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On the Upswing | By Jason Brady


Cotton farmer Johnny Boyles spent most of his adult life locked in a war against grass, spokes of green that choked his crops. You wouldn’t believe it to see him now, working equally hard to coax lush Bermuda from the ground at his golf course. Boyles is one of three partners who bought the Arabia Golf Course in rural Hoke County, a once-popular draw for golfers from all parts of the Cape Fear region. He and developers Joe Gillis and Harold Kidd initially considered transforming the aging course into a residential development after its former owners decided to get out of the family business. But with the housing market in a slump and his Scottish heritage tugging at his soul, Boyles and his partners decided to transform the course and name it after a type of cotton grown in the Southeast. Upland Trace Golf Course will celebrate its first anniversary in October. Arabia opened in 1963 as a par 72, 6,063-yard golf course. Raeford native Hendrix Brown designed both the nine-hole and 18-hole regulation course though only the 18-hole course remains. Membership gradually declined and so did the course itself. Boyles and his partners had a lot of work to do to get the course back in shape and lure new customers and long-time members back into the fold. But thanks to a nearly half-million dollar investment, the course is returning to its glory days. A remodeled clubhouse includes men’s and women’s locker rooms and a large awning that shades the patio. An expanded and newly-paved parking lot and fresh landscaping greet visitors. Boyles and course superintendent Johnny Nichols widened overgrown cart paths, cleared fairways and underbrush, and repaired the irrigation system. They leveled the tee boxes and put in new sod. They repaired or replaced maintenance equipment including a $22,000 mower designed specifically to cut the 18 greens plus a new fleet of golf carts, selling off the older versions to help offset the cost. Of course, there have been challenges along the way. “We seem to take two steps forward fixing something, and one step back,” Boyles said. “We kill all the weeds then we get insects that need our attention.” But the greens and the fairways are in good condition. Other improvements included moving tee boxes out from under trees into the sun. “We’re not just maintaining the course,” Boyles said, “we’re making it better.” The renovated course has about 120 members, and Theresa Kippe, clubhouse manager, said the staff continues to hold membership drives. “We want to be the place to come to,” she said. ”Our goal is to make it a family atmosphere.” It costs $30 to play 18 holes Friday through Sunday and $25 during the remaining weekdays. On Tuesdays, clergy play at membership rates and on Wednesdays, seniors 63 and older play for $20. There’s a 10 percent discount for military and retirees. And on Saturday mornings, the staff holds a class for beginners. “We want everyone to learn to play,” Boyles said. Even though the course is located in Hoke County, well-designed and attractive signs dot the countryside in western Cumberland County inviting the public to try the nearby golf course. As for Boyles, he keeps a set of golf clubs in the office but says most days he’s too busy trying to get the course where he wants it to be, riding the tractor, mowing fairways and clearing bush. And it seems to be working. “You’ll know it’s right because you’ll see me playing,” he said. Upland Trace Golf Course is located at 192 Golf Course Road, Raeford. For more information, call 910.875.3524 or visit www.uplandgolfcourse.com