A few of us were tramping up and down the overgrown, sometimes prickly fairways of the former Colonial Country Club golf course in northeast Jackson near dusk recently. Renowned golf course designer Rob Collins was explaining the routing of a proposed par-4 hole when Luke Guarisco, who owns the property, pointed in another direction.
“Well, would you look at that,” Guarisco interjected. So we did. More than a hundred yards away, a herd of at least 20 deer, in no apparent hurry, pranced through dappled sunlight in another abandoned fairway right there in the middle of the city.
If Collins and Guarisco have their ways, those deer will soon have the company of golfers for the first time since Colonial shut down operations in 2014. Their vision: Brazen Head, a 12-hole public golf course in a city that badly needs quality public golf.
You read right: 12 holes, a nod to the past and possibly the future of golf. The Old Course at St. Andrews, the birthplace of golf, once consisted of 12 holes. Prestwick Golf Club, another historic Scottish links course, hosted the first 12 Open Championships on its original 12-hole layout. No lesser a golf authority than Jack Nicklaus has touted 12-hole rounds as the future of golf because of the time constraints of modern lifestyles.
And there’s this: 12 holes is what the available 100 acres of gently rolling land at old Colonial will best accommodate. (A 200-unit luxury apartment complex already occupies part of the old Colonial property.)
Will it happen? It is not a certainty, but Guarisco, a Baton Rouge-based investor, has hired the renowned King-Collins golf design group of Chattanooga to design and then operate the course. Guarisco, who says he is putting up “a huge hunk of my own change,” is looking for additional investors. He may not have to look far because King-Collins has an impressive track record.
This Brazen Head project seems less a long shot than was Sweetens Cove, a nine-hole course a half-hour west of Chattanooga in South Pittsburg, Tenn., one of golf architecture’s darlings of the 21st century. Sweetens, opened in 2014, has been chosen Tennessee’s top golf course and No. 50 in the U.S. by Golfweek. In 2017, the New York Times called it “The Little Course that Could.” Every available tee time (Thursday-through-Sunday) has been booked April 1 through Oct. 15 on the golf course’s website.
Pro Football Hall of Famer Peyton Manning, an avid golfer, is among the chief investors in Sweetens Cove.
Said Collins, who has a landscape architecture degree from Mississippi State, “During the entire design and construction process we thought Sweetens was really special, but, honestly, it has been successful beyond our wildest dreams.”
Now, he and partner Tad King have golf course projects in the works all over: New York, Nebraska, Georgia, Texas, and in Memphis (a re-design of the historic nine hole Overton Park municipal golf course).
Collins says he is “especially pumped” about the Jackson project because of the site itself. “Sweetens Cove was designed on a dead-flat piece of ground, no elevation change at all,” Collins says. “We had to move a whole lot of dirt to get the effect we wanted. Here, we’ve got land that reminds me of Texas hill country, a gently rolling terrain with all those great, old oak trees. The possibilities are really endless. We’d move some dirt around, but nothing like what we had to do at Sweetens Cove.”
King-Collins has designed 12 holes that would offer a nine-hole course with an additional three-hole loop.
Says Guarisco, an avid golfer himself: “A golfer will be able to play all day or just play the three-hole loop on the way home from work or even on a lunch break. When Rob suggested a 12-hole layout, I loved the idea, especially the way those guys (King-Collins) design their courses. There are only nine holes at Sweetens Cove, but you hit every club in the bag. It’s challenging, but it’s a whole lot of fun, too. And they design in a way that requires minimum maintenance, which if you are an investor, you like to hear.”
Other than golf, Guarisco is taking a no-frills approach. There will be no swimming pool, no tennis courts and no lavish clubhouse. At Sweetens, the golf course operates out of a humble building known as The Shed.
“The emphasis is all on golf. We will have a first-class, affordable public golf course,” Guarisco said.
As for additional investors, Guarisco remains positive to the point he believes construction could begin this autumn.
Said Guarisco, “We’re very confident we will will have a successful capital raise driven by the King-Collins vision and the success of Sweetens Cove.”