Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Hidden Hills on an Upswing; the Arlington Club Is Making a Comeback, with a Steady Hand as the Golf Pro

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Hidden Hills on an Upswing; the Arlington Club Is Making a Comeback, with a Steady Hand as the Golf Pro

Article excerpt

Byline: GARRY SMITS

Ted Hopkins has survived seven ownership changes to remain the head professional at the Hidden Hills Country Club for nearly 30 years -- the longest continuous term by a club pro on the First Coast.

He's counting on the most recent ownership change at the Arlington club to be his last one, for one important reason: After being owned by golf management companies, absentee investors and banks, one of Hopkins' peers, fellow club professional Russ Libby, bought the club in 2003 and will celebrate his fifth year as the owner next month.

"It was a relief to finally have the club owned by someone who had been in a pro shop, and someone who would be here every day," the 58-year-old Hopkins said of Libby. "Russ had been in the [Northern] chapter and knew the club and the area. It's been enjoyable to work for him."

And the club, built in 1966 and the site of two Greater Jacksonville Opens, has thrived since Libby purchased it.

Membership had declined to about 500 (a combination of golf, tennis swimming and social memberships) during a period when the club was in receivership and owned by Bank of America.

Before that, Hidden Hills was owned by Fairways of America, a management group that also owned the Ponte Vedra Golf and Country Club and St. Augustine Shores.

However, Fairways of America went bankrupt. Although Hidden Hills wasn't part of the problem -- Hopkins said the course had remained financially stable -- daily play was allowed, mostly through the use of golf playing cards popular in the 1990s.

"There wasn't much of an advantage to having a membership," Hopkins said. "Some of our members actually resigned and kept playing here by buying the Epic Card."

Libby changed that. He made the course private again, and began a series of improvements to the clubhouse, weight room, dining areas and the pool.

He said the aesthetics of the Ed Seay redesign of Dave Gordon's original track made wholesale changes to the course unnecessary.

"That's not to say we're not considering some changes or enhancements to the course," Libby said. "But it's a great design, with natural elevation you don't get elsewhere in this area. …

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