Thursday, October 27, 2011

In Praise of Hillandale

It was announced last
month that the Hillandale Golf Course might soon be closing.

Losing the course would be a sad thing for my adopted hometown of Durham, North Carolina. In a world of gated trophy courses and pricey green fees, Hillandale belongs instead to golf's more democratic tradition. It's an unpretentious public track with very modest fees and a
welcoming atmosphere. You'll find all kinds of people out at the course with its busy driving range and practice putting green. Hillandalers include plumbers and police officers, school teachers, traveling salesmen, high-schoolers and hipsters, and Duke students and residents from the nearby Duke Medical Center.

Hillandale was whites-only back in the Jim Crow era. Now, in the best New South spirit, it
draws a mixed crowd. The course has become an unofficial center for area black golfers; it's the home track for the North Carolina Central University golf team and a corps of retired African-American regulars. Hillandale is also among the only area courses with a female head teaching pro, Fran James. James and the other pros run free clinics for kids and frequently host charity events, including a recent outing for Duke bone marrow transplant patients and their families. Hillandale is itself an important source of employment in a bad economy. Fifteen full and part-time workers make their living there between the pros, greenskeepers, and others involved in running the course.

Also notable is Hillandale's environmental record. Ellerbee
Creek cuts through the course; it had been straightened, probably in the 1950s, into an ugly Army Corps of Engineers-style trench. But in an innovative collaboration with a local environmental group, the Ellerbee Creek Watershed Association, Hillandale superintendent Roy Clark oversaw the remeandering of the creek some five years ago. The results have been spectacular. Trees and native shrubs have grown in along the creek; they add interest and beauty to the course and a bird sanctuary. The work included constructing a wetlands area to catch the oily run-off from I-85 that had previously run straight into Ellerbee Creek. The course itself is the single biggest green space in the central areas of Durham.

The Hillandale closing had been scheduled for October
31. But the Sun Trust bank, which administers the course as a public trust, recently postponed the date. The city of Durham is now apparently negotiating to take over Hillandale.

I hope an agreement will soon be reached and this great Durham spot kept open.

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