HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - The grande dame' of Hattiesburg-area golf clubs has entered a new era.
The Hattiesburg Country Club, once home to a Professional Golf Association Tour event and host of state amateur and open tournaments, has gone from a member-owned establishment to a private, for-profit business.
Hattiesburg businessman Carter Callaway and former Major League Baseball pitcher Paul Maholm signed papers on Sept. 30 that transferred the ownership of the 98-year-old club.
HCC, which first opened in 1919, will remain a private club run by the new co-owners rather than a board of directors representing its "equity members" or shareholders.
Over the years, new golf courses built in the Hattiesburg area competed for the same dollars and growth west of the city shifted the club's clientele base as well. Membership had been falling and the non-profit club was struggling financially.
"I've been a member here 12 years, and over the last 10 years, I'd seen how the membership slowly dwindled," Callaway said. "You had the bad economy in 2009, and we lost a lot of members there, but it just continuously slowly dwindled, and I didn't want to see anything happen to it."
Callaway said he approached a board member and asked what might be possible.
"And it was that they were having some issues, they were losing money, losing members" Callaway said, "and I said, 'Well, if I was able to put a deal together, do you think you would ever consider selling the club?'
"And they said, 'Definitely.' At that time, they were willing to consider anything, and they said, 'We need help.'"
The new owners declined to reveal terms of the deal.
"I think I've lived a life where everybody has known exactly what I've done (financially), so I'd rather that this stay just between us," Malholm said. "Just say it's not cheap."
Hattiesburg Country Club has a rich tradition, hosting the Magnolia Class and Deposit Guaranty Golf Classic from 1968 to 1993. Past winners of the event included the likes of Craig Stadler (1978), Roger Maltbie (1980), Payne Stewart (1982), Russ Cochran (1983), Jim Gallagher Jr. (1985), Gene Sauers (1990) and Greg Kraft (1993).
And though neither has ever run their own golf course, both said they intend to turn to outside resources when necessary.
"We're both, I guess you'd say, smart enough to ask questions and not think that we know all the answers," said Maholm, who settled his family in Hattiesburg during his playing career.
Both men have golf-related backgrounds.
"Me and Paul, we both grew up working on a golf course," said Callaway, owner/operator of Callaway Custom Homes of Hattiesburg, LLC. "My dad owned a driving range in Jackson, and I grew up mowing the range, picking up balls, mowing the greens, whatever needed to be done.
"I love this place (HCC) and the timing was perfect for me. I've been a homebuilder for 12 years, but my passion is for golf. My dad's a professional golfer and from the day I was born, I've been on a golf course. I've been around it my whole life, and I've always wanted to be involved in it."
Maholm, a Holly Springs native who starred at Mississippi State and pitched for a quartet of MLB teams before retiring in 2015, also has Bermuda grass in his blood.
He grew up playing on a nine-hole course in his hometown and had been enrolled in MSU's PGA Golf Management program for three years before being drafted and leaving to a professional baseball career.
"That's where I was heading before the baseball," Malholm said. "It's something that I always wanted to do.
"For me, I kind of go back to my experiences. I've worked at Old Waverly (in West Point) and TPC Southwind (in Memphis), and I've played probably three of the top five courses in the country when travelling for baseball. I grew up on a nine-hole country club, so I've experienced the smallest and I've experienced the biggest, he's played at golf clubs all over the country, so we can kind of put our minds together and figure out what needs to happen."
While the 18-hole course, which will remain the home to the University of Southern Mississippi's men's and women's golf teams, is the club's primary asset, the new owners also said they plan improvements to the clubhouse, tennis courts and dining facilities on the grounds.
"We want to make improvements to the golf course, improvements to the building, improvements to the food and beverage service," Callaway said. "The club has aged. It's a 60-year-old clubhouse, and it needs improvements. So, we're going to try and spruce it up and also provide more events, activities."
Said Malhom: "We want to bring the country club and the building as close to 2017 as we can."