Road Trip

by Mike Purkey

 Aug 14, 2018 at 8:36 PM

How an unassuming oyster shack inspired two trips to play several McConnell properties — and more to come.

The creator of the Sunny Side Turnaround is a CPA whose organizational skills calculated the excursion down to the dollar, mile, and hour. But in the end, it all started because Kent McLamb just wanted some oysters. The desire for a seafood run morphed into a golf trip, and it was the brainchild of McLamb, the chief deputy at the N.C. Office of the State Auditor and a member of Raleigh Country Club. His job often took him to Elizabeth City, N.C., and during those trips, he’d drive past Sunny Side Oyster Bar in Williamston, N.C. The restaurant is a simple clap-board building yet an iconic local spot. But McLamb never stopped, and he was determined to remedy that.

“If you didn’t know about it, you wouldn’t pull in the parking lot,” says Sam Sparks, a member at TPC Wakefield Plantation and part of the first official Sunny Side Turnaround.

“Most people, when they take a McConnell trip, go to Asheville and Knoxville,” says McLamb. “But I was looking at Brook Valley in Greenville, and wondered what would make it a worthwhile trip besides just driving to Greenville, playing golf, and coming back. Then I saw Williamston on the map.”

The plan was to play TPC Wakefield on Friday afternoon, drive 95 miles on U.S. 64 East to Sunny Side, have dinner, stay in Williamston, and drive 40 minutes to Brook Valley for a mid-morning Saturday tee time. After the round, they’d drive back to Raleigh and be home mid-afternoon.

Before he sprung this idea on anyone else, McLamb and his brother, Donnie, went on a test run last November. Declaring the trip a success, the two brothers were joined by Sparks and Kent’s brother-in-law, Gale Adams, in late April for the official Sunny Side Turnaround.

Golf was certainly a big part of the trip, but the destination of emphasis was the Sunny Side. “If you’re looking for a white table cloth kind of place, it probably wouldn’t be your speed,” says McLamb.

The Sunny Side Oyster Bar has been serving fresh seafood in eastern N.C. since 1935. It’s only open in months with an “r,” which means it opens for the season in September and closes at the end of the following April, mainly with an hour or more wait on the weekends.

Oysters are the main attraction and are served only two ways: steamed or raw. They’re accompanied by Sunny Side’s secret hot sauce. Shrimp, scallops, and crab legs make up the rest of the menu. And if you insist on something green, you can get broccoli with cheese sauce. That’s it.

“At most seafood restaurants, you could get a hush puppy or cole slaw,” says Sparks. “Not at the Sunny Side. The food was great and we had the best time. We’ll be doing that again.”

They returned to Raleigh at about 3:00 p.m. on Saturday, as calculated. “You feel like you’ve had a full weekend, but you still have a lot of your Saturday and all day Sunday to do whatever you want for the rest of the weekend,” says McLamb

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Employee Spotlight

by Brad King

 Dec 01, 2017 at 3:36 PM

Brook Valley Country Club Director of Golf, Riley Kinlaw has a wealth of experience overseeing golf courses. Before arriving in Greenville, Kinlaw was a valuable asset to McConnell Golf at both the Sedgefield Dye Course from 1999 to 2009 — where he served as first assistant and later head golf professional — and at The Reserve from 2013 to 2014 as head golf professional.

Like many of the McConnell Golf courses, all three — Brook Valley, Sedgefield Dye, and The Reserve — will test every element of your golf game and every club in your bag.

Kinlaw believes there’s a lot to be said for that. “Brook Valley is a short golf course on the scorecard, so it’s not going to overpower you with length,” he says. “It’s a placement course, an old-school golf course like Raleigh Country Club. You have to put your ball in the right position to score well. Keep the ball in the fairway and get the ball on the green where you know you can two-putt — beneath the hole. If it’s a putting contest, Brook Valley’s going to win every time. Our slope and handicap ratings aren’t astronomically high. If you like designers like Donald Ross and Ellis Maples, you’ll love Brook Valley.”

Kinlaw says his staff is constantly looking for ways to make the playing experience at Brook Valley enjoyable.

“We always want to make sure people are playing the right set of tees,” he says. “People get stuck playing the same tees they’re used to. It’s always tough to convince them to move a tee forward, but when they do it definitely helps. We did some other things this year, like adding a first cut of rough, that have really helped. If people spray it a little they aren’t penalized as much if they hit the ball 20 yards off the fairway. We’ve been getting much better feedback since then.”

Kinlaw runs a very active golf program at Brook Valley with a host of unique offerings. He and his staff fostered a culture of self- improvement at a club that boasts an enthusiastic golf membership.

“Fortunately we have an active practice facility,” says Kinlaw.

“You’re typically going to see a dozen players up [on the range] hitting balls. Our professional staff gets a lot of requests for lessons. We have ladies clinics, junior clinics. But we offer lessons in packages, too, not just singles. That means our members are committed to improving. They aren’t looking at a one-and- done deal thinking it will get them to the Promised Land. They know it’s going to take some work to get better. They sign up in three lesson bunches or five-lesson bunches to really work on it. There’s a commitment on the member’s part, just as there is a commitment on our part to get them where they want to go.”

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How to Score Better

by Riley Kinlaw, PGA Professional

 Sep 10, 2015 at 5:49 PM

Whether you are playing in an individual stroke play competition, a two person best ball net, a four player member-guest or an interclub competition, the goal is always the same in golf – to score the best you possibly can for either yourself or your team. How do you score better to attain a goal? The key to scoring the best you possibly can each time you head out to play is to understand the components that make up the score. Every score or team result in a golf competition is achieved by playing a round of golf. Every round of golf is broken down into 18 (or sometimes 9) holes of golf, each with their own individual score. Every hole of golf is broken into four components – the shots you will hit to achieve the score on the hole: 

  1. The Tee Shot
    1. The tee shot starts the game plan for how each hole is played. How you play the remaining shots on the hole starts with where you put the ball off the tee.
  2. Play From Tee to Green
    1. If the tee shot is the start of your game plan for each hole you play, your play from the tee shot to the green is how you use that game plan. The key is to make whatever adjustments you can to get yourself back on track in the least amount of shots.
  3. Approach Shots
    1. Once you have played yourself into a position to reach the green, you now have to hit that crucial shot that gets the ball into a position where you can putt it. Most wasted shots in a round come from this position! If you really want to improve your score, you need to learn how to chip (hit the ball along the ground to run to the whole), to pitch (hit the ball in the air to reach the hole) and to hit shots from the bunker. Eliminating strokes around the green is crucial in lowering your score (that’s why they are dubbed the “scoring shots”).
  4. Putting
    1. If the Tee Shot is important because it is how you start the hole, Putting becomes THE most important part because it is how you finish the hole. The best thing about putting – anybody can do it well and there are several different methods to use to do it correctly!

 Scoring or competing is how you put those four different components together to arrive at the best score you can for either yourself or your team. Of course there will be some variables along the way within those four components, and playing golf to score your best is all about seamlessly navigating through each component of play while understanding and reacting to the variables as they arrive.

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Fit For A King

by Brad King

 Aug 11, 2015 at 6:03 PM

In 1760, King Charles bestowed a tract of land in Greenville, North Carolina, to a native family, who later sold the property to the Brooks family. They maintained the land for centuries before selling it for development — today, it is Brook Valley Country Club, and a copy of the royal charter still adorns the club’s front walls. Last October, McConnell Golf purchased the property and promptly began a two-year, $2 million capital improvement plan to rejuvenate the club while also honoring its history.

The Early Years

Two centuries after King Charles’ royal charter, in 1966, Brook Valley Country Club officially opened its doors. The golf course was designed by renowned Pinehurst-based architect Ellis Maples, and the club wanted a community to match its turf.

A mid-1950s graduate of N.C. State with degrees in civil engineering and construction, Pittman had been teaching art in a local community college at the time when he was invited to join a small, Greenville-based engineering firm called Rivers and Associates. Led by Tom Rivers, one of the original Brook Valley investors, the studio was charged with executing the primary design for the new community and golf club, surveying and determining how to best mix in residential lots with the golf course.

Pittman’s work included everything from widening the highway for a deceleration turn lane at the Brook Valley entrance, to moving and redesigning the dam for the community lake, to helping design the swimming pool and bathhouse as well as the parking lot and several bridges around the golf course — along with the then-cutting-edge planning of a split-level clubhouse that housed the golf carts underneath. “It was a big project for a year or two, sculpting it all out,” Pittman says. Brook Valley’s sporting history includes an exhibition match between legends Sam Snead and Ben Hogan. A young Curtis Strange once won a tournament there, as did 2012 U.S. Open champion Webb Simpson.

Facelift

Fast-forward a few years, and the golf community still supports Brook Valley’s potential. PGA Tour professional Will MacKenzie grew up in Greenville and regularly played at Brook Valley. “It’s definitely got some of the best rolling terrain we have in Greenville,” he says. “Brook Valley’s golf course was always a step above the others [in the area] in shot quality and feel, how the golf course was routed. But it needed to be restored.” McConnell Golf saw and seized that opportunity. Its Brook Valley improvement plan included upgrades to the clubhouse and golf course alike. Indoors, dining areas have been remodeled and restructured for beauty in all event styles. The bar and lounge area includes a fireplace, snack bar, and adjacent patio seating.

The pro shop has been entirely updated, and the club’s main level now features hardwood flooring. In recognition of the club’s past, elegant French doors lead to the ballroom. Yet, the most noticeable upgrade is an emphasis on sweeping views of the course. After all, that’s what won members’ hearts in the first place.

Return to Its Roots

The course and practice area have been renovated under the tutelage of Greensboro- based golf course architect Kris Spence. Spence has carved out a niche for himself in the Southeast by restoring Donald Ross — and Ellis Maples — designed golf courses. Like Ross and Maples, Spence comes at architecture from the perspective of a course superintendent. Using Maples’ original drawings, Spence’s work at Brook Valley includes bunkering and one green modification (on hole No. 2), along with significant tree removal, a pond dredging, and the relocation of a number of cart paths. “We brought the Ellis Maples bunkering back, as well as adding a few bunkers to modernize the golf course,” Spence said. “Brook Valley is a very nice mix of golf holes with a lot of variety. The par-fives in particular are some of the best three-shooters I’ve seen.” Known for their top-shelf practice facilities, McConnell Golf had Spence take BVCC’s existing practice facility — which was too short and did not have the elements of a well-defined target — and increase the size by lengthening the practice tee itself.

“We put full construction under (the practice area) with drainage and laser leveling,” Spence said. “We added a short-game area between the practice tee and the clubhouse that includes a shortgame green, a bunker and chipping fairway around it and also added a small warm-up green behind to the first tee ox — another McConnell Golf signature.”

Enduring Inspiration

It’s an overhaul even the original visionary appreciates. Alongside his development work, Pittman garnered a reputation in eastern North Carolina as an artist, too. “While I was doing Brook Valley and all the other work around the state, I was also painting,” Pittman says. “I was painting some of these scenes I saw out in the rural areas, the tobacco barns and the farmscapes and the little towns. I’d see something I wanted to paint and I’d throw on the brakes and take a picture of it or do a sketch.”

Lately, he’s returned to his first project for inspiration. A recent portrayal of the updated Brook Valley clubhouse earned regional attention, although Pittman says he never intended to be recognized. “It just sort of evolved,” he says of his art. “It never was the plan.” Likewise, Brook Valley has and will continue to evolve. “Everyone always said Brook Valley was the best layout in Greenville,” MacKenzie says. And the legacy continues.

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Will MacKenzie on Brook Valley CC

by Riley Kinlaw

 Feb 25, 2015 at 11:20 PM

PGA Tour professional Will MacKenzie grew up in Greenville, North Carolina where he regularly played at McConnell Golf’s newest property, Brook Valley Country Club.

He says of the course, “Brook Valley was always a step above the others in shot quality, the feel of the golf course, and how it was routed... It’s got some of the best rolling terrain in Greenville... but it needed to be restored. McConnell Golf [came] just in time.” 

He continued, “We are excited about Mr. McConnell coming in. From what I’ve seen, McConnell creates great clubs and Brook Valley needed that. They just haven’t been able to find that recipe for the golf course financially to make the course what we think it could be.”

MacKenzie adds about the city of Greenville, “We are just over an hour from the beach; you can get to Raleigh in an hour. It’s a great place to grow up. We had fantastic recreation, unbelievable competition, tons of great athletes coming out of there. It’s a thriving community.”

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New Year, New Look at Brook Valley Country Club

by Admin

 Jan 07, 2015 at 4:00 PM

The new year revealed a new appearance at Brook Valley Country Club, with the throttle open on the reconstruction project to uplift and revitalize the facility on Greenville’s east side.

The club sat on the brink of closure and an uncertain future in September, when the voting board members of Greenville Country Club, its owner for two years, pulled the plug and unloaded it by defaulting on their property loan. On Oct. 1, the day Brook Valley was scheduled to close, member Rich Winkler, who had been working behind the scenes to find a way to salvage it along with the future of the entire subdivision, gathered his fellow members on the fairway outside the clubhouse and introduced the club’s new owner, John McConnell and McConnell Golf LLC of Raleigh. McConnell pledged to members that the course they love so much will only improve when his crew takes over. They wasted no time; in fact, they were working on New Year’s Day.

“We’ve got a big chunk done,” said Michael Shoun, Vice President of Agronomy at McConnell Golf, whom is responsible for all of the Brook Valley exterior course construction. “The majority of the practice facility, including the driving range tee area, putting green and chipping range and irrigation system, is completed.”

Still to come is the grassing stage, which will include laying sod during the next month. "Eighteen bunkers have been completely restored with new drainage, sand and sod along the edges," Shoun said. Some were original bunkers designed by famed golf course designer Ellis Maples that had been taken out, he said. Some bunkers not on the original Maples plan were removed and replaced with grass.

"Dredging work for the water challenges on the course, which was held up by heavy rains the last few weeks, will be undertaken next week," Shoun said, "including the creek and pond along on the ninth hole. Tree removal at many portions of the course is nearly complete as well. The trees had pretty much taken over at many areas along the course, and had actually changed the way several of the holes had to be played. There also are several trees that had originally been strategically placed to define doglegs and challenge the players, and we did not touch those.”

“It will take up to two years for some of the organic changes we’ve made to mature into place, but we’re excited about making this an outstanding golf facility for the members," Shoun concludes. 

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