In 1964, the last of the Russell Farms cattle farms, locally known as "the Wedges Farms," (having once been a farm where workers were hired for "wages") was chosen as the location of the Willow Point Golf and Country Club. Russell Ballard, the caretaker at the time, had saved this area from the development of rental lake homes, as he always seemed to find a "better" location for the new doctor or professor who he was to help find a suitable location on Lake Martin for his "cabin."
This beautiful championship 18-hole golf course meanders about on a peninsula totally surrounded by Lake Martin. (Originally) Designed by Thomas Nichol, the par 72 course was constructed as a private club to replace the original course, which was given by the family to the State of Alabama for the site of the Alexander City Junior College (now Central Alabama Community College). Eugene C. Gwaltney, who took over the management of Russell Mills from his father-in-law, Tom Russell, was instrumental in building the golf course. The senior management of Russell Mills wanted a golf club for the benefit of the "Mill" and Russell Lands was called upon to donate the land and some of the resources. Russell Mills furnished much of the labor and machinery.
On September 17, 1964, the property and improvements were incorporated as a private club. The membership could not cover the cost of operation and the club was soon deep in debt. In 1972, Russell Lands was asked to assume the debt and take over the property, as well as the operation of the club. Incredible as it might seem, this was viewed by many as quite a bold move for Russell Lands. Little hope was held for making this project a financial success.
The young management of Russell Lands, however, could easily see the value of this property as the centerpiece for their planned Willow Point Subdivision and for future lake-oriented development. Much concern was felt, however, regarding the ability to control the escalating cost of a division of the company, which was valued by senior members of the board only for its intrinsic value as a golf club. Regardless of their concerns, Russell Lands' management assumed the debt, $55,000, with the return of the deed to the 167-acre golf course. The arrangement seems to have worked rather well for all.
In October 2003, Willow Point re-opened exactly one year after the course closed for renovation. Originally conceived to update the irrigation system, greens, bunkers and tees, the decision was made to totally renovate the entire course, including the practice facility, entry road and clubhouse. The world-renown architectural firm of Hurdzan/Fry (Fry/Straka) was selected based on their reputation for designing some of the most beautiful, challenging and environmentally sound golf courses in the world.
Today, the course measures 7,465 yards from the championship tees, and include six sets of tees to accommodate all levels of play. Twelve holes are located along the shores of Lake Martin – and all 18 holes have a view of the lake. The bent grass greens and Bermuda fairways are accented by native grasses, tall fescue as well as stone and rock work bordering the lake.
*Fry/Straka member designed under Hurdzan/Fry
*photos by Michael Clemmer