A big piece of golfing history was auctioned off on Saturday, along with a large part of Lewis Keller's personal history.
Oakhurst Links, one of the country's oldest golf courses, was sold for $410,000 at the course in White Sulphur Springs. Auctioneer Tommy Garten of Greenway's Real Estate and Auction Inc. out of Covington, Va., said the name of the new owner will remain unknown until everything is sorted out at the bank Monday.
Around 50 people showed up for the auction, Garten said, but he and Keller had hoped for a much bigger final price.
For the 89-year-old Keller, who has devoted decades of his life to the nine-hole course, Saturday brought a sad end to a long and historically significant story.
"It was bittersweet," Keller said. "I was in hopes that someone in the golf world that would have an interest in the history of golf, as I have had, would have bought it. It's very disappointing to find the people that won the bid were not really one iota into golf. I think they are more interested in the property and the house than the golf course."
Keller said he didn't know whether or not the new owner would try to keep the course intact or not.
Oakhurst, which was built in 1884, was home to golf in its primitive form in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Players used clubs made of hickory, carried their own clubs by hand, and tees were made from sand and water.
But in 1910, play at Oakhurst was halted until Keller purchased it in 1959 at the urging of his friend, Sam Snead.
Keller finally reopened the course in 1994, and Oakhurst has been home to the National Hickory Championship since 1998. Hickory clubs and gutta-percha balls could be rented at the course for everyday players.
"[Oakhurst] means a great deal to me," Keller said. "In 1959, Sam Snead, who has died but was dear friend of mine, brought me here and we discussed the history of golf. From that moment when I shook hands and there was a deal made all the way up until today, this has meant a great deal to me. It has been my pride, and it's a great part of the history of golf. I loved being a part of the National Hickory Tournament and I always looked forward to seeing the players and their scores."
Three years ago, Keller said he and his late wife, Rosalie, had the land priced by a broker and it was estimated to be worth $4 million.
Keller thought he had sold the place last year when four men proposed to buy the property for $2.5 million, but the group never finalized and couldn't raise all of the money and the deal fell through.
With finalization Monday, the course will be under someone else's direction for the first time in 53 years and at one-tenth the price Keller thought it was worth just three years ago.
Keller said there was no doubt how he would like to see the new owner approach the property.
"I would love to see him continue it," Keller said, referring to the course's tradition. "That would be a great deal of pleasure for me, for the people who enjoy hickory golf in the United States, and the NHC. I hope it is kept and kept properly."
Reach Ryan Pritt at 304-348-7948, firstname.lastname@example.org
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