Russell Lands is continuing a planned development at Wicker Point with the start of a new golf course.
The COVID-19 pandemic slowed the 1,500-acre development in the city limits of Alexander City.
“COVID put a stop to the project; we were unsure what was going to happen,” Russell Lands vice president Roger Holliday said.
Holliday said Russell Lands had been working on the project in earnest for more than last two years. Russell Lands partnered with golf course designers Coore & Crenshaw made up of designer Bill Coore and two-time Masters winner Ben Crenshaw before the pandemic struck.
The need for another golf course became quickly apparent a year ago as the COVID-19 pandemic forced many business professionals to work from home. Many of those sought refuge at Lake Martin.
“We have more than 900 members at Willow Point, the most we have ever had,” Holliday said. “The need for golf became apparent. We called up Bill and let him know early on in (the pandemic) we were ready to go again.”
Holliday said the new course under construction has yet to be named but the name wouldn’t be a surprise to many if the name being kicked around comes through. Holliday said the clubhouse for the course is still in works but it will not take the place of Willow Point Country Club.
“It will be a golf club,” Holliday said. “There will be no tennis courts, no pool. Any relationships with Willow Point have not yet been determined. There are a lot of pieces to the puzzle.”
Holliday and others at Russell Lands said the team of Coore & Crenshaw was a natural fit for the ideals of Russell Lands.
“They fit in well with our Ben Russell’s vision of his granddady’s vision of keeping this land pure, listening to the land, let the land speak to you, ‘Do what it says. Don’t build a pond where it doesn’t belong,’” Holliday said. “The neat thing about a Coore and Crenshaw golf course is that they look for a golf course to make sure it fits on the land. They don’t use a lot of heavy yellow equipment, bulldozers, mountain movers and diesel fuel. They look to make a golf course look like it belongs...they want to make the golf course look like it has been there 100 years.”
Russell Lands chairman Ben Russell said his grandfather loved the natural resources of the area.
“One thing they always said about Mr. Ben, they said he was close to the land,” Russell said. “Of course he was born on a farm like everybody else. He listened to the land.”
Russell said he is confident the design of the new course will match his grandfather’s philosophies.
“Coore and Crenshaw, they can see stuff none of the rest of us can see,” Russell said. “We are sure happy to have them involved. This is going to be a real sho’nuff project that everyone is going to be proud of.”
A familiar face will be in charge of the construction — Chris Kelley. Holliday said Kelley was the job superintendent for Landscapes Unlimited when Russell Lands renovated the golf course at Willow Point 20 years ago and was in charge of the team redoing the bunkers at the course last year. Landscapes Unlimited is returning for the new course.
“One of the things in bringing them in was they had to bring Chris back,” Holliday said.
Russell Lands president and CEO Tom Lamberth is happy to see Landscapes Unlimited coming back to Lake Martin.
“If they are not the largest, they are one of the largest in the world as far as golf course construction,” Lamberth said. “We feel confident (Kelley) will do a good job.”
Lamberth said the golf course is not the normal anchor many see in real estate developments.
“A lot of people build a golf course and try to sell real estate on the golf course, that is not what this is going to be,” Lamberth said. “This is going to be a golf course and the golf experience will be great. We are going to limit the residential that is going to be built near the golf course so the golf experience will be great but we will be selling a lot of real estate in the nearby area.”
Crenshaw has connections to the Southeast. According to Holliday, Crenshaw is connected to Alabama and members of the Russell Lands communities.
“His grandfather is from Anniston,” Holliday said. “We have someone who played with Ben as a child.”
Coore said he and Crenshaw researched the area before committing to the project.
“Russell Lands has an impeccable reputation,” Coore said. “Lake Martin is supposed to be beautiful. (We) might want to take a look at this so we did not quite know what to expect until we got here.
“It’s different; it’s unique and in a different part of the country than we have worked in. Let’s see if we can do something we all might be proud of.”
Coore and Crenshaw have made several visits to Wicker Point as the golf course unveils itself. Currently a few trees have been removed, but expectations are already high.
“First pass clearing opening up the center lines of the holes has been done so we can actually get a sense of how they do lay on the ground,” Coore said. “This property, it is not fair for me to say as even though I grew in the South, I have not been to Alabama much at all, this property feels like what I expect and it’s beautiful, the rolling the contours and of course the lake, its reputation precedes all this and everyone knows about how fantastic that is.
“This golf course is going to have a great sense of individual character, something we try to hope to find. It’s not like we are having to bring character to it, it's here. We are just working with it. My personal expectations were high and I believe this exceeds them. We are grateful to be here.”
Character and history are already apparent on hole No. 1.
“There was an old railroad bed there,” Holliday said. “There is a little bit of a dip. (Coore) was like don’t mess that up, that’s history.”
Crenshaw has seen his fair share of golf courses on the PGA tour even winning two Masters on the Augusta National course.
“There is some good golf and beautiful golf here around the lake and its our job to bring it out what we see on the ground,” Crenshaw said.
The Coore & Crenshaw representatives on the ground will be Jimbo Wright and Jeff Bradley helping Kelley and Landscapes Unlimited pull out the vision of Coore and Crenshaw.
“They will be moving here in May,” Holliday said. “They will be here about 18 months.”
Holliday said the new course will see its fairways sodded and greens sprigged.
“We are planning to open in 2023,” Holliday said. “We might open fall of 2022 but it depends on the growth of the course. It needs good weather for the grass to grow and be ready.”
The new Russell Lands neighborhood is named ‘The Heritage.’ It encompasses more than 1,500 acres of land and more than 12 miles of Lake Martin shoreline.
“Originally there was a hotel associated with the development,” Holliday said. “That is not in the works at the moment.”
Holliday said the golf course is the only project moving ahead with equipment on the ground at the moment but Russell Lands is looking at about 200 lake front lots and as many or more interior lots in the development. Plans are to start making some of the lots available for purchase in 2022.
“There is a lot of work to do,” Holliday said. “There are no plats yet. There is limited power. There is no city water. There is no sewer. We will build a sewer system similar to what we did at The Ridge, The Willows.”