Tim Spangler not only remembers the day Seven Hills Golfer's Club shut down, but the exact moment. "June 23, 2009, 1:45 p.m.,'' said Spangler, the club's director of golf. "It was a Wednesday, and I was covering for one of my Wednesday guys. The boss (Jim Kahanyshyn) walks in and said, 'I got some bad news. We're shutting the course down.' That's how fast it happened.'' A sign was put up outside the clubhouse: "Due to the ailing economy and lack of support from our staff, residents and customers, we have been forced to close our doors indefinitely. — Management.'' For six weeks, the course went untouched. No golfers, no lawn mowers, no chemicals, no water. The local golf community was not happy. One day, there is a golf course in your neighborhood. The next day, it is just weeds. It takes years to route and build a golf course. It took a matter of days to lose one.
Starting from scratch
After six weeks of sitting idle, Spangler, 58, got a call while in Michigan. Seven Hills was going to get a second chance. He met with Kahanyshyn and was told he would have the resources to get the course back in shape.
Spangler tapped Ken Volk as his course superintendent. Volk, 60, worked at Spring Hill Golf Club (which also shut down for a time in 2009), before coming over to Seven Hills full time in August 2009. Armed with a crew of three, Volk set out to make Seven Hills look like a golf course again.
"We were cutting grass that was 12 to 18 inches tall,'' Volk said. "You couldn't tell what was what. Even the greens were so tall. The first thing we did was cut everything down to 4 inches. It was a long process.''
It took more than two weeks just to get six holes cut. He asked for and received a finish mower that could handle tall grass. That allowed him to cut six holes in one week. But still, it was not going to be easy getting an abandoned course back in shape for the winter rush.
Once the fairways were cut to a manageable length, Volk went to work on the greens. Slowly, the overgrown pasture started to look like a golf course again. On Nov. 13, 2009, Seven Hills reopened to the public.
But they weren't out of the woods.
Spangler said there were 213 golfers on the course the day it reopened. But the fairways weren't in the best of shape, and golfers were turned off.
"We were in (bad) condition,'' Spangler said. "We opened in not good condition. We had greens but not good fairways.''
Throw in one of the harshest winters Florida had seen in a while, and it was tough sledding for Seven Hills. Spangler said there are usually 180-220 rounds per day at this time of year. Last winter, there were 80-100.
But since they reopened, Spangler and crew knew the only way to get people back was to get the course in better shape. Volk continued to work on the fairways. He increased his crew from three to seven, and he spent just about every day consumed with turning his course from brown to green.
As the one-year anniversary of reopening approaches, Volk said he can live with the way the course looks now.
"It's the best it's been in years, but I still have a long way to go,'' Volk said. "I've got some goose grass out there. I just ran out of time to get rid of it.
"We've got turf now in areas that used to be dirt. On No. 17, the whole area from the tee box down was all dirt. Now it's filled in with the Bermuda grass and is one of the nicest holes on the course. I'd like to get all the holes to look like that.''
'Night and day'
The golfers are starting to come back, Spangler said, and they have had nice things to say.
"It used to be that every third golfer or so would complain about the course,'' Spangler said. "Now it's just the opposite. We're hearing better things about it.''
While Hernando County used to have few options in courses, it now has ample public and private courses. Golfers need to be impressed with the course if they are going to play it.
"Five months ago, this place wasn't worth playing,'' said Tom McClain of Homosassa, a regular at Seven Hills.
"But I got talked into playing here about a month ago, and it was like night and day. It's in much better shape.''
Playing partner Manny Perez agreed.
"You can tell they've put a lot of work into it,'' said Perez, who lives in Spring Hill. "It's so much better than it used to be.''
A year into its rebirth, Spangler believes Seven Hills will be open for years to come. He said it takes time to earn back golfer's trust, something they lost the first time around.
"I think that (sign on the door) alienated the golf community,'' Spangler said.
"Not every day is going to be rosy. We have to live in the future. We had to tell the golfers that we are never going to close again and we are going to put out the best product that we can.''
That means Volk and crew will be on the course every day manicuring, trimming and hoping the course never falls into disrepair again.
"What we were like a year and a half ago to where we are today, it's two different courses,'' Volk said. "I'm pleased with where we got, but I'm not where I want to be. Rome wasn't built in a day.''
Rodney Page can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.