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Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2018

Southern Trace

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30-year-old golf course and country club’s ambitious plan for a new face lift

Johnson Ramsey was simply trying to be a good husband.

His wife wanted a place close to home to keep her three horses.

Johnson went looking at land and ended up building a country club.

County Club, off Norris Ferry Road in Shreveport, is 30 years old. That’s nine years younger than Ramsey was when he and two partners began development. Today, Southern Trace has approximately 900 members and 500 homes. What started as 550 acres has expanded to 750 acres. The residential part of Southern Trace is now in its 13th phase.

“I envisioned the whole thing,” Ramsey remembered, “because I had gone around the country playing competitive golf, and I knew that all new golf courses usually had an element of subdivision around them. My goal was to build a very good golf course because I thought Shreveport was under-golfed and under-served. I knew if I accomplished that, that would be the lure to make the subdivision go.”

While Southern Trace has amenities, such as tennis, swimming and a fitness center, the 7,048-yard, Champion Bermuda Grass, the Arthur Hill-designed golf course remains Southern Trace’s crown jewel.

“We’re still definitely golf-centric,” said Bryan Aumiller, general manager of Southern Trace. “We want to make this the top course in the Shreveport area and attract all the best players.”

“We really try to push for that balance of having a challenging golf course for all levels, as well as a course that, as people’s handicap starts to get a little higher, still is a very playable course for them,” said Roni Reeves, Southern Trace’s membership director.

But in 2018, golf isn’t enough. That’s why Southern Trace offers things such as Kids’ Bingo, two swimming pool water slides and free child care for members.

“We’re definitely trying to appeal to the whole family,” Aumiller said. “As country clubs have changed and adapted, you’re seeing a lot more kid-friendly activities – more stuff geared not just for golfers but for the whole family.”

However, back in 1988, building a thriving country club in Shreveport was far from a hole-in-one. The area’s economy struggled as result of massive declines in oil and gas prices. Ramsey was concerned, but not deterred.

“Once you get something going and start spending money and you get it all put together, you know it’s (the economy) not going to stay down, so you just plow right ahead,” Ramsey said. “Land was always going to be a good investment in this part of town, I thought. If I didn’t get the club built, I felt like we were putting together a big asset that would have future value.”

But the club did get built – and not just in pieces.

“I knew we couldn’t just go in and build a golf course and not have the swimming, tennis – all the things for the families,” Ramsey said. “We had to put the clubhouse up, we had to put the tennis courts up, we had to put the swimming pools up in the first phase, and that’s pretty unusual these days. We put the whole package out there.”

Building the foundation of the facility all at once – the golf course, country club and first phase of real estate – cost Ramsey and his partners $12 million.

“It would cost double or more than that today,” Ramsey estimated.

But Southern Trace has not rested on its success. Club Corp, which bills itself as “The World Leader in Private Clubs,” bought the facility from Ramsey and his partners in 1991. Club Corp then rebuilt all of the golf course’s greens. Reeves said approximately every five years, there have been significant updates to the facility.

“Four years ago, we invested a million dollars rebuilding our members-only restaurant. We named it Arthur’s, after us being an Arthur Hill-designed golf course. We moved the pro shop to the other side of the building and put the cart staging out front to be more welcoming and inviting to people as they first get to the property and start their day off at the club.”

And more changes are being discussed. “We definitely want to improve our golf teaching,” Aumiller said. “We have a swing room but would like to add some technology to it in the near future where we can track ball flight and things like that – be more of a teaching facility. We are looking at the tennis program – bringing on some more teaching pros to improve that aspect so we can be more of a center for teaching tennis as well.”

All of this, from what began as a husband trying to find a place for his wife’s horses.

“I was very naive and didn’t have a clue,” Ramsey remembered. “But it worked.”

To learn more about Southern Trace Country Club, you may visit www.clubcorp. com.

– Tony Taglavore

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