This story was updated Friday, June 21, 2019, at 7:40 p.m. with more information.
RISING FAWN, Georgia — A Lookout Mountain golf course community that struggled over much of the past two decades is getting a new name and look and the complex will soon add a nearly $8 million clubhouse on the bluff with a new restaurant, pro shop and other amenities.
The Course at McLemore, formerly Canyon Ridge golf course, is opening this weekend after an upgrade of all 18 golf holes. The 18th hole, perched along the eastern bluff of Lookout Mountain overlooking the McLemore Cove and Pigeon Mountain, was relocated to make room for the new 10,000-square-foot clubhouse scheduled to open next spring.
"It's been a long, long time in coming, but we couldn't be more excited about these plans," said Duane Horton, president of Scenic Land Co., whose company took over the former Canyon Ridge development two years ago.
Horton said the clubhouse is the first of several new projects planned for nearly 800 acres he controls atop Lookout Mountain in Walker County.
"We're the only property owners on Lookout Mountain that own from one brow to the other on top of the mountain," he said.
The scenic site has undergone legal fights, ownership changes and a personal bankruptcy over the past two decades. But Horton said he has attracted more than 100 investors for the clubhouse and golf course, which has more than 200 members, and the residential development has sold about half of the 300 residential lots with nearly 80 homes now in the development.
Within the next month, Scenic Land will put out for prospective investors an even more ambitious plan to build a 250-room, convention and conference center, also on the bluff of the mountaintop development.
The developers have tentatively secured a franchise for the convention hotel to be one of the first mountaintop resort hotels picked for Hilton's Curio Collection. Horton estimates the hotel, which will include convention facilities and multiple restaurants along with 250 rooms, could represent an investment of up to $180 million, making it the most expensive hotel and meeting complex ever built in metropolitan Chattanooga.
Horton said he is working with BB&T Capital Markets Group to soon put out the financial package about the convention and resort hotel to prospective investors and he hopes the resort will be similar to such luxury meeing and resort complexes as Palmetto Bluff in Bluffton, South Carolina, Barnsley Gardensin Adairsville, Georgia or the Reynolds Plantation in Florida.
McLemore is within a two-hour drive of 14 million Americans and 28 Fortune 500 companies to attract business meetings, special events and golf and vacation travelers, Horton said.
"No one wants the hotel more than I do, but McLemore will be a success with or without it," Horton said. "I'm confident it will be built — it may be in the next year or it may be three years before it happens. A lot of places similar to our development here went for years and years before their convention hotels were added."
The convention hotel was first proposed a decade ago when Walker County was planning to issue bonds to help finance a proposed $100 million complex. But those plans collapsed along with the economy and a legal dispute between different owners and developers in the Canyon Ridge project. Horton won a lawsuit against former Canyon Ridge developer Randy Baker and his financiers, Sterne, Agee & Leach Inc., in Birmingham, Alabama and ultimately Horton's group took over the Canyon Ridge project and Baker was forced to file for personal bankruptcy.
Walker County's sole commissioner, Shannon Whitfield, said the collapse of the original hotel project proved fortuitous since he said the county probably couldn't have afforded and shouldn't have financed the hotel project. The Walker County Development Authority has agreed to freeze the property taxes on the new hotel site proposed by Horton if the project hires at least 180 workers to help support the project.
Whitfield said the county will still benefit greatly by increased sales and hotel taxes, along with other revenues generated by the rise in visitors to the area.
"This is a hidden jewel in our county and with what is being done here I think this could be a development that is known around the world," Whitfield said. "This mountaintop is just breathtaking and I think they've done a fabulous job in capturing that and making this a facility that people from all over the world will want to come and experience."
Bill Bergin, who has designed premier golf courses across the South and worked to improve the Par-71 course atop Lookout Mountain at McLemore, said all 18 greens were redone and the new 18th hole was built along the mountain edge near the soon-to-be-built clubhouse.
"We've expanded the key playing areas and we feel like the golf course is much better than it was and this is truly a magnificent setting for golf," he said.
The golf course is a private membership club, with initiation dues of $10,000 for property owners and $50,000 for non-residents and monthly dues of $400 a month for residents and $600 a month for no-residents.
The developers have partnered with Arthur Rutenberg Homes to build more home and Horton said he expects the pace of new homes being added to the development will pick up next year with the addition of the clubhouse.
"Getting the golf course open is a huge deal, but getting the clubhouse next year will provide a place for everyone to come together as a community and should be a real boost for the overall project," he said.
Horton said if the entire complex is built out, it will represent more than $600 million of investment in the mountaintop project, up from about $18 million when he took over the project a couple of years ago.
Walker County officials and McLemore investors and builders gathered Friday to break ground for the new clubhouse. Roland Aberg, principal of Hart Howerto, said the new clubhouse will reflect the Scottish and English roots of the early mountain settlers in the area and will be rooted in its own cultural history of Lookout Mountain. The clubhouse will feature large glass walls and have the appearance of a connected set of buildings in a village format framed by a formal garden setting of trees, flowers and landscape of the Lookout Mountain environment.
Horton said the restaurant will serve golfers, residents and guests and will offer special meals on weekend nights.
"One of our destinations ultimately will be our food service and we would like to have something that is comparable with to Blackberry Farms experience," Horton said, referring to the celebrated intimate luxury hotel situated on a 4,200-acre estate in the Great Smoky Mountains in East Tennessee.
Contact Dave Flessner at email@example.com or at 757-6340.