Monday, July 30, 2012

Blackberry Trail: Another Day, Another Curse

We've facetiously blogged before about the "Curse of the Shoals." It's often mentioned in conversations concerning big businesses which move here and then mysteriously falter or even go bankrupt; however, if any entity in the Shoals area is cursed, it would seem to be Florence's Blackberry Trail Golf Course north of the city. Now mayoral candidate Billy Ray Simpson has promised he will sell the property if elected.

The public golf course was built in an undeveloped area off Hwy 47; at the corner of the course lies the Wilson Family Cemetery. We'll leave our readers to decide how the city handled that aspect of the project, but suffice it to say many historians were appalled by the course's placement.

Blackberry Trail Golf Course was largely completed by 2000, at a cost of four million, one million over initial estimates. Then city council member Bobby Dolan fought to abandon the project altogether, but still the city toiled on, citing the ultimate value to Florence. When the course finally opened after several delays, the mayor, council members, and their guests were allowed to play without charge. Obviously that provided more ammunition for those who ardently opposed the new course. That regulation was eventually changed.

After being open to the public for only a short time, serious problems with the greens and drainage became apparent. The course officially closed for three months while the city consulted various engineering firms in an attempt to remedy the problems. The three months turned into a year, but the course did reopen in June 2003. Approximately three weeks after the re-opening, vandals struck the course, causing an estimated 75K dollars in damage. This time, the course managed to stay open while repairing the greens using city employees. This frugality led to actual damages being under 5K, but according to news reports no one was ever arrested for the crime which park authorities blamed on adults with an axe to grind. Or could it have been ghosts of Wilson family members?

By the end of 2004, the course was still operating in the red, having lost 330K in the past fiscal year, but city officials were quick to announce that revenues were on the upswing. Then came complaints regarding course employees. Approximately twenty Shoals golfers filed reports with the city, while some wrote letters to the TimeDaily encouraging a boycott due to the maltreatment of patrons. Rumors also cropped up concerning employee theft at the pro shop. Parks director Regina Gresham promised new protocols in dealing with the public, and things again began to look up for Blackberry.

By 2007, the Florence course had been host to several small tournaments and was about to host a gathering of mostly minority golfers. The morning of the tournament, golfers arrived to find racial slurs and epithets spray painted on buildings and putting greens. This time authorities were able to apprehend the culprit. Jake Adam White was arrested on vandalism and burglary charges and required to repay the 5.5K damages. White later violated his probation and is serving a prison sentence in the Limestone Correctional Facility. We're left to wonder how much ill will White's crime created among visiting golfers and just how much money he ultimately cost the city.

Since 2008, the course has been relatively smooth for Blackberry Trail, and the city expects it to have paid for itself within the next 15 to 20 years. Considering his competition, we doubt that Mr. Simpson will win the office he's seeking, but if he should and places the golf course on the market? Any buyers out there for a property that's been called snake bit?


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