The 80-year-old municipal golf course, once home to a teen center as well as beloved golf pro Buddy Moore, holds many memories for Anniston residents.
Sawyer, along with the rest of a dedicated group of golfers who grew up playing at The Hill, have a sentimental attachment to the Johnston Drive course and don’t want to see it close.
But departmental budget cuts have left The Hill, along with such facilities as Woodland Park and the Carver Pool, on the chopping block as the Parks and Recreation Department looks to do more with less.
Keith Robertson has been playing at The Hill since he was 12.
“It’s a way of life for a lot of people in the city of Anniston,” Robertson said. “Dads have raised sons, and sons have raised their sons up there.”
It’s the sentimental community connection and the dedication of those who play there that make most of the council members hesitant to close The Hill.
Both Councilman Jay Jenkins and Mayor Vaughn Stewart noted the amount of volunteer time members spend pruning trees or fixing up the course and saving the city money in the process. Course manager Paul Wade said volunteer work days can draw as many as 30 people dedicated to keeping the course in good shape.
Those who play there consistently note the family feel at The Hill, which most attribute to the decades-long cultivation of that welcoming atmosphere by the beloved former golf pro Buddy Moore.
But Parks & Recreation Director Steven Folks said running just one golf course in Anniston will improve the quality of life for local golfers. Closing the smaller, nine-hole course is expected to save more than $65,000. Folks said The Hill has about 50 members compared to more than 200 at Cane Creek.
Cane Creek is a very nice 18-hole course, he said, but it has not reached its potential because the city has not invested enough in capital projects there. The biggest need at Cane Creek, he said, is an irrigation system that will cost the city about $1 million.
“We can do it in phases if we have to, but we need it badly,” he said.
Councilman Seyram Selase said he supports closing The Hill and making investments at Cane Creek, but other council members see The Hill as an investment in the community.
Jenkins said it’s likely some of the members of The Hill would be priced out of a golf membership if Cane Creek was their only option.
A membership at The Hill costs $370, compared to $699 at Cane Creek, and for seniors, $250 compared to $650.
Councilwoman Millie Harris agreed with Folks that the city doesn’t need to run two golf courses. She said she’d like to see The Hill continue to operate as a municipal golf course and check on leasing Cane Creek out to a private company to run it.
“There are some things that are just sort of sacred,” she said of The Hill. “There’s just too much of an attachment to walk away from it.”
There is broad support among the council members to close Woodland Park, which would save nearly $218,000. The park, which opened in 1991, currently serves as the primary site for softball in the city. Folks said that the city is renovating fields at the sports complex at McClellan to accommodate both adult and girls softball. Randolph Park and Pelham Park also have fields for adult softball.
He said there is a possibility the city could lease or sell the park for development or use by another entity.
Paying for lifeguards and other costs associated with keeping the Carver Pool open amounts to about $30,000 the city could save by closing it. Folks said he plans to replace it with an automated splash pad in Zinn Park, a move that concerns the mayor, who said he would prefer preserving green space there and instead install a pad at the Carver Center.
“What we’ve found is that the use of the pool is getting less and less at the Carver Pool,” Folks said, noting that one week this summer dipped as low as seven residents.
Councilman David Reddick is adamantly opposed to closing the pool and said he believes the decline in use came after a teenager jumped the fence and drowned in the pool in 2010 and will return once people get over the incident.
Reddick said that the pool was not built as a moneymaker but to provide services for the people. There is “a certain amount of investment in our community that can’t yield a high return,” he said. At the first budget work session, Reddick said the people in the neighborhood near Carver need a place to learn to swim.
“Whatever we need to do we would do to accommodate the people in the community,” Folks said. He said the city always offers free swimming lessons for children in the community, and they would continue to do so at the other pools, offering transportation for them if necessary.
Other council members said they needed to learn more about the Carver Center proposal before they make up their minds on whether to move forward on it.
“I would definitely listen to Councilman Reddick and his concerns, and we can see what we come up with,” Selase said.
Folks said that if the department continues to operate as many facilities as it does, it won’t be able to offer as many programs. He emphasized that the goal is not to take things away from particular neighborhoods in the community, but to do more for the entire community at centralized locations like the Aquatic Center and sports complex at McClellan.
“That’s when you bring the city together, bring the community together, bring cultures together,” he said.
The City Council will discuss the Parks & Recreation Department budget at a 4 p.m. work session Tuesday at City Hall.