Have you ever dreamed of saving an abandoned golf course? A retired Alabama prison officer did just that in Alpine Bay – Update Alaba

ALPINE, Ala. – Have you ever seen an abandoned golf course and wondered if you could still play golf there? Can it be saved? How much would it cost to reopen and at what cost?

With hundreds of courses closing in the U.S. after the market crash of 2008, there are plenty of such overgrown properties — including dozens of layouts by famous designers. Many of these properties come with nothing but memories and maybe a few dreams of golf renovations.

Rarely do these dreams of resuscitating a derelict arrangement come true. It just takes the right person.

Enter Tony Parton, a retired federal corrections officer living in rural Alabama. He had no plans to take the failed course. But he loved golf – and one particular arrangement.

It was called Alpine Bay. Most Alabama golfers had never heard of it, and most of the minority who knew it never bothered to play it. They couldn’t tell you how to get there or if it was still open.

Alpine Bay Golf Club in Alpine, Alabama after the course was salvaged and reopened (Golfweek)

Alpine Bay Golf Club, located in eastern Alabama 44 miles east of downtown Birmingham near the south shore of Logan Martin Lake (part of the wide Coosa River watershed), originally had two 18-hole courses. But due to a lack of funds to develop the main resort, only one of the two playgrounds was opened in 1972.

This course had a lot going for it: a par-72, 6,518-yard championship layout designed by Robert Trent Jones Sr., the namesake of the Robert Trent Jones Golf Course in Alabama, which was built decades later. In addition, Jones built it with the help of his son Reese Jones, then in his 30s, who went on to become an award-winning course designer and his own brand, as well as a young Roger Rulewich, the architect who actually designed most of the Trail’s courses two decades later.

Financially troubled from the start, Alpine Bay, with its one course and sparse surrounding population, struggled year after year to stay in business. Although a beautiful setting in a beautiful natural setting, Alpine Bay was difficult to access even from Birmingham, with at least part of the drive being on winding, lonely dual carriageways. After barely managing to stay alive for a decade, it closed in 2014.

The closure of Alpine Bay made almost no waves in the golf world, even in Alabama. But the site has developed a loyal following. Namely Tony Parton. And the closing of Alpine Bay didn’t end Parton’s love affair with the layout. One summer evening in 2016, he and his wife Jana walked through an abandoned playground.

Course architect Robert Trent Jones Jr., left, with Alpine Bay Golf Club owner Tony Parton (Jim Hansen/Golfweek)

“When we got to what was the eighth green. [a par 3 over a small lake]” he recalls, “we were shocked by the dismal state of the pitch. It was all overgrown, just awful, with weeds and wild plants growing waist-high and the native grass almost dead.’

The Partons vowed to pull out the worst weeds on just one green. “We went back several nights in a row and worked to uncover what was left of the golf course we loved.

During one of their first trips to the abandoned lot, Tony got a call from his friend Mark Calhoun, also a former regular on the golf course. “Mark asked where I was,” Parton recalls. “I said, ‘You’ll never believe me, but I’m in Alpine.’ “

Calhoun got into the pickup truck and drove straight to where Tony was mechanically mowing the weeds and grass. “Mark and I took a close look at what was green and tried to figure out what we could do with it,” Parton said. When the tall grass on the former green was cut to a reasonable length, they realized, “This course was the hope.”

Alpine Bay Golf Club in Alpine, Alabama (Golfweek)

The 144-acre property, which was a golf course, driving range, putting green and small clubhouse, had been for sale for months. Parton quickly called the realtor and made an offer. The price was $144,000. The process only took a few months. In early 2017, Parton, after leaving the federal prison system, scraped together enough money to take the course.

Buying Alpine Bay was one thing, but preparing it for golfers was another. The next step in the process was getting more people on board. With Calhoun’s help, Parton formed Alpine Group LLC. A handful of investors increased the limited liability company’s value to $520,000. Still not much for running a golf course.

It took five months of painstaking restoration and reconstruction work before the pitch was ready for play. “No words can describe the emotion of watching golfers hit the course for the first time,” Parton said.

In the 12 months since reopening in summer 2017, the semi-private Alpine Bay Golf Club has gained 60 members. Today, it is home to just over twice as many, virtually all of the surrounding communities of Lincoln, St. Clair, Vincent, Coosa Pines, Harpersville, Childersburg and Talladega. The course has played 15,000 rounds each of the past two years, with maximum green fees as low as $46 on weekends and holidays.

Still, Alpine Bay is the Rodney Dangerfield of Alabama golf — it gets no respect. Rarely does anyone from Birmingham, Montgomery or Huntsville make it to the game. Most golfers in the state have never heard of Alpine Bay, and those who have are dismissing Alpine Bay as out of business or not worth playing.

Alpine Bay Golf Club in Alpine, Alabama (Golfweek)

To demonstrate the long forgotten and ignored virtues of Alpine Bay Golf Course, Golf week has included a day at Alpine Bay at its 2021 Architectural Summit near Birmingham to honor the legacy of Robert Trent Jones Sr. The Summit was attended by 44 Golfweek Best course evaluators. All in all, reviewers who came from as far away as Northern Ireland found Alpine Bay more than worth their visit. The pitch preparation still required considerable work, but the outline of the pitch is excellent. In many ways, the truer example of a classic layout is Robert Trent Jones Sr. than any of the courses on the trail.

Robert Trent Jones Jr., Trent Sr.’s oldest son, made a special appearance that day, along with his own Jr. son, Trent, Chief Operating Officer of Robert Trent Jones II, Inc. It was the first time that Jones Jr. or Trent visited the playground that Jones Sr. proposed half a century earlier.

Alpine Bay Golf Club in Alpine, Alabama (Golfweek)

When Jones Jr. walking around the playground with Parton, he was constantly reminded of the qualities that typified his father’s designs. In an impromptu speech after the round, he said Alpine Bay “deserved a much better fate than it has had so far”.

The truth is, if it becomes part of the Robert Trent Jones Trail—and updated and improved accordingly—Alpine Bay could become one of the more remarkable and unique golf destinations in the state of Alabama.

But perhaps it’s better to keep it as the neglected hidden treasure that it is — just as Parton loved it.

Story originally appeared on GolfWeek


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