Editor’s Note: Cherokee Rose Country Club is celebrating it’s 50th Anniversary in 2021 and will culminate the event with the Club Championships September 18th and 19th.
Johnny Smiley can’t believe that 50 years have passed since he embarked along with a small group, to build what is now Cherokee Rose Country Club.
“A bunch of us all got together and put in $5 and it took us from 1968 until 1971 to get this property where we are now,” Smiley said. “To make a long story short we looked at several properties that were too expensive, too wet until Senator Rene Kemp who owned 200 acres in Long County and it backed up to the paper company and the paper company owned these 200 acres in Liberty so they swapped land and Senator Kemp sold it to us for $35,000.”
Smiley said the entire operation was fast.
“They gave me a topography map and told me to lay out the golf course and to include as many building sites as possible for homes. The only changes from the original layout was No. 16 was going to be a Par 5, but we were going to lose four building lots so we changed it to a Par 4 and a Par 3 for the back nine,” Smiley added. “We changed a couple of streets, Kewe was supposed to be a culdesac and we changed that, but for the most part everything has remained the same.”
The surveying of the land and then clearing began shortly after the land was purchased and Smiley said homes began appearing.
“After we had the land cleared, I believe Charlie Purser built the first home here and then Charles Strickland and Phillip Johnson built their homes,” he said. “Seems like there were 10 or 12 homes here when I built my home in 1977.”
“When we opened the course up the fairways were the only places cleared, we had palmettos along both sides of the fairways, but eventually we got that cleared out.”
Smiley said that seeing the area since its inception has been amazing.
“We had about 200 members when we started and we had a restaurant and we had a good thing going for a while,” he said. “But, people said we were too far off the road and we didn’t draw enough outside business to keep the restaurant going.”
Several accidents also had the course and club making changes.
“We lost two clubhouses to fires and they were caused by people leaving their cigarettes burning,” Smiley said. “We kept trying to get the grass to grow in, but we had people wanting to play, just wanting to play.”
Some financial problems hit the course in 1986 and the structure of the club was changed.
“We had some financial problems in 1986, but Bill Geralt, Charles Shuman and Leo Melanson, those were the three who helped us change to Cherokee Rose Enterprises and we were able to get a loan from the Industrial Authority which we paid off in 1995.”
Smiley served on the board for many years but stopped in 1999.
“I was here 24 hours a day, seven days a week and it just got to be too much. I kept the stock books up until a few months ago, but I had enough and wanted to enjoy just playing golf,” Smiley added.
Smiley’s home sits across from the newly renovated Par 4 10th hole and says he can sit on his shop’s front porch and see who’s playing.
“I’m 80 now so I don’t see as good as I used to, but I have a pair of binoculars so I can see who’s playing,” Smiley said. “I can spot some people by the way they handle themselves or walk. I can spot Julian Hodges right away. I can’t miss him.”
Smiley reflects on the past 50 years with a smile.
“I could never imagine 50 years when we first started and the golf course is in the best shape it has ever been in,” he said. “Jack Shuman and the group have worked hard and we have some of the best grass we have ever had and the greens except for a few places are in great shape.”
Smiley has two favorite holes on the course.
“Probably No. 4 is a favorite of mine,” he added. “It’s straight and you can’t get into a lot of trouble. We don’t have as many balls go into the highway that we used too.”
The Par 3 13th hole also is a favorite.
“It was designed like the 16th hole at Augusta and we had to make some changes so the ladies could reach the green, but for the most part it hasn’t changed.”
Smiley said a lot of the older members are gone, but a new wave of golfers are starting to utilize the course.
“We have a bunch of new people playing and that’s good,” Smiley said. “A lot of people use the course for fund raising and that’s a good thing.”
50 years and many rounds of golf, Smiley says the course and club are a special place.
“It’s a place where we have a lot of friends and can have a good time and it doesn’t get much better than that.”