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Golden anniversary on the green

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Fairway Golf Course celebrates 50 years of great fun in Wheatley

By Brian Blair

Before 1960 it was just a farm. There was a tobacco field, a corn field and livestock roaming the grounds.

Fifty years later it has become a place much like the 1980’s sitcom “Cheers” where everyone knows your name.

Fairway Golf Course in Wheatley opened on July 1, 1960, and is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. This past weekend the course hosted a Scotch Foursome and potluck supper to commemorate the anniversary. Gilbert England told those in attendance that through the years it had been a tradition to the host the same type of event at the end of each season. Following dinner Saturday night, England gave those in attendance a brief history of the course.

The England family purchased the farm in 1959. According to England, his father Harold picked up golf while in the Army and had mowed off an area on the farm where he could hit golf balls. With the encouragement of friends and the help of some market research, it was decided to build a golf course.

Besides fairways and greens, the property also included a silo, chicken coops and smokehouses. England said one thing his dad learned quickly was “that having cattle and livestock roaming around a golf course was not a good mix.”

The only way into the course was a one-lane road that when dry was hard to get down but when it rained was nearly impossible to traverse.

Of the original nine holes, two of them are still as they were in 1960. Hole No. 6 today was  No. 4, and No. 18 today was the original No. 9. The course was expanded to 18 holes in 1963. The first motorized golf carts showed up at the course in 1964.

For the first few years of its existence, the course was the only place for people to play golf from Owen, Carroll, Gallatin, Henry and Trimble counties. England said it is hard to tell just how many people from the area learned to play the game in Wheatley.

Over the years, the course has been tweaked and several changes have been made to the clubhouse. One thing that has not changed has been the family atmosphere one finds before ever hitting a shot off the first tee.

Betty Lusby, who said she may be the oldest active member, has many fine memories of the course. She has been playing the course for the past 40 years. She has been Club Champion on more than one occasion in those 40 years.

“It is where I learned to play,” said Lusby. “It’s like a family atmosphere.”

When asked, many people agreed with Lusby’s assessment of the course’s family appeal.

Not only are families always present around the course, but kids have been invited and taught how to play at the course.

England said his father had an old dump truck that he fitted with wooden benches, and every summer he would drive the truck into Owenton and pick kids up and bring them back to the course to give them lessons and allow them to play.

Not only did England operate Fairway Golf Course, but he also helped design over 40 other courses, most of which are located in Kentucky.

Lester and Leslie Towles have both been working at the course for more than 20 years. The two have been mowing greens and playing golf and both have nothing but good things to say about the course and the Englands.

Lester said his girls grew up playing the course while Leslie said he has one request for Gilbert.

“I’ve told Gilbert time and time again that when I go to heaven I want a golf course that looks as good as this one does.”

The course has seen its share of drought, wind damage, snow storms and balls through clubhouse windows, but every time it has rebounded and come out the better for it.

Following the dinner Saturday night, England talked about what has been the most rewarding part of operating the course throughout the years.

“Definitely working with all the people throughout the years and seeing how the course has evolved and improved over the 50 years.”

He told the audience after dinner that over the last 50 years the course has averaged around 20,000 rounds a year. Over 50 years, that adds up to one million rounds that have been played in Wheatley.

England said that the celebration of the course will continue for the rest of the year.

The Club Championship will be held this coming weekend.