First off, let's get this out of the way. Gilbert (Red) Pickelsimer asked if I would mention in this column that there's a ramp already graded from I-485 to Oakdale Road that was never finished after that strip of the highway went through several years ago and he thinks the least the DOT can do is concrete it and maybe help bring some of his players back after the road took four holes of his golf course and turned them into an interstate.
Not unreasonable. They paid him. Not what he wanted but they did pay him. But with a crippled golf course, play fell way off and now the money's gone.
I'm on his side. I've only spent maybe an hour with him, maybe an hour and a half at his Oak Hills Golf Course north of the city but he seems like a sweet guy. I'd like to see him get a break. The truth, though, is that I've never had any luck getting ramps built. Plus, the economy has hit a lot of courses hard. It's a tough time to be having tough times.
Red's story and his place are, in a country song sort of way, captivating. Oak Hills may be the only golf course with 15 holes. (Red replaced one he lost with a par three hole.) It has a par of 73, which you don't often see. The front nine has only two par 4's and the back nine has no par 3's.
Red has worked out a route in which the golfers play three holes twice, first come first served, and so far it's worked out OK.
It's a homemade course. Red, who had been in the grading and landscaping business until he succumbed to the urge to build a golf course, brought Oak Hills to life without any expert assistance, opening nine holes in 1970 and a second nine in 1982.
He has no illusions about it being Augusta National or anything like that.
"I've always considered it nice," he said, "but it's a redneck kind of place where you can let your hair down as long as you don't tear anything up."
The clubhouse and its surroundings can best be described as junkyard quaint.
"The site's not pretty because of all my goodies," said Red, who is 75 years old with a big puff of hair that no longer explains his nickname.
Old cars sit here and there. Some of them still run. Maintenance equipment is scattered about, thickly in places. "All my equipment is junk," said Red. "I have to fix it all the time." (He's the maintenance man, the greens superintendent, mower, counter man, whatever else there is to running a course.)
The focal point of the property, though, is a breathtaking collection of stuff stored under a large shed with a cobwebby look to it. It is a pack rat's paradise. There's no rhyme or reason to his "goodies." A tool box, a Christmas wreath, shoes, engine parts, tires, a typewriter, furniture, cookware, etc., covered with a light layer of dust, waiting on nothing.
"I used to go to an auction every week, maybe twice a week," said Red, smiling at his guilty pleasure. "I'd haul trailer loads back. Did it for 40 years. Never sold any of it. I've never sold nothing. I'm going to try to move some of it out this winter."
Sure you are.
Meanwhile, Oak Hills Golf Course, the long ago dream of a rogue dreamer, struggles for survival. "We're not eat up with play," said Red. "We lost half of our players when we lost those holes.
"It cut me deep when that happened but I couldn't sit around and cry over it. I tried to pick up and go on but I spent all the money."
He's trying to sell the property now but you know how that is nowadays. It's never going to be a money maker again, he said. If he can sell, he's going to build himself a mountain home and rest.
This was the first time I had seen Oak Hills but I'd hate to see it go. I have a fondness for all golf courses but a special place for the ones that don't have a fancy pedigree. Ones that somebody dreamed up and made it happen against all odds. Even if they don't have but 15 holes.