 1980s and asked him to bring the historic golf course back to life.
He said he saw the course as having a role in the Newton County community beyond being merely a place for golf. He told his other partners in the venture about his plan and they agreed.
“I told the partners ... we need to be active in the community,” he said.
The Schulzes used funds from The Oaks to help pay for a walking track at Fairview Elementary School.
They partnered with the Newton County Parks and Recreation Department on a number of events, including raising initial funding and leading organizational efforts for the Miracle League field at City Pond Park.
“I think it created a good feeling for the community,” Schulz said.
Schulz worked closely with county officials like former recreation director Tommy Hailey, who retired in 2013 after almost a quarter-century at the helm of the county Parks and Recreation Department.
Hailey essentially led his department’s effort through the county government to create the Miracle League Field and was honored in 2011 with the I Have a Dream Award from organizers of the annual Martin Luther King Jr. celebration.
Schulz also recalled the good times and some bad ones recently as he prepared the course’s equipment and furnishings for a massive auction Saturday, Dec. 4.
The course was able to host golfers from 48 different countries and every U.S. state during the weeks of The Masters golf tournament in the spring, Schulz said.
“It was like a celebration,” he said.
Schulz said there also were times when the business struggled, like when it was paying a loan with a 21% interest rate at the height of the Great Recession. He credited his wife, former longtime county commissioner Nancy Schulz, with being the partner who had the financial wherewithal to guide the course through hard economic times.
“If we hadn’t had her for a partner, I’m not sure we’d be talking today,” he said.
Richard also said a March snow storm during the early years of The Oaks, in 1993, felled a forest full of pine trees, he recalled.
The course lost 3,000 pine trees in the storm “down to the stumps and all,” he said.
Schulz now will work as a golf course consultant after his decades managing courses both in Covington and elsewhere in Atlanta.
He said the $215 million residential-commercial project planned for the course’s 270-acre site promises to be a “jewel” for the area when completed. It even will include a nine-hole golf course — continuing the 90-year tradition of golf being played on the same site.
Schulz also said, like many businesses these days, golf course owners face rapidly increasing costs for operations — from labor to lawn maintenance equipment.
“It’s a very, very thin margin in the golf business,” he said.
Tom Spigolon is news editor of The Covington News. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.