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New hope for Southern Links
New managers plan to revitalize golf course, build membership base
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Statesboro residents, James Cannady, left, and Ernest Kelly, right, have entered into a lease-purchase agreement with the owners of the Southern Links Golf Club which is located just off of Harville Road. Avid golfers, Cannady and Kelly intend to revitalize the course and clubhouse and rejuvinate the golf club's membership. - photo by JAN MOORE/staff

Southern Links

    Averting possible closure, one of Bulloch County's two public golf courses is now under new management. Statesboro residents, Ernest Kelley and James Cannady, have entered into a lease-purchase agreement with the ownership group of Southern Links Golf Club on Golf Club Road, and have assumed day-to-day management of the course and its financial operations.
    Dennis Ingley, a member of the Vidalia based ownership group and its spokesman, said his group was very pleased that a deal had been reached and that the course would be under new management.
    "We have owned that course for almost 14 years and have tried to operate it from afar," Ingley said. "It needed on-site ownership with new enthusiasm. We haven't been able to run it like we had hoped to."
    Constructed in 1985 by local resident, Jimmy Cartee, Southern Links was the only 18-hole public golf course in the county for a number of years. According to Cartee's son, local contractor, Jayme Cartee, 160  homes were built around the golf course his father developed.
    "When dad built the golf course he had a vision of developing home sites around it and creating a really nice golf type community out in the county," Jayme Cartee said. "He sold the golf course in 1993 to a group of men including Mr. Ingley. He was very concerned for the residents and property owners of Meadow Lakes and the adjoining subdivisions when he heard the course might close."
    "My family has always felt like there was sufficient demand for a public golf course here," Cartee said. "It's like anything else though, people are willing to pay, but they want somewhere nice to go play. I am excited to hear that some good folks will be taking over the operation of the golf club and course."
    Kelly and Cannady are not who many would consider to be "typical" golf course owners. Adamant golf enthusiasts who picked up the game later in life, Kelly and Cannady said they could not bear to have the course discontinue operation.
    "We both really like playing golf and didn't want to see the course close," Cannady said. "We started negotiating with Mr. Ingley right after Christmas and reached a deal on New Year's Eve. The course has remained open continuously."
    Kelly, a retired paving contractor, is overseeing the day-to-day operation of the course, with Cannady "pitching in" when he is through with work each afternoon. Cannady is a 40 year employee of the Georgia Power Company.
    With retirement looming on the horizon, Cannady said working at a golf course, particularly one that he has such a vested interest in, will make for a wonderful second career.
    "Some say that I have entered into an expensive hobby for myself when I retire, but our intention is to turn this thing around and have it be a thriving golf course and club again," he said.
    Kelly said the two intend to start repairing customer relations immediately.
    "Having owned a business, I know the most important thing is customer relations," Kelly said. "Since operation of the course has changed hands, we have had several members return. We are going to listen to what the members want, their suggestions, and continuously fix and upgrade the course."
     "The prices are going to be very reasonable and affordable," he said. "We want people to come out here and help us enjoy the revitalization of this course and facility."
    According to Kelly, improvements to the course will include a reshaping of the tee boxes, softening of the fairways, and general repair.
    The 167 acre golf course includes a 6,000 square foot clubhouse with a banquet room. Cannady said the immediate plans for the clubhouse include a revamp and restocking of the restaurant grille area and the availability of breakfast for early morning golfers.
    "I know this sounds simple, but we really want to be golfer friendly," Cannady said. "We want people to look forward to coming to play here, to be comfortable here, to have their needs met."
     Ingley said he feels Cannady and Kelly are perfectly fit to run and improve the course.
    "Clearly we want them to be very successful," Ingley said. "We haven't actually sold it to them yet, they are operating with an option to purchase it. It is our dream that they are very successful and that they do buy it. They have had an immediate, very positive impact on the course and club, and we are very hopeful that things will work out well for them and for us."
    Club member George Shumaker is also very hopeful that the new course operators will be successful.
    "Many of us who play golf regularly at Southern Links were delighted that these two fellows stepped forward to take over the operation of the course," Shumaker said. "We need more than one public golf course in this community. We are just grateful that they are so committed to the revitalization of Southern Links."