February 7, 2024

At The Dells, everything old is new again

By Gregg Dewalt, Alabama Golf News Editor

New owner has high hopes for Tuscaloosa-area course

NORTHPORT – At first, it was the Old Cove Course.

After an ownership change, it became Hidden Meadows.

Now that Roger Taylor owns it, he hopes that rebranding the18-hole course as The Dells is the final iteration of the Tuscaloosa area’s newest public golf course.

For Taylor, who purchased what was then known as Hidden Meadows in December 2021, buying the golf course was as much nostalgic as it was a business decision. After all, The Dells is where Taylor has played the bulk of his rounds and it remains the site of his only career hole-in-one.

“I played this course off and on since it opened,” he said. “I remember before the clubhouse was even built, signing up and playing the course from a trailer. So, I’m familiar with it. I love the course.”

The Dells is about eight miles northwest of Downtown Tuscaloosa, just west of Alabama Hwy. 171.

After watching the course steadily decline, he jumped at the chance to buy it when it was put up for sale by its second owner. The whole transaction took about four days, according to Taylor. 

Four days from inquiry to closing the deal

Taylor put in an offer and within 12 hours he was the on the path to becoming the proud owner of The Dells.

The deal closed four days later on Dec 21, and work on renovating and restoring The Dells began shortly thereafter.

Two years to the day after he bought it, Taylor reopened The Dells for limited play on Fridays and Saturdays. The Dells will open full-time in early April, he said. Prices are in line with Bent Brook and Ol’ Colony, two nearby upscale public facilities.

Designed by Mike Young, The Dells was restored by Taylor to the original 1996 routing after the previous owner flipped the nines.

“I flipped it back because it just makes sense to finish up No. 18 in front of the clubhouse,” he said. “As we begin to host tournaments and such, it just makes sense to have you finishing up there instead of across the road.”

The road to reopening wasn’t easy, as Taylor and his crew worked methodically to ensure that problems that saddled the course before won’t reoccur. Taylor encountered a course that didn’t drain properly, needed an irrigation system overhaul, extensive tree work and major restoration of the tee boxes, fairways and greens.

“When I bought it, they were maintaining this place with a worn-out greens mower, a zero turn and a bush hog,” he said. “It was bad and the nickname for it around town was Hidden Fairways.  Within the first two months of owning the golf course we busted up 28 beaver dams and trapped and removed over 40 full-sized beavers. These guys were huge. They just had wreaked havoc. They had backed up a stream that goes through the course called Mill Creek.”

4,000 truckloads of debris hauled away from The Dells

Dump trucks hauled out over 4,000 loads of debris from the golf course in 2022. Crews scraped six inches off the greens surface and put in new greens mix and then sprigged them with Bemuda tifdwarf grass.

“We definitely restored the greens and reworked a couple of the greens that, in my opinion, were pretty poorly designed to begin with,” Taylor said. “What is now No. 3 came almost to a V in the middle. It had very few pinnable locations, so we put an 18-inch false front in the center of that green and and now we have four or five good pinnable positions. The trees had grown up within 10 feet at the back of that green and the trees are now 75 feet back.”

Taylor said the course now has the proper equipment to maintain the greens.

“We’ve invested a tremendous amount of money in the proper equipment to maintain this place with the greens mowers, the top dressers, the roller,” he said. “We have good greens. Everybody’s really pleased with them.”

Dealing with beavers and their dams

Additionally, more than 1,700 trees were cut, many around greens and tees to allow them to get more sunlight and improve airflow.

Improving the four ponds on the property was a major undertaking, according to Taylor. Originally 12-feet deep, Taylor said the ponds were only about six inches deep due to silt buildup over the past 20-plus years. A company from Georgia was hired to silt out the ponds, ditches and Mill Creek. That work took the better part of a year.

“We got all that restored,” he said. “We took out all the old culverts that were silted in or busted or undersized and replaced those with bridges. We have the water now running properly. It drains properly. It may take a year for everything to fully dry out because it was so saturated, but we did a tremendous amount of work on drainage. I don’t know how many thousands of feet of new drain pipe we put in and how many thousands of feet of rainwater ditches and creeks that we silted out, but it was a lot.”

Many tee boxes were enlarged to avoid significant wear and tear and a few were repositioned. All the bunkers were redone. The pump station was rebuilt and more than 500 sprinkler heads were replaced. Fairways that once were mostly weeds are now back to their original Bermuda grass.

“The part of the course that’s going to require a little bit of TLC over the next year is just all the debris we had to remove from the roughs and the edges of the golf course,” Taylor said. “It’s going to take a good growing season to get that back, but the people who are playing it now are truly enjoying it.”

Taylor remodeled the clubhouse from the ground up. He added two professional-grade simulator rooms along with a new porch and balcony overlooking the 18th fairway and green. The practice area also underwent renovations.

The Dells: Aiming for a ‘premier golf experience’

Amid the current golf boom and with quality public play lacking in the Tuscaloosa area, Taylor expects The Dells to fill part of that need.

“We want it to be a premier golf experience,” he said. “We have a good master plan. We plan to add stay-and-play cabins in the future. We’ve got some other things planned that will enhance the experience. It’ll never be a country club, but it will be a good golf experience for people who enjoy the game and appreciate the game.”

Taylor, who spent 35 years in the computer software business, said he doesn’t expect to become rich as the owner/operator of The Dells, but said it is positioned it to be self-sustaining.

“I don’t expect to the golf course to make me a millionaire or whatever. I don’t need it to do that. But I do expect it to take care of itself, to make money,” he said. “The good thing is that golf is booming.”

More information about The Dells can be found on its Facebook page.

Gregg Dewalt is the editor of Alabama Golf News

Have a story idea or a news item to report to Alabama Golf News? Email gregg@alabamagolfnews.com

Featured image courtesy of The Dells