Metro, Tennessee Golf Foundation to put $2M-plus into Shelby, Vinny Links courses

By: - September 8, 2023 11:48 am
Jim Seabury, Tennessee Golf Foundation board chairman, talks to PGA Tour player Brandt Snedeker at an unveiling Thursday for upgrades to Shelby and Vinny Links golf courses in East Nashville. (Photo: Sam Stockard)

Jim Seabury, Tennessee Golf Foundation board chairman, talks to PGA Tour player Brandt Snedeker at an unveiling Thursday for upgrades to Shelby and Vinny Links golf courses in East Nashville. (Photo: Sam Stockard)

PGA Tour player Brandt Snedeker grew up playing the hilly Donald Ross-designed Shelby Golf Course, and he hopes a $2 million upgrade will renew interest in the nearly 100-year-old East Nashville tract.

Memories of walking the course with his father came flooding back to the nine-time tour winner and 2012 FedEx Cup champion when he returned Thursday to help unveil a project between Metro Nashville and the Tennessee Golf Foundation to upgrade Shelby and the Vinny Links nine-hole courses.

“I think this side of town especially is in dire need of a golf course of this quality. Its proximity to downtown is pretty much unheard when it comes to big, major metropolitan cities,” Snedeker says. “So we have a jewel here. We have something very special that’s kind of been underserved in the last 15 to 20 years now.”

The joint partnership should help Shelby and the Nashville golf course system match the city’s future growth, he adds.

The Tennessee Golf Foundation is wrapping up a renovation of Metro’s Percy Warner nine-hole course, and the Shelby-Vinny Links project, which will start next year, is expected to keep the partnership growing, possibly spreading to every Metro Nashville course. 

Metro Nashville Mayor John Cooper, spoke about the impact Black golfing pioneer Ted Rhodes had on some of the game’s greatest players including Tiger Woods, and hinted that the North Nashville course named for him could be next to undergo upgrades.

Cooper, who will be leaving office this month, says many Nashvillians don’t realize Shelby exists, and even he acknowledges it has never received serious investment or attention. The course also sustained damage when a March 2020 tornado swept across East Nashville.

“Once you’re here and you see it, this is some piece of terrain and the fact that the Donald Ross did the original layout. Every city that has a Donald Ross course of any degree treasures it,” Cooper says.

“Golf is meant to be an everyman’s game,” said golf course architect Bruce Hepner. A partnership between Metro Nashville and the Tennessee Golf Foundation, first set to renovate East Nashville’s Shelby Golf Course, will next redo North Nashville’s Ted Rhodes Course — named for a Black golfing pioneer.

Ross, who served as an apprentice in the late 1800s to Old Tom Morris at St. Andrews, the home of golf in Scotland, is considered one of the top golf course designers in history.

Funds for the project, which have been approved by the Metro Council, are a one-time expenditure coming from a surplus in last year’s budget. The Tennessee Golf Foundation will cover cost overruns and manage the project, which consists mainly of rebuilding greens, renovating some cart paths and improving tee boxes. Work at Vinny Links will be dedicated to expanding tee boxes.

Shelby draws the least play of any Metro Nashville 18-hole course, but it could draw about 40,000 people annually once the work is done, according to Cooper, bolstering Metro-wide play to about 250,000 a year.

“All of us that love it would still say it was neglected,” Cooper says. Yet he points out it is a community “asset” as a large green space that also happens to be a golf course.

The Tennessee Golf Foundation spurred the project with its charitable work and mission to “bring golf out to everybody,” mainly underprivileged children, Cooper says. He hopes local high school golf teams will start using Shelby for practice.

While some private golf courses are charging steep fees just to join the club, Cooper points out, “This is a club for people in Nashville. This is our club.”

Golf course architect Bruce Hepner, who is taking on the project, says he doesn’t want to “dumb down” Shelby but make it a “more interesting” golf experience, possibly by tucking some of the hole locations. He plans to use the original Donald Ross designs for nine greens  when rebuilding the putting complexes.

Hepner says he grew up playing public courses in Detroit, including Ross-designed Rackham Golf Course where boxing heavyweight champion Joe Louis played in the 1940s. The boxing great learned the game from Ted Rhodes.

“Golf is meant to be an everyman’s game,” Hepner says. He points out the golf courses in Scotland are the focal point of the towns, often turning into walking parks on Sundays.

Work at Shelby will include irrigation systems for the greens, which will remain Bermuda grass, although the strain is undetermined.

Ted Rhodes Golf Course could be next to get “some love,” Cooper adds, because of its “historic” relationship to Fisk University and Tennessee State University.

Tennessee Golf Foundation President Whit Turnbow, former golf coach at MTSU, says he plans to embark on projects at every Metro Nashville course and is eyeing Rhodes next. One of his ideas is to build a practice facility for Fisk and TSU at Rhodes.

“I know the challenges of trying to find places to go practice or even get rounds of golf in, especially here as crowded as the tee times are,” Turnbow says.

He acknowledges it could take several years to improve every course in Nashville. Meanwhile, the foundation will continue its First Tee Program for youths at Vinny Links to provide an opportunity for all children to learn the game and play.


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Sam Stockard
Sam Stockard

Sam Stockard is a veteran Tennessee reporter and editor, having written for the Daily News Journal in Murfreesboro, where he served as lead editor when the paper won an award for being the state's best Sunday newspaper two years in a row. He has led the Capitol Hill bureau for The Daily Memphian. His awards include Best Single Editorial from the Tennessee Press Association.