Following a year of planning and preparations, Harbor Oaks is finally resurrected.
Friday morning, players took the first swings on the 18-hole public golf course in four years as Pine Bluff Parks and Recreation held its grand reopening. The par-72 course, first opened in 1995, is located north of Regional Park and has five sets of tees stretching from 5,182 to 7,006 yards.
"We're excited to open back up," said Trudy Redus, interim Parks and Recreation director. "The community has been calling. They have been waiting patiently, and it's been an exciting day."
So exciting that Pryce Lybrand said with a laugh he and his golfing partner Bryan Clevenger, both of White Hall, weren't playing "too great."
"I love this place," Lybrand said. "This is literally the first course I ever played in my life. One of my daddy's friends right here on the range taught me how to hit balls. I ain't the best golfer, but I love the game. We've been waiting for this for over a year."
It was a year ago when the city of Pine Bluff decided to make investments to bring Harbor Oaks back to life. The course was heavily damaged by the Arkansas River flood of 2019, causing the loss of the irrigation system, clubhouse and restaurant. While the latter facilities are still closed, the irrigation system has been replaced and the greens have been revitalized.
"We couldn't let this course turn into a tree farm," Ward 2 councilman and Public Works committee chairman Steven Shaner said. "This course has so much potential. It draws people from all over the state. This course is part of the Natural State Golf Trail, and to have people come down here and experience this nice course ... it's got more work to be done, but we're glad to see it opening up."
Go Forward Pine Bluff CEO Ryan Watley said the course is a draw for out-of-town visitors.
"This is definitely a tourist and entertainment attraction for Pine Bluff," he said. "It brings people from throughout southeast Arkansas on a weekly basis. You'll be surprised, if you poll people, where they come from. We're excited for this course to open. Kudos to mayor, city council and Mrs. Redus, who worked to make this happen."
Allen Wagner has been on the job as course superintendent for five weeks. The former Sheridan Country Club course caretaker applied for the position because he played at the course since 1998 and noted it was once ranked among the top 10 public courses in Arkansas, an echelon he'd like to reestablish.
"There's been a lot of mowing and maintaining," Wagner said. "There's been a lot of work on the greens as far as getting them ready for play, a lot of spraying and just the things you would do in turf maintenance. It's been a rough five weeks, but we've got there, and everything is downhill from here.
"Over the last five weeks, there have about 15 or 16 days where I've been out here at 2:30 in the morning running the watering system."
By 8:30 a.m. Friday, about 20 golfers had descended on Harbor Oaks for a long-awaited round under partly cloudy skies. One of them was Earl Goldman, a retired railroad worker and University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff track and field great.
"I love to play golf," Goldman said. "I was just really disappointed to see this course go down the way it did, but I'm excited that Mrs. Redus and Mr. Wagner got this thing back going again because we need this golf course in Pine Bluff."
The course provides locals with a public option for 18-hole golf. It is open from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. every day except Mondays, which are reserved for maintenance.
Pine Bluff also operates the 9-hole Jaycee Golf Course near Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Park. The other active 18-hole course in the city is at the Pine Bluff Country Club, which is members-only.
Harbor Oaks is where Clevenger started playing golf, and he's been waiting for its return to open again so he wouldn't have to journey to Little Rock just for a round.
"It means a lot," Clevenger said. "You get out here with your buddies and have you a few cold pops and have yourself a good time."