August 03, 2015

Tennessee: Spring Creek Ranch

By Jimmy Darr
– Ashton Sports –

Several years ago word began to spread of a high-end, private golf course development that would be built in the eastern part of Shelby County, Tennessee, just outside Memphis in the small, yet rapidly developing community called Collierville.

There were rumors that Tom Fazio, Pete Dye or even Jack Nicklaus might be involved in the project and that once completed, the golf course and its related facilities would stand as one of the finest the game had to offer, not only in the Mid-South, but in the entire country.

As time passed and the development of the project became a reality I was eager to hear a first-hand account of how the process had actually evolved. It was true that Jack Nicklaus was chosen as the course architect, but did that decision stem from a chance meeting between the property owner and the Golden Bear during a hunting trip?

I got my opportunity to ask that question and many others when I sat down for a much anticipated meeting with Dr. David Meyer of Memphis, Tenn., shortly after the course opened, and the one thing I learned for certain from that encounter was that nothing with regard to Spring Creek Ranch happened by chance.

“When we completed what we wanted to accomplish with the property as a cattle breeding and research facility I did not want the land, and what it meant to our family, to be lost,” said Dr. Meyer. “We wanted to turn it into something special, something that reflected our passion for the environment and preserved this special piece of land.”

The Meyers acquired the base property in the early 1970s in order to enhance their existing cattle breeding business. “We had ranches in Mississippi and Arkansas and we needed a facility closer to home in order to accomplish our goals in that industry,” Dr. Meyer explained. “We purchased adjoining parcels over time, and ultimately settled in to the approximately 1000 acres that now make up Spring Creek Ranch.”

The story of the ranch itself is fascinating, from its original mission to develop and maintain one of the premier pure-bred Brangus herds, to the establishment of the SCR Reproductive Center utilizing the only National Institute of Health financial grant to be given to a cattle farm.

The facility was a catalyst in the advancement of bovine embryo transfer methods, and pioneered the study of cryo-protection methods. This fostered embryo freezing techniques that allowed for the delayed and distant transfer of the most elite bloodlines throughout the world – most notably to developing (third world) countries.

“It was a fantastic project,” recalled Dr. Meyer, “and I truly miss the cattle. I am certainly much more of a cattle person than a golfer.”

Dr. Meyer is most widely known for founding the Vitreo Retinal Foundation in 1968 and later the Vitreo Retinal Research Foundation in 1970, as well as his service to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital as the director of Retinoblastoma Services within their Solid Tumor division.

In fact he was a self-proclaimed “non-golfer” when the prospect of building a golf course presented itself.

“We had been approached by developers once we had ceased operating as a cattle farm, but we didn’t want to let the land go,” explained Dr. Meyer. “And Mr. Dye as well as Mr. Fazio had seen the property as friends. They both thought the location was perfect for a golf course and it is actually true that I approached Mr. Nicklaus while on a hunting trip about the possibility of building that course.”

Nicklaus was apparently intrigued by Dr. Meyer’s description of the land that did not sound like the typical flat offering usually found in the delta region, and eagerly offered to come to Memphis to view the property.

“He was supposed to leave town that same evening but we stayed at the property until after dark. We messed up his schedule so he ultimately stayed at my house. We decided that night to build a course. He fell in love with the land immediately and he really studied that property,” said Meyer. “It was an amazing process to witness the evolution of that golf course.”

And apparently it all started with a simple directive by Dr. Meyer — to build the finest golf course possible. “That sums up my father’s vision”, says Robb Meyer, who serves as the operation’s General Manager. “I know it sounds over simplified but in everything he does, he says ‘let’s make it the best,’ and he never loses sight of that ultimate goal.”

It is a passion that clearly runs in the family as one would learn after any time spent with Robb Meyer. He earned a degree in Art from the University of Arizona and also was an avowed non-golfer when they began development of the property.

“None of us knew a thing about the process that we had to go through, so there was a huge learning curve, but we have never lost sight of what Spring Creek Ranch was meant to be.”

Since opening to members in late 1999, Spring Creek Ranch has realized a continuous evolution based not only on that learning curve but also on the insight of the Meyer family and Nicklaus himself.

When Nicklaus conducted his ceremonial grand opening of the course in May of 2004, he admitted that technological advances in golf equipment had already affected the competitive playability of the layout, and that had he known what was to come he would have lengthened the course in several areas.

This led to an almost immediate plan for renovations by the Meyer family that included the addition of several new tee complexes, as well as the repositioning or adding of several fairway bunkers and a complete conversion of the putting greens from bent-grass to Champion Bermuda grass.

The end result of that renovation project is a championship golf course that will certainly test the finest players in the world while still providing members and their guests a uniquely enjoyable experience from any of the forward sets of tee boxes. The commitment to creating the finest golf facility available also led the Meyer family to partner with the Stanford Financial Group, which recently took over title sponsorship of the 50-year-old PGA TOUR event in Memphis that will now be known as the Stanford St. Jude Championship.

Stanford Financial Group is a privately held, wholly owned global group of financial services companies founded by Lodis B. Stanford in 1932. Stanford’s core businesses are private wealth management and investment banking for institutions and emerging growth companies. They employ more than 3,000 professionals throughout the United States, Latin America, the Caribbean and Europe while serving clients in 126 countries on six continents.

“Partnering with Spring Creek Ranch made perfect sense for Stanford because of the similarities in the way we both approach our respective businesses. Dr. Meyer and his team are committed to developing a world-class golf course that is unmatched by any. Their desire for excellence and their long-term, big-vision plans for the future impressed us. We knew we could bring appropriate resources to the table — and a shared commitment to excellence — to create a mutually beneficial partnership so that this unique vision could be realized,” stated Scott Notowich, Managing Director of the Memphis Stanford Group Company.

“Stanford’s commitment to excellence in everything they do mirrors what we strive to accomplish at this golf facility,” adds Robb Meyer. “They have truly embraced our vision of creating something very special here and our partnership will allow us to not only meet, but exceed our goals in every aspect of the development.”

Throughout the early stages of operation at Spring Creek Ranch members and their guests experienced a level of service that one would come to expect from only the most refined of golf facilities. This is combined with a genuine emphasis on the casual comforts that define southern tradition, and together provide for a truly unique experience.

The staff at Spring Creek Ranch has also gone through an evolution of sorts that has resulted in a compilation of expertise and enthusiasm that truly sets the club apart. Newly appointed Director of Golf, John Phillips, is an example of the type of individual that Spring Creek Ranch strives to attract to its growing list of service personnel.

Phillips is a native of Tulsa, Okla., and a graduate of Oklahoma State University. He worked his way up the golfing ranks until ultimately joining the staff at the famed Southern Hills Country Club. He references his time there working under professionals Jim Lucius and later Dave Bryan as a critical part of his career development.

Also, at the very young age of 29 he was appointed the Head Professional job at Pinnacle Peak Country Club in Scottsdale, Ariz. “That was a phenomenal experience for me at that age,” says Phillips.

His next move would prove to be equally rewarding, however, as he accepted the position of Director of Golf at Sherwood Country Club in Thousand Oaks, CA. Sherwood is known as a playground of sorts for some of the world’s most notable celebrities and has served as the host site for three of Greg Norman’s Shark Shootouts and all of Tiger Woods’ Target World Challenges since 2001.

“We staged the first-ever made for TV golf event in prime time when we hosted the Showdown at Sherwood in 1999 between Tiger Woods and David Duval,” recalls Phillips. “They were #1 and #2 in the world at the time and over 6 million people watched the telecast.”

Phillips’ decision to join Spring Creek Ranch was made after a personal visit from Robb Meyer where he described the vision for the facility that has guided their path from the beginning.

“I got a very genuine feeling from Robb that they were committed to creating a very special facility at Spring Creek Ranch,” he states. “I thought it would be a wonderful opportunity to grow with the facility that is basically in its infancy at this time. The potential here is truly limitless.”

Another recent addition to the Spring Creek Ranch staff is Golf Digest Top 50 Instructor Rob Akins who was named Director of Instruction in 2006. Akins has a reputation as one of the finest teachers in the game and helped guide PGA TOUR star David Toms to his first major win at the 2001 PGA Championship.

“I am very excited about being a part of the Spring Creek Ranch family,” states Akins. “They are just as committed to their instruction facilities as every other aspect of the development. We have a vision for creating one of the finest training and testing facilities in the country, one that will serve as a standard of excellence in the game of golf.”

Akins, who co-authored the book Golf’s Red Zone Challenge, commented on the enhancements to Spring Creek Ranch’s practice facilities that were completed during the recent renovation project and looks forward to the development of The Golf Academy.

“We truly have a world-class practice facility that will allow us to help golfers of all abilities,” he stated. “And once construction of The Golf Academy is complete I believe we will have achieved our goal of developing one of the finest teaching and training facilities the game has to offer.”

The next major piece of the puzzle in the Spring Creek Ranch development is scheduled to be unveiled this spring when construction of the Golf House will be completed. The much-anticipated facility will be unparalleled in this region and promises to be one of the finest in the game of golf.

Through the efforts of Robb Meyer the renowned architect James Cutler was retained to design the unique facility that will feature custom artisan work throughout and ultimately reflect the development’s vision of understated quality.

The project is Cutler’s first golf-related endeavor and promises to adhere to his firm belief in conservation and the marriage of functional space to the preservation of the natural surroundings.

Cutler’s most notable work to date is probably the design of Microsoft billionaire Bill Gates’ residence in the exclusive suburb of Medina, Wash. His Cutler Anderson Architects design firm has received six National Honor Awards from the American Institute of Architects and over 40 other national and regional awards. The final aspect of the Spring Creek Ranch facility will be the residential development on adjoining properties by the Boyle Investment Company. “People who really love what’s out there want to be of the community that surrounds the golf course in an intimate and special way,” says Rusty Bloodworth of Boyle Inv. Co.

From The Village to The Manor and The Grand Manor individuals interested in becoming part of the Spring Creek Ranch community will be able to choose from smaller acreage lots in gated developments, to private entrance estate lots. They may also choose to take private ownership of one of the cabins adjacent to the Golf House.

To say that the Spring Creek Ranch experience is special is truly an understatement. By remaining true to their dream the Meyer family has created what many other private facilities only hope to achieve.

Understated excellence with an emphasis on the natural surroundings, unparalleled service without being pretentious and a uniqueness that can only come from a dedication to an inspired vision define what this facility is all about. And that is special indeed.