Sale of Course Falls Through

CHARLESTON – One of the nation’s oldest golf courses has failed to find a buyer for a second time, and now the longtime owner is worried that the property in rural West Virginia could be taken over by a bank.

Oakhurst Links owner Lewis Keller Sr. said the $410,000 winning bid from a July 28 auction has fallen through, bringing up the possibility of foreclosure for the nine-hole course that was built in 1884 and bought by Keller in 1959.

The 30-acre course, museum and clubhouse are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Golfers rent hickory-shafted clubs and hit gutta-percha balls off tees fashioned from sand and water the way it was done more than 130 years ago.

The 89-year-old Keller had struggled for years to find a buyer. Last year a Richmond, Va.-based group had planned to take over the course but couldn’t raise the $2.5 million to close the deal.

All Keller wants is a happy ending.

“I have done everything I can do since 1959 to this golf course for the history of the game. I can do no more,” Keller said Tuesday. “At the present I’m heartbroken.”

Keller said a McLean, Va.-based bank holds a lien on the property and he’s afraid the course now will be taken over.

“I’m trying my heart out to find an answer to this problem,” Keller said.

Keller referred questions on details of the failed sale and the course’s future to his attorney, Jesse Guills of Lewisburg. Guills didn’t return several telephone messages.

Though he has owned Oakhurst since 1959, it wasn’t until 1994 that Keller reopened the course after it had been dormant for more than 80 years. The National Hickory Championship has been played at Oakhurst since 1998.

Oakhurst was first owned by Russell Montague, who became enamored of golf while studying in Great Britain.

Montague and a small group of colleagues held the first competition at Oakhurst in 1888 in the Scottish match play tradition, predating by a few years the St. Andrews Golf Club of Yonkers, N.Y.

Montague and most of the original members eventually moved away. Play on the course stopped after 1910.

Keller learned about Oakhurst from longtime friend Snead, who spent decades as the head pro at the nearby Greenbrier resort. Keller bought the property to use as a summer retreat and raise horses. He had a vision about restoring the course, but didn’t act for decades until some nudging from a golf writer.

Restoration started in 1991 and was done by hand, with newspaper and magazine clippings and course photos serving as guides. Keller even added dozens of sheep to mow the grass the way it was done long ago.

Keller’s family previously estimated the value of the property at $4 million. The clubhouse and museum are filled with photos of visits from golfers such as Sam Snead, Lee Trevino and Tom Watson.

After the auction, Keller had plans to move to a retirement village in Lynchburg, Va. His wife of 60 years, Rosalie, died in 2010.

Keller, whose home is at the entrance to the course, doesn’t plan to go anywhere now.

“I’m going to stay here until we can find an answer to this thing,” he said.