'Crazy' Owners Have Fun with Golf Course

By: Jeff Shelley

According to Warren Massenburg, many people thought he was “crazy” when he followed the suggestion of relatives and converted his 200-acre farm into a golf course. But for the 77-year-old Massenburg, the principal owner of Bull Creek Golf & Country Club in Louisburg, N.C., the project has been worth it.

Massenburg had worked the farm for decades, growing tobacco, cotton and corn, and raising hogs. But no one seemed to be interested in taking it over after he retired or passed on. Then a few relatives said that maybe he should plow the crops under and build a golf course.

“I don’t know and I have wondered from that day on why did I say yes – and I’ve never even hit a golf ball, even up until now,” Massenburg told a reporter from the Greenville Daily Reflector. “All we could hear was that we were crazy, didn’t know what we were doing,” he continued.

Six families – the Massenburgs, Solomons, Keiths, Stricklands, Bridgeses and Browns – used to live on the farm. In 1992, the 11 property owners agreed that Massenburg should turn the farm into a golf course, and the families raised $1 million for the venture. Opened in 1996, Massenburg and the other owners are doing fine with the golf course located 30 miles northeast of Raleigh. Though the semiprivate Bull Creek G&CC isn’t setting any records for rounds played, the facility enjoys a steady clientele and a devoted following.

Bull Creek is one of only four black-owned golf courses in the U.S. The others are Clearview Golf Club in Canton, Ohio, Meadowbrook Country Club near Raleigh, and Freeway Golf Course in Sicklerville, N.J. Founded in 1948 by William Powell, 18-hole Clearview is the nation’s oldest black owned and operated golf course.

The farm began in 1920 when Massenburg’s father, Zollie, bought the property. The Stricklands bought neighboring acreage in 1945 and moved onto it in 1951. The properties were later merged to form the current parcel. By the time the farm reached the third generation of owners, no relatives were interested in working the soil. Warren Massenburg even moved away from farming, concentrating on teaching and running a chain of rest homes.

“People had other interests,” said Sam Solomon, the club’s president who inherited 13 acres of tobacco on what’s now club property. “You saw another line of opportunity. We wanted to get into some uncharted territory.”

The club’s founders certainly had their doubters. “Very few people believed when the news went out and the ground was broken that this would come true,” Massenburg related to reporter Tom Foreman, Jr. “A very few people believed.”

The development was hindered by difficulties in getting permits, and Massenburg’s antsiness in the delays, who nearly gave up the quest and turned 70 acres into pasture for cattle. But Solomon convinced him to wait two weeks for the regulatory hurdles to clear. “This thing was for us to do,” said Solomon. “We didn’t have the sense enough to stop.”

As for actually designing and building a golf course, the families had no clue. “We thought you went to Raleigh. We thought you went to the forestry department (to get plans). That didn’t work,” said Solomon. “We lost two or three months trying to find out where to go.”

The best sources, as it turned out, were other golf courses in the area. “When we needed information, we just jumped in the truck (and asked) questions,” Solomon said. “People would give us information and (be) glad to give it to you. It was amazing.”

Solomon traveled to courses throughout the Carolinas and learned about club memberships and green fees. “I think they thought that if we were crazy enough to try it, they would give us the information,” he said. A Johnston County man was paid $250 to give Solomon, cousin Zollie Gill and other family members a demonstration on how to build a green. The man built one, then the families constructed the remainder of the putting surfaces on Bull Creek’s course.

The Raleigh firm of Little & Little helped with designing the course, and Leon Lucas, a retired NC State University professor of plant pathology, gave them guidelines for maintaining the greens. Lucas still drops by from time to time to see how the course is doing.

The first nine holes opened in 1996, with the back nine following in ‘98. The par-72 layout stretches 6,367 yards from the back tees. Memberships in the semiprivate club cost $500, with members paying $70 in monthly dues.

Solomon said that since it opened the course has enjoyed a diverse and friendly membership. “In a lot of country clubs, (members) want to be identified as a big shot,” he said. “We don’t ask who you are. We don’t care who you are. We treat everybody the same.”

A golfer from Bunn, N.C., John Heideman, told reporter Foreman that the course and the people who run it are fair. “It’s a good layman’s course,” Heideman said. “It’s well laid out, (and has) exceptionally fine greens. It’s just a good, healthy course to play. One of the finest things is the people who run the golf course. You go to other places, and they treat you like they’re doing you a favor to let you play there.”

That’s not the case at Bull Creek Golf & Country Club. For more information or a tee time, call 919/496-7888.