Alabama’s former #1 Ranked Golf Course is Being Restored.
Oneonta, Alabama-The par 72 Jerry Pate original design set against a scenic backdrop of the southern edge of the Appalachian Mountains, quickly climbed to the # 1 ranking in the state of Alabama, and spent more than 10 years among the top course ranking lists of the best courses to play. Additionally, it was on Golf Digest’s top 100 courses you can play nationally.
Gradually, though, Limestone Springs fell out of favor because of ownership and management changes at a time when the golf industry was suffering a severe downturn. Conditions deteriorated and Limestone Springs became just a hint of what it once was. Its future was left in doubt when the then-owner, Warrior Custom Golf, filed for bankruptcy in 2019.
Enter Russell Boren Sr., a resident of the Limestone Springs community and owner of Boren’s Companies Inc. in Birmingham, who also has a grandson who plays high school golf at Oneonta High School. Boren, 90 years old but with the energy of someone younger purchased the golf course from Warrior and set in motion the extensive renovation project currently underway.
“Somebody had to buy it,” Boren said on a recent April afternoon while sitting in the clubhouse. “Otherwise, it would have become a cow pasture if I hadn’t bought it.”
Boren took possession of the course in January 2021 and immediately set about fixing the infrastructure. He brought back Mark Langner, the original golf course superintendent when Limestone Springs opened, to oversee the extensive restoration that includes tree removal, new bentgrass greens, regrassing several tees, and reworking the bunkers.
Langner, who owns the Birmingham-based Professional Turfgrass Services, is well known in the industry, having worked at Shoal Creek, Farmlinks, and the Country Club of Birmingham after he opened Limestone Springs. He got his first job in the business after serving as the caddie for Buddy Alexander’s U. S. Amateur victory in 1986 at Shoal Creek.
These days, talk around the golf shop isn’t how Boren rescued the course from oblivion. Instead, the talk is about the anticipation of when the course will reopen and the potential of a return by Limestone Springs to what members consider as its rightful place among Alabama’s best golf courses-public or private.
Limestone Springs was considered a true design masterpiece by Jerry Pate when it opened, playing to a modest 6,987 yards from the tips with a rating of 74.2 and a slope of 137. The course weaves its way through hills and forests of hardwoods and pines, with ever-present elevation changes on 225 acres. Each nine features a risk-reward short par 4 and it’s set of four par 3s is among the strongest in the state.
To answer the first question-when will the course reopen? There is no firm date but sometime this summer is the general consensus. Mark Langner, who is overseeing the renovations, is adamant it won’t open too early. “When it’s ready,” Mark states. “Ideally early summer, but the last thing you want to do is set yourself up for failure.”
Langner has more than a passing interest in making sure everything is done just right-his mother lives on the 18th hole. The original plan was to put a ‘band-aid’ on the course to get it functioning, and then work toward a long-term renovation. A number of issues changed that. 1. Covid 2. Goosegrass got into the original bentgrass greens, so it was decided to renovate the greens. After scraping the goosegrass and surface, all the greens were reseeded with 007XL bentgrass. As of April 12 the greens were about 95 % covered with new grass. Only a spring deluge that dumped more than six inches of rain on the course kept the grass from being at nearly 100% complete.
“A golf course, if it isn’t maintained properly will get away from you quickly,” says Langner “And this property being down in the valley with the hills and trees with 20-plus years of growth, anything and everything was working against the previous owners trying to maintain it as a quality facility.”
Limestone Springs was built at a cost of more than $20 million. The new renovations are a multi-million dollar project, and Boren has been alongside Langner every step of the way. “It has been a big undertaking,” said Mark. “At 90, Russell is up and at it every morning and right out there, engaged and involved. It has been fun to watch him learn and be able to see what we see as agronomists. I learned pretty quickly his commitment–he wants to understand what we are doing and why- and then he is committed.” Langner continued, “That’s the only thing that has kept me engaged because I know we are going to get over the finish line and have that top golf course in Alabama once again. That’s our ultimate goal.”