Village golfers swinging into new year

Don Merritt Jr., left, and Don ‘Papa’ Merritt practice at the Toqua Golf Course driving range.

Golf professionals and member organizations in Tellico Village are excited to start the new year after a 2020 that shattered records.

Nearly 103,000 rounds were played last year between The Links at Kahite, Tanasi and Toqua golf courses, which broke the previous record of 92,000 rounds in 2006.

Chris Sykes, director of golf operations, said he estimates the department will total $350,000 in sales revenue alone.

“It was a great year for golf in general because a lot of people got introduced to the game or got reintroduced to the game,” he said. “Rounds were up across the country, and in Tellico Village that was amplified just with our clientele and folks weren’t traveling. They were staying at home, and golf was a great outlet. Our avid hardcore golfers played more, and then we had some recreational golfers that became more avid golfers. It was a great year for golf in Tellico Village, and the team deserves all the credit. We had records across the board.”

Casey Flenniken, Tanasi golf professional, linked the record-breaking number to the COVID-19 pandemic, emphasizing golf provided an escape for hundreds of Villagers on a daily basis.

“With the pandemic going on and with everything that’s just going on in the world, we were happy that golf was an outlet for everyone,” he said. “Definitely, there were some things that were feast and some things that were famine due to COVID-19, and golf was definitely a feast and it was a free-for-all at times for tee times in the Village because there was nothing else to do, people weren’t traveling. We were happy we could provide that outlet for them, honestly, because without golf, I’m not sure what a lot of Villagers who do play golf would have done.”

Staff at all three courses worked overtime to accommodate the rounds being played, especially during the summer and fall.

“We were almost 9,000 rounds above budget at Tanasi prior to 2019,” Flenniken said. “Just taking that into consideration, it was obviously a lot on the staff, first and foremost. They did an incredible job managing the pandemic because a lot came out of the staff, but it’s just a testament to the Village again and how supportive people are. Everybody was very understanding and a lot of things had to change due to COVID-19 protocols, and I thought the entire golf operation and staff did an unbelievable job.”

Numerous golf projects are scheduled for 2021.

The Links at Kahite will receive a new fleet of golf carts and renovated bunkers on the front nine, which will cost $250,000. The back nine bunkers will be completed in 2022.

Tanasi will receive cart path repairs, while Toqua will extend the driving range pad and artificial surface area. Toqua has also installed a new Trackman system in the pavilion, which will allow golfers to work on their game using a state-of-the-art simulator featuring renowned virtual golf courses.

“There’s a lot of exciting things, and 2021 is going to be a huge year for us,” Sykes said. “We’re carrying on the momentum from 2020, and I know that on Jan. 2 it was a beautiful day and every tee time on all three courses was booked, which is really unusual for January. We’ve got this great momentum because golf at every level has had a great year and has benefited from the pandemic in an odd way. We’ll continue to improve the product, improve the customer service and the overall golf experience and keep it moving forward.”

More golf instruction programs are likely to be introduced in the new year, including Super Speed Sundays beginning Jan. 24 at Toqua.

The six-week program, taught by Flenniken, will provide techniques on how to the hit the ball farther with the use of specialized speed sticks. The cost is $350 and more information can be found online at http://golftellico

“It’s just once a week, and it’s going to be a way for me to teach people how to hit the ball farther,” Flenniken said. “The No. 1 question I get is, ‘How can I hit the ball farther?’ As a golf instructor, I’ve decided to go ahead and get through Super Speed golf, become a Super Speed teacher and teach our Villagers how to hit the golf ball farther. The cost is $350, but they get to keep the Super Speed sticks, they get the six weeks worth of instruction and after that I’m hoping to see their club head speed pick up and watch their distances grow.”

Several golf organizations, such as the Tellico Village Mens Golf Association, are planning new events and hoping to increase memberships this year.

Dean Blemker, who in November was elected the new MGA president, expects 2021 to be a highly successful year for the organization.

“We’re really back to normal now, so our goals will be to continue to provide to our members the kind of opportunities that we’ve had in the past and now recognize them and change them to the COVID environment,” Blemker said. “Our memberships and player participation has been very good. We just recently came off a 200-person member-member tournament, and we’re going to look to expand on the event that we had. We’ve talked about adding a new event in the spring.”