words: Jim Hattabaugh
My favorite hole at Winn Mountain is number four. It is a par three; you can see the flag from the tee box. It always reminds me of life. You can see your goal, and it looks easy, until you see a huge tree right in front of the green. Obstacles are common in life, so you have to decide if you are going over, under, around, or through it. Just remember, there is a way to play through.
Golf is a fantastic game that was invented by the Scots several centuries ago to ward off loneliness and to find another use of their cow and sheep pastures. Those inventive fellows came up with a game in which they hit a small leather-covered feather ball with a stick into a little hole several hundred yards away. They would yell “four” or “fore” to warn neighbors and friends that a flying object was headed their way. Being hit by a ball made of feathers does not sound very painful but being hit by one of today’s golf balls is not for the weak of heart and warrants a forewarning.
Knowing the origin of this sport makes playing the game even better. I play regularly with three friends at a delightful course called Winn Mountain Golf Course near Mountainburg, Arkansas, about six miles north of Alma, on Highway 71. There, we spend time catching up, discussing politics, which leads to lively conversations, and enjoying the beauty of this course that’s still somewhat undiscovered.
When entering the driveway, you can smell the pine trees and hear birds singing. Up ahead is the clubhouse with all its amenities such as a driving range, putting green, cold drinks, snacks, free coffee, and bottled water! After checking out your cart, you drive through a wooded area to tee box for the first hole where you’ll see a spring-fed lake and Winn Mountain, the namesake of the course.
Kathy and Tim Pense designed and developed a hundred acres of old pastures, ponds, and a creek that now runs through most of this par 70, eighteen-hole course nestled among the foothills of the Boston Mountains.
Before this venture, Tim owned and operated a dirt moving business for many years, working in Oklahoma, Alaska, Colorado, and Florida. He and Kathy bought the property during the recession of 1980 as a place to park their large dirt moving equipment when not in use. Tim, an occasional golfer, started tinkering with the idea of building a course about seven years ago. Working together, they developed a five-year plan and opened the course to the public in 2013.
To get things exactly right, Tim pulled a satellite map off Google Earth and started walking the property using traffic cones as markers for the tee box and where the greens might be placed. He would brush-hog the possible green site, go back and hit balls to see how it worked out. The property has several mature trees, and he did not want to remove them, so they planned the course around them. Tim used his knowledge of and experience moving dirt to develop the course.
He researched and read all he could about golf course design, management, grass, water, herbicides, fertilizer, etc., while still in the dirt moving business. Kathy, knowing Tim was not an avid reader, was impressed by Tim’s dedication to learning all he could about this new venture, something that continues today as he keeps up to speed on all aspects of maintaining and running Winn Mountain.
Tim already had a feel for this land. He’s a native of Crawford County, growing up in Mountainburg. Kathy is from Tulsa and jokes that Tim had to go all the way to Oklahoma to find a good woman. They share their labor of love with Kathy taking care of the clubhouse, greeting and taking care of customers while Tim takes care of course maintenance.
Tim is on the course at six in the morning until closing time at nine in the evening. Both admit they work long hours, and take little vacation time or days off since Winn Mountain is open seven days a week. But that doesn’t seem to worry them much. They love what they do, and when asked what they liked most about the business, both said at the same time, “Working with and meeting the people.” The people they’re talking about are golfers who come from all over this part of the state to play at Winn Mountain.
Recently, while playing at one of the course’s tournaments, I asked several other golfers why they would drive a couple of hours just to play golf here. I was told that the affordable price was a factor. Where else can you play eighteen holes with a cart for twenty-five dollars (twenty dollars for seniors)? They also mentioned the friendly atmosphere and the rarity of having the owners welcoming you and stopping by on the course to see how you are doing.
Tim and Kathy are just being themselves, making sure everyone feels at home. Looking around, it’s hard to imagine the journey to get it to where it is today. Tim and Kathy admit there were many surprises along the way, the biggest one being how much everything cost, from the clubhouse to the driveway, and especially the fuel to keep the mowers and carts running.
They’ve learned some cost-saving tips in the process. Tim has a different approach to fertilizer and herbicides and probably uses a fourth of what others do, by combining both during application. This method saves water, fuel, and time.
Tim, now sixty years old, says the one thing he’d change if he could would be building Winn Mountain Golf Course years ago when he had lots of energy. Back then, fifteen-hour days, seven days a week, would have been a bit easier. Still, he wouldn’t trade what he and Kathy have built. Even now, he doesn’t see himself as a “golf nut,” but he does enjoy an occasional game, played on the course he built.
I enjoy it as well. My favorite hole at Winn Mountain is number four. It is a par three; you can see the flag from the tee box. It always reminds me of life. You can see your goal, and it looks easy, until you see a huge tree right in front of the green. Obstacles are common in life, so you have to decide if you are going over, under, around, or through it. Just remember, there is a way to play through.
It was that kind of determination that kept Tim and Kathy believing they could build and run this golf course five miles south of Mountainburg, a town of 625 people. They had a vision of what it would look like, and they could visualize golfers coming from miles around to play on this beautiful piece of land that they take such great pride in. They kept working until it happened. They kept trying until their dream came true.
Winn Mountain Golf Course
10636 Highway 71