Finding faith off the fairway at Cuscowilla’s ‘Golf Cart Church’
Story by Tia Lynn Ivey | Photography by Wendy Jarrard
In the quiet peace of early Sunday morning, while the grounds crew is readying Cuscowilla’s course for a day of play, golfers and families begin gathering near hole No. 6. Casually dressed, with Bibles in hand, they pull golf carts up to Grove Chapel, their first stop before teeing off.
Cathedrals and chapels are not the only places to hold church, says Doug Turner, the founder and pastor of a small, nontraditional congregation, nicknamed “Golf Cart Church,” that meets beneath a wooden pavilion on Georgia’s only Coore-Crenshaw designed golf course.
There’s no need for pews at this outdoor church. Many attendees never even leave their golf carts, parking them beside folding chairs set out for the service.
Turner, 65, often preaches while wearing shorts and golf shoes as his parishioners come with golf clubs strapped to their carts to enjoy a game after the service. The environment is not how most people think of church, but for Turner, amidst the sprawling, immaculately-manicured golf course and scenic views of the lake, there’s no better place to practice the Christian faith.
“Golf is a way of life here, it’s our culture, but so is our faith,” says Turner. “The Grove Chapel has become a place for people who want to come and explore their faith and do it in a non-threatening place. It’s really organic to who we are, where we live. It’s been that kind of deal from the beginning. We want everyone to come dressed however they are going to spend the day and be who they are.”
For Doug, a golf community is the perfect place to have a church.
“There are a lot of analogies comparing The Kingdom of God to golf,” explains Doug. “Golf is a lifelong sport. It’s a game you never conquer. You are always trying to get better – ever reaching but never quite getting there. It’s a little bit like faith.”
Doug began holding services sporadically about five years ago. But this Easter will mark the third anniversary of regular Sunday services at the Grove Chapel. It all began when Doug and his family moved to Cuscowilla and embarked on a search for a nearby church.
“Nothing really fit,” says Doug, who was a pastor 20 years ago in the Atlanta area and has worked as a church consultant since.
“I was talking to a neighbor of mine and said ‘Why don’t we start a Sunday service?” explains Doug. “We put up yard signs and engaged in different ways to let people know we were meeting that weekend. At our very first meeting, three or four couples rolled up in their golf carts and never got out,” says Doug, who jokes they might have wanted to have a quick getaway. But no one took off in their golf carts that day, and the small group continued to meet. “It got momentum and just grew from there,” says Doug.
What started with less than ten people has blossomed into a vibrant congregation ranging from anywhere between 40 and 70 people. Easter Sunday draws about 200 people.
“It just depends on the season. We definitely see more people once Spring and Summer roll around,” says Doug, who noted many residents only live at Cuscowilla part-time.
In the early days, Doug held services under a special events tent. But once the golf carts kept multiplying, it was time to build a new facility for the church.
Doug helped with fundraising and Cuscowilla gave Grove Chapel a piece of land to build a new pavilion. It features special glass garage doors so the golf carts have easy access and the beautiful view is never obstructed. Heinz Nathe, developer of Cuscowilla, suggested the new pavilion should be in the heart of Cuscowilla, as close to the center of the neighborhood as possible.
“In Europe, the churches are in the center of the village,” explains Doug. “Cuscowilla is a smaller, more intimate golf course and community, so our church has taken on the same feel. We are a very close-knit community.”
Doug keeps the services at Grove Chapel simple, focusing on Bible-based sermons and fostering community.
“We joke that our start time is 10-ish,” laughs Doug. “We keep things very casual. At the beginning is time for community. There’s a lot of laughter and people connecting. Then we come together for prayer and a 30-minute sermon. Occasionally, we have music and use a large screen to show videos.”
Doug considers Grove Chapel a nondenominational church that draws a diverse group of people from different church backgrounds, from Evangelicals to mainliners to Catholics.
“Right now, our vision is to create a place for people to feel free to investigate the Gospel and we want to serve our neighbors,” says Doug. “From our vantage point, we are never going to be a mega-church. I love big churches and know that world, but what we are doing here is about as much fun as anything I can imagine doing while leading a worship community.”