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Olde Sycamore Turns the Tables on Pricey Private Country Clubs

By Shane Sharp, Contributor

CHARLOTTE, N.C. - You don't have to be Thurston Howe III, Bill Gates, or Donald Trump to enjoy a country club lifestyle steeped in golf, tennis, and dinners at the club. Not if you live or plan to live in the Queen City, and not if you opt to take out a membership at Olde Sycamore Golf Plantation.

This semiprivate golf community on Charlotte's eastside is offering family memberships for an initiation fee of $6,000 and monthly dues of $150. Individual memberships are also available for $4,800 with $150 monthly dues and junior family memberships (under 30 years old) are $4,000 with $150 monthly dues. With these rates, even Chevy Chase's crack investigative reporter "Fletch" wouldn't feel the need to pose as Mr. Underhill in hopes of procuring a hot lead and a couple steak sandwiches.

"Every 20 people that join, the dues go up. So now is a great time to get locked in," says head professional Sonny Weeks. "You don't have to be a property owner to join. About 50 percent of our members are property owners. You can still live close to downtown, make the 20 minute drive, and enjoy golf and country club amenities here."

Olde Sycamore is entering the second phase of a major membership drive that has brought the current tally to 150 members. Plans are to cap out at 400 members and make the club exclusively a private facility within the next two years. Club officials say they are targeting Charlotte's young professional population - a surging demographic that has been fueled by the city's emergence as the nation's second largest financial center.

Private golf and country clubs have historically been the norm, and not the exception in Charlotte. Exclusive addresses like the Charlotte, Myers Park, and Quail Hollow Country Clubs came to define recreational golf in this banking capital. The daily fee and semiprivate golf market battled back with a vengeance during the 1990's with the opening of facilities such as Highland Creek, Charlotte National, Stonebridge, Skybrook, and the Waterford.

Olde Sycamore was also a product of this public golf revolution, but Weeks says that competition and the opportunity to secure a unique market niche sparked the drive to privacy.

"In the area we are in, we feel we need to go private to set ourselves apart," Weeks says. "We want to be a step ahead of the other courses out here because we have a better product. There are no less than four courses within a ten minute drive of each other out here, but we think we have the best thing going in terms of the full package."

The major part of that package is the Tom Jackson designed golf course. Regarded as one of Charlotte's trickier tracks, the golf course at Olde Sycamore bobs and weaves its way around a series of creeks and wetlands and challenges players to think before they tee off.

"There are a couple of things you don't want to be without on this golf course," Weeks says. "The hole diagrams and a good fairway wood or long iron. You can leave driver in the trunk unless you are playing from the back tees."

The course gets underway with a sweeping par 5 that plays downhill on the tee shot, doglegs left, and then comes back uphill on the approach. The remainder of the front nine is dominated by doglegs and blind approach shots, and is capped off by one of the course's best par fours - the 442-yard ninth hole.

The back nine is as jaw dropping beautiful as it is challenging. Slightly more traditional in its layout, the ride in features better views of landing areas and greens. It also houses two of Charlotte's best par 5's: the 601-yard 12th and the 528-yard 18th.

Olde Sycamore technically features four sets of tees ranging from the 6,995 yards gold down to the 4,756 yards red. But course officials have also developed a "Players Course" made up of a mixture of gold and blue tees that plays to 6,670 yards. The Players Course is designed to fill a niche between "grueling" and "challenging" that appeals to 10 to 15 handicappers.

"It really is a thinking man's course," says Weeks. "The phrase is overused, but you do have to use every club in your bag out here. It is what you might call a position golf course because you can't overpower it."

Summit Golf recently assumed management of the golf course operations, but conditions haven't skipped a beat. Like almost every other course in the Carolinas, Olde Sycamore's fairways are slightly browned from the ongoing drought that has ravished the southeastern U.S. over the past three years. But its bentgrass greens are still some of the best putting surfaces in town. The hallmark of the club over the years has been its traditional, southern style clubhouse with its wrap around back patio.

"With the clubhouse and the service here, it has always had the feel of a private country club," Weeks says. "So the transition won't be difficult for us."

For more information on Olde Sycamore memberships, call Kim Campbell at 704-573-1000.

Shane SharpShane Sharp, Contributor

Shane Sharp is vice president of Buffalo Communications, a golf and lifestyle media agency. He was a writer, senior writer and managing editor of TravelGolf.com from 1997 to 2003.

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