Oakhurst Links sold at auction

BY foxsports • July 28, 2012

Oakhurst Links, one of the nation's oldest golf courses, sold for $410,000 on Saturday, an auction house said.

Auctioneer Tommy Garten wouldn't reveal the winning bidder until bank financing is completed.

Owner Lewis Keller Sr. says it's his understanding that the bidder, a Wheeling businessman, will keep the nine-hole course and its old-style equipment intact and playable.

But Keller was disheartened by the winning bid and a lack of interest, especially from the golfing industry. He said the participating bidders were private individuals.

''I felt like it was worth more to the world of golf than it is,'' Keller said. ''It showed this morning. That is disappointing. One thing is whether or not it is a financial success, apparently the world of golf does not feel that it is as important to them as I thought. That's what exactly it amounts to.''

The 89-year-old Keller had struggled for years to find a buyer for the 30-acre property that was built in 1884. Last year a Richmond, Va.-based group had planned to take over the course but couldn't raise the $2.5 million to close the deal.

At Oakhurst, golfers rent hickory-shafted clubs and hit gutta-percha balls off tees fashioned from sand and water. The clubhouse and museum are filled with photos of visits from golfers such as Sam Snead, Lee Trevino and Tom Watson.

Saturday's bidding started at $300,000. The auction, held at the course in White Sulphur Springs, was over in an hour-and-a-half.

''We had a good crowd but not a lot of bidders participating,'' Garten said. ''There was a whole lot more asking for bids than getting bids.''

Though he has owned Oakhurst since 1959, it wasn't until 1994 that Keller reopened the course after it had been dormant for more than 80 years. The National Hickory Championship has been played at Oakhurst since 1998.

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Oakhurst was first owned by Russell Montague, who became enamored of golf while studying in Great Britain.

Montague and a small group of colleagues held the first competition at Oakhurst in 1888 in the Scottish match play tradition, predating by a few years the St. Andrews Golf Club of Yonkers, N.Y.

Montague and most of the original members eventually moved away. Play on the course stopped after 1910.

Keller learned about Oakhurst from longtime friend Snead, who spent decades as the head pro at the nearby Greenbrier resort.

Keller bought the property to use as a summer retreat and raise horses. He had a vision about restoring the course, but didn't act for decades until some nudging from a golf writer.

Restoration started in 1991 and was done by hand, with newspaper and magazine clippings and course photos serving as guides. Keller even added dozens of sheep to mow the grass the way it was done long ago.

Now, Keller is leaving the task of maintaining the course and its history to someone else. He's moving to a retirement village in Lynchburg, Va. His wife of 60 years, Rosalie, died in 2010.

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