Tennille’s ‘every man’ course might surprise even golf’s greatest purists.
Story by Patrick Yost –
Robbie Williams is keeping a secret.
This Southern dame, a super-senior club champion at Twin City Country Club in Tennille, Georgia, isn’t demur about her golf game or her love of the club. As she lingers over a cheeseburger and a beer in the club’s grill, she looks at Lance Gates, a fire-plug of a man with thick arms and broad hands and a quick grin, and marvels at the work Gates has accomplished at the club.
“He just has a natural thing about growing grass,” she says.
And then she lowers her voice when asked why Gates, a master agronomist, has spent the last eighteen years toiling as course superintendent and now general manger at Twin City Country Club. Through his efforts and those of volunteers and staff, it is one of the finest municipal golf courses south of the Fall Line.
“Shhhh,” she says conspiratorially. “He isn’t going anywhere.”
The first thing you notice at Twin City is the pine trees. They tower over the first fairway like ancient sentinels. They are broad-shouldered and massive, as trees given 100 years or more to grow tend to be. There used to be a lot more of them, says Gates with a laugh, but a storm whipped through years ago and wreaked havoc on the golf course and its natural trees. There were limbs and deadfall everywhere, and Gates, with his skeleton staff and tractor, began what he believed was going to be weeks of cleaning.
Then a funny thing happened.
Members arrived with chain saws and tractors and trucks and the limbs and debris were
removed. Equipment was borrowed and the job got done.
It’s that kind of place.
Twin City Country Club was 70 million years in the making. When, county historians say, the coast stretched from Columbus to Macon to Augusta along a “fall line,” deposits of a valuable mineral were tucked under layers of red clay.
In the days when cotton was still stoking the agrarian economic engine, Washington County found that it held huge deposits of Kaolin under the earth, maybe the largest deposits on the planet. Kaolin is used in a wide variety of applications including pharmaceuticals, plastics and building materials. The towns of Tennille and Sandersviille prospered.
In 1928, a nine-hole course was finished and opened. The course was carved with local tractors and workers from agricultural industries and was maintained and supported by the local citizens. In 1972, a second nine holes and an irrigation system was added, in part through resources from the growing Kaolin industry. That system, which
is controlled by manually opening valves on specific holes, is still in place.
In 2000, Gates arrived from working a stint in golf course maintenance in Savannah. In 2003, he married a local girl and set his roots as deep as the towering pines at Twin City.
Twin City Country Club stretches out to more than 6,500 yards from the tips. Broad,
welcoming fairways with rolling hills and wide vistas carve through a 182 acre parkland style golf course. On the 11th hole, you may be joined by two friendly dogs who, after a swim in the pond fronting the 12th green, (a dramatic 191-yard par 3,) run home, happy.
Conditions rival any golf course you’ve ever played and are a marvel. The internet buzzes about Twin City’s’ value and condition.
Drama comes from elevation shifts and accurate approach shots on small green complexes.
David Robinson, a Sandersville native who also played golf at Georgia College and now caddies for PGA Tour Professional Jason Kokrak, caught fire here once and carded a 59.
That still stands, despite regular invasions by the Georgia College golf team and members like Williams and Fred Condit, who also volunteers to work at the course.
Gates says nearly half of his roughly twelve-member staff, from pro shop and grill workers to golf maintenance help, is part-time or volunteer. He manages to create a golfer’s oasis with a $250,000 annual budget and help from friends. When the course needs aerating he reaches out to friends at nearby courses for equipment help and, he says, they are happy to oblige.
Twin City has well-maintained gas golf carts, (“They’re cheaper,” says Gates.) and the Rotary Club meets at the single-level clubhouse once a week. A lectern stands in place in the club’s dining room with the Rotary logo emblazoned on the front.
When a couple of guys drank too much one day and decided to come onto the course, steal a golf cart, and then steal flag poles from some of the greens, the men were caught, in part, because the green flags were laying in one of the inebriated men’s front yard. Always seizing an opportunity, Gates worked with the courts to use the men at the golf course for community service. “They had to do community service. We made sure they worked on Saturdays so their buddies got to see them,” he laughs.
If you’re from out of town, a round of golf, with cart, costs a reasonable $36; $16 if you walk. If you want to join, they are running a special: $90 per month for the first six months and $140 per month after that. Plus you’ll need to buy a share in the place, which they are happy to finance at $15 per month.
The club has approximately 220 members and, Gates says, is always looking for more.
“There are no doctors, no lawyers, no Indian chiefs that play here,” Williams laughs.
Gates corrects her. “The one lawyer we had got behind and we had to kick him out,” he
says. Then there was one other fellow that “got kicked out because he got in a fight.”
But then Williams, a long-time member and former board member, corrects Gates. “You have to do more than just one fight,” she laughs.
It’s that kind of place, really.