NEW JASPER TOWNSHIP — “This land was meant to be a golf course.”
Those words spoken by Brian Witt are a shared mindset for the new group taking control of a local golf course.
Jasper Hills Golf Club is coming to the New Jasper area between Xenia and Jamestown with a planned opening of Memorial Day in 2022.
The course will be on the site of the former Sebastian Hills Golf Club at 1100 Knoll Haven Drive. The property closed in 2017 when the previous owners placed golf carts and all on sale.
After several failed attempts to buy it and the course nearly being bought for farming purposes, it was purchased by Melissa Dodd, former finance director for the city of Fairborn, along with her husband, Dalton, in September for $825,000. Brian Witt and his wife, Karen, partnered with the Dodds on the sale.
Melissa Dodd called it the “perfect storm of people and timing” for the acquisition to come together.
“It would have been fine for the people selling it, but for the community to be able to provide jobs and to be a community partner, this is a much better use for the community as a whole,” Melissa Dodd said in reference to what the course could have become.
Sebastian Hills was a par-72 design at scorecard length of 6,646 yards when it opened in 2000. For handicap purposes, it had a slope of 132 and course rating of 72.5.
After believing nine holes would be a good starting point, the group decided to keep the routing of Jasper Hills as the original design was laid out for all 18 as the best option.
“The last time we were out before the acquisition was made, I told my wife I wasn’t sure this was a good idea,” Brian Witt said. “It felt too far gone. I told Dalton when we first started that let’s only focus on nine holes. This is going to be impossible. Now here we are. If the greens could take it, you could play golf out there today.”
The restoration process began almost immediately after the sale was finalized. The group described the course’s initial condition as a “disaster” with neighbors feeling it was “gone” as chest-high growth and an inability to find what was broken on the grounds were immediate issues to be dealt with.
With the help of volunteers and neighbors, it is already on its way to being improved upon from its original state with tee boxes getting prepped, bunkers being tested, and the surfaces on the greens already well defined from fairway or rough as one would expect on a finished product.
“The first time the sprinklers started up out by Jasper Road, you would not believe the amount of people that stopped and were taking pictures,” Brian Witt said. “Folks were coming back here and just taking photos around hole 16 of the sprinklers, it was amazing the people in the first couple months. There had to be 20 cars a day just driving by to wave.”
Melissa Dodd said the reception from those that live on and near the property has been positive with many happy to see it will be populated with people and not weeds. In fact, they may be happy not to have to take matters into their own hands as the tall grass was an eyesore which residents had put upon themselves to remove.
“The neighbors across the road after the course closed continued to mow and have basically been helping out for a couple years,” she said. “When the restoration work began, those three holes really didn’t need as much work because they were in a very different, positive shape compared to over here where it could be up to your chest. The neighbors were mowing some holes just because they had to look at it.”
The Dodds also now reside within shouting distance of the course and are all in on the project.
“We just love this area,” Dalton Dodd said. “We wanted to invest in it. … I think this place can be a good thing for all of the surrounding areas. I think it can be a good business venture that’s great for the community. … We’re hoping it brings in some new revenue for the township too because we don’t have a lot industry in Jasper Township.”
With any investment comes risk, which is something Dalton acknowledges. Sebastian Hills was open for 17 years before closing and it is now the new group’s task to run the property in a way that the venture will sustain itself.
“We’re wanting to do everything within our financial power to do this ourselves,” he said. “Brian and his wife, Karen, along with Melissa and I, purchased the course and we did it with our own financial means. We don’t want to do all of our plans in one year, but as the course allows us. Of course any business is risky, but with the team of people we have here and everyone focused on the general direction we want to head we feel less risk every day.
Golf during the pandemic saw a boost in popularity as people across the country flocked outdoors and found it as a spaced out, safer activity to partake in. Brian Witt referenced experiences of he and acquaintances being unable to secure tee times in recent months due to many course already being booked full.
Dalton said with that boom currently ongoing and other course options to play at available, he wants to make the experience at Jasper Hills something worth the time it takes to play a round and for people to stay and hang out afterward.
“Customer service to us is going to be really big because that was a negative memory of the course,” Melissa Dodd said. “The course was great, but you didn’t get a warm fuzzy feeling. We want to fix that with a positive mark, not just the course being a positive mark, but all interactions with the staff.”
There are seven current full-time employees. Melissa Dodd is heading up the inside along with clubhouse manager Staci Close. Brian Witt and Dalton Dodd are taking up greenskeeping, with Danny Rife as grounds manager and Todd Bottorff and Troy Brown as grounds maintenance workers.
Jasper Hills currently is planning for seven full-time employees to work on the grounds with additional volunteers and possible part-time spots to be available for assistance inside as well. Hiring a golf pro is in the plans but not near the top of the priority list.
Additional employment positions may be created as future, unannounced plans on the property become ready to be unveiled, but finding people to fill out spots overall is being seen as an obstacle, just as many other employers have been encountering during the previous calendar year.
“It’s one of the potential struggles we’re going to have to face because of the way the economy is everywhere,” Close said.
The planned opening for late May 2022 instead of early in the year will allow for proper growth in the first three months of the spring season to settle in, as well as provide some buffer room in the case of unusual weather as final preparations get underway.
Current plans for greens fees will be $17 for a nine-hole round during the week and $22 for 18 holes. The price will be raised by $7 on weekends. Cart fees will be $7 for nine-holes and $10 for 18. Seniors, active military and first responders will receive 10 percent discounts.
Three membership plans will be offered for individuals, families, and corporate, all one-year in length.
There are no events set in stone for the day of opening, but Melissa said ideas are being tracked as they are thought of while the primary focus remains on getting the business up and running. She said she cannot wait to show it off.
“If everything comes together, I want a full tee sheet on Memorial Day, I want to be cooking pork loins, I want a guy playing or a band and hanging out and having a good time,” Dalton Dodd said. “We want to keep focused and not get sidetracked, but we want people to be able to have outings and hold large ones.”
Also, 70 brand new carts have been purchased and will include Bluetooth speakers, which the Dodds hope will set the atmosphere the way they envision and attract younger golfers.
The course is putting a large focus on social media branding, with Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok accounts created to promote Jasper Hills and provide updates on its progress as its opening approaches.
“Everyone is so passionate and committed to making this thing work, I think we live and breath this place,” Melissa Dodd said. “It will be something that will happen because we’re working our tails off to make it happen.”
To plan an event with Jasper Hills, inquiring emails should be sent to [email protected].