5 Star Story: The Links at Pine Hill golf course

Published: Jun. 20, 2023 at 11:05 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - The Links at Pine Hill golf course is nearing the end of an extensive renovation after almost 90 years in business.

The course will hold its grand re-opening on June 24, but we got the chance to view the course changes in advance, which makes the historic course the topic of this 5 Star Story.

Reverend LaSimba Gray is amazed at the changes happening at the Links at Pine Hill golf course, which he told us was once a 2,000-acre plantation. The 18-hole course is located off Interstate 240.

Reverend Gray knows a lot about the history of golf in Memphis--so much so, that he’s writing a book about it, called Out of Bonds.

The Links at Pine Hill
The Links at Pine Hill(Action News 5)

Records vary, but The Links at Pine Hill appears to have opened sometime between 1932 and 1939 in a then-very segregated South Memphis.

“We cooked in the clubhouses, we cleaned the clubhouses, we did all those things that had to be done to keep golf alive and well in Memphis, Tennessee,” Gray said. “And the real interesting thing about the book is how African Americans came through being caddies to get to golf.”

The City of Memphis owns seven public golf courses. In 1962, the Pine Hill course became the city’s first racially-integrated golf course.

“A lot of communities burned down clubhouses and violence,” Gray said. “None of that happened in Memphis. In fact, some of the greatest integrated golf tournaments took place right here (at Pine Hill).”

One of the biggest Memphis golfing events happened at Pine Hill when, back in 1997, Tiger Woods visited the course and held an exhibition and clinic for young golfers.

“He didn’t go anywhere else. He came here right after he had won the Masters.”

William Keys, the facility manager at Pine Hill, was a 15-year-old golfer who took part in Wood’s clinic.

“And I was one of the inaugural members of the Mid-South Junior Golf Association, which was founded by Charles Hudson--he was the former pro here,” Keys described. “Just fortunately, I got MVP of the summer camp that time and I was able to take a picture with him and it was published in Golf Digest.”

Having spent so many years on the course, which Keys refers to as hallowed ground for a lot of golfers, he’s grateful the course is finally getting a facelift. And that’s thanks to $5 million dollars from the city’s “Accelerate Memphis” plan.

“Some of the holes have changed but some of the tees and corridors are still the same,” Keys said. “But all of the green conferences are different, but we have scenic views, new lakes, new wildlife. We got ducks and geese and foxes.”

Mickey Barker, Administrator of Golf for the City of Memphis, met us on what he said used to be the first hole of the course. He said one of the course’s greatest needs was new grass.

“We had plenty of grass...the greens were good, but they were old. They were the original grass that was put in in 1936 and, you know, it was tired,” he said.

Barker said there’s a new ultra dwarf Bermuda on the mini Verde greens and latitude 36 on all the tees and fairways. Crews are also in the process of building a new clubhouse.

“We’ve moved the clubhouse from the old location up on top of that Pine Hill, and we’ve moved it down to the south part of the golf course on Mallory,” he explained.

The clubhouse also sits near the new entrance to the course, as opposed to the old entrance that required golfers to drive through a nearby neighborhood in order to gain entry.

”We’ve moved the entrance down to Mallory, (which) makes it much easier to get off of 240 and make one turn and you’re right in the parking lot,” Barker explained.

But the most important thing for the renovation at Pine Hill is to create a more pleasing experience for Memphis golfers.

“I think they’ll just see how much better the views are, how much better the playability the golf course is,” Barker said.

“It’s gonna be fun to play,” Keys said. “It’s a joy to play. I’ve already played it once, but it’s gonna be very fun, I think the public will enjoy it.”

The Links at Pine Hill is a golf course with a history and beauty that make us proud to call this place home. Incidentally, when I-240 was completed in 1971, it went through what was once a part of Pine Hill Golf Course, which meant part of the course had to be taken off and the course changed a bit then.

The targeted release for Reverend La Simba Gray’s book, Out of Bounds is Labor Day weekend 2023 and will be available at New Sardis Church at 7739 Holmes Rd, Slave Haven on N. 2nd Street, and Eel Etc. on Beale Street.

For more information about the Links at Pine Hill, click here.

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