Jackson takes over as new owner of Red Fox Country Club

Published 10:30 am Friday, October 16, 2009

Red Fox Future LLC took full possession of the club and property Wednesday and will go to formal closing on the deed in a few months, Jackson said. No sales price was disclosed.

Jackson said he is excited about the challenges of bringing back what was once a nationally ranked golf course.

&dquo;For the past 20 years, Red Fox has been living on its past reputation,&dquo; Jackson said. &dquo;I&squo;m always hearing folks say, &squo;I remember when Red Fox was the finest golf course in the southeast,&squo; or &squo;I remember when Red Fox was a nationally known golf course.&squo; Our goal is to get people talking about Red Fox in the present tense.&dquo;

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Red Fox Country Club, opened on Oct. 1, 1965, was designed by Ellis Maples. Before his death in 1984, Maples and his design team had created over 70 golf courses in the Southeast, including Pinehurst #5.

From the time it opened, Red Fox was considered to be one of the top 100 golf courses in the country. It was consistently ranked in the top 10 among golf courses in North Carolina, and Golf Digest ranked it among the Top 100 Courses in America in 1969, 1970, 1971 and 1973.

For a year now, Jackson said, &uot;I have worked with Double Eagle Golf Course Construction consultants on a detailed and comprehensive study of the current condition of the Red Fox course, and prepared a detailed list of improvements and upgrades.

&dquo;We have also consulted with course architects Dan Maples (Ellis Maples&squo; son) and other architects on needed updates and changes if any,&dquo; Jackson said. &uot;I believe it&39;s more a case of improving what we have rather than making any significant changes to the course.&dquo;

Planned improvements, Jackson said, include resurfacing and resizing the greens, installing a new irrigation system, resizing and reconstructing the bunkers, improving and replacing cart paths.

&uot;In addition to working on the golf course,&uot; Jackson said, &uot;we have plans to remodel and expand the clubhouse with a new grill room and bar overlooking the course and lake, add a swimming pool and fitness center, remodel the pro shop, upgrade the Har-Tru tennis courts, and expand and improve the practice tee and grounds. However, we don&squo;t just want to be a one dimensional club, we will improve the tennis program not only with court overhaul but implement tennis programs and tournaments for all ages.

&dquo;A thousand mile journey begins with just one step,&dquo; Jackson said. &dquo;Our plans will take some time. It can&squo;t be done overnight, but not a day will pass without some effort getting to that goal.&dquo; We will be making improvements on a daily basis. We want a family friendly club. We want the community to feel wanted and welcomed.&dquo;

Of course, another goal will be to build membership to make the club profitable, and eventually to have enough members to take the club private. Red Fox today has fewer than 100 members, Jackson said.

A group of local golfers, businessmen and Red Fox Club members, led by Don Eifert of Tryon and the late Larry Heath, Dave Parkinson and Bill McClellan, came together to try to purchase the club from the RTC in the early 1990s. The group mounted a serious bid but was narrowly outbid by Gene Holbrooks of Kannapolis at the auction held on the Polk County courthouse steps.

&dquo;From 1992 (the year Holbrooks bought the course) it was operated as a semi-private club,&dquo; Jackson said. &uot;Membership dropped to 100.&dquo;

However, Jackson said he believes Red Fox is well-positioned to attract new members from Polk County residents and newcomers. &uot;Our membership structure is not as expensive as the &39;high-end&39; courses which have been built in Polk County in recent years, and yet [Red Fox] sports a championship, 18-hole course with tennis courts and dining facilities for up to 300.&uot;

To get the word out that Red Fox is being reborn, Jackson said he hopes to reintroduce the club to local Realtors, the riding and hunt clubs and area inns and B&Bs.

Jackson said the club could operate as a members-only operation with as few as 400 members. He is working on initiation fees and membership rate plans now, hoping to create the right incentives.

Red Fox membership reached as high as 440 members in 1982, but had fallen again to 220 in 1989. It was in 1989 that the owners, Red Fox Ltd. filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The bankruptcy court appointed Club Mark Corp. to manage the facility and Club Mark hired Jackson as general manager and director of golf, a position he has held ever since.

That he now owns the course is a dream come true for Jackson, who grew up golfing every day in Rutherford County on his way to a stint as a professional golfer touring the world.

He competed professionally on the European PGA Tour, the Australian PGA Tour, the Canadian PGA Tour, the Asian Tour, the South American Tour, and South African PGA Tour and the Hogan Tour.

He came from a professional sports family. His father, Leonard Jackson, played baseball for the Detroit Tigers and played golf for fun on his off days while on the road.

Tony Jackson still thinks of his professional career when he sees some of the pros today, guys he played with and could beat on any given day. He wonders how he might have done if he had kept after it a few more years and had perhaps won a card to play the U.S. PGA Tour, the big time.

But Red Fox was Tony Jackson&squo;s first job off the tour after 11 years of globe trotting, and he&squo;s not complaining.

&dquo;I used to dream of playing Red Fox,&dquo; as a young, Rutherford County golfer, Jackson recalled. &dquo;You couldn&squo;t get on (to play the course) without an invitation. If someone ever told me I would be the owner operator one day, I would have thought that was like hitting the lottery.&dquo; &dquo;I have a real fond affection and respect for the course.&dquo;

For a true golfer, Jackson said the Red Fox course is challenging in every phase of the game. &dquo;When you finish a round, all the clubs in your bag will be dirty,&dquo; Jackson said. &dquo;It is not a course where you will play driver and short irons all day. That is monotonous. It&squo;s a true classic course that test the ability of all calibers of players.&dquo;

Hall of Fame Professional golfer Lanny Wadkins played Red Fox in college and still tells people it is one of the best courses he ever played, Jackson said.

Jackson said he is proud to be bringing the club back. &dquo;After 33 years in the business, it still doesn&squo;t feel so much like a job. It&squo;s like I&squo;m getting paid to do something I love.&dquo;