A New Identity

The resort area at Sky Valley, a tiny municipality in Rabun County, has had its ups and downs. Several previous owners tried to make a go of a summer golf resort doubling as a ski resort in the winter with limited success.

So when Merrill Trust Communities and Resort purchased Sky Valley Resort and Country Club in 2004, the first order of business was to decide what the property would be.

After considering the cost of operating ski facilities, including snow-making in Georgia’s unpredictable winters, the new owners determined that skiing was out, but a topnotch golf facility was in. “The owners said, ‘We are first and foremost a golf resort,’” says Trudy Crunkleton, resort sales manager. Thus, a plan turning Sky Valley resort into a premier golf getaway while tapping into the region’s incredible natural beauty was put into motion.

In June 2006, the back nine of the old golf course was torn up, and renovations began on the Bill Bergin-designed new course. The work is being done by Southeastern Golf, Inc., a Tifton-based company whose past projects include Medinah County Club in Ohio (site of the 2006 PGA Championship) and the Atlanta Athletic Club. The back nine will open later in 2007.

“The weather has been great,” Crunkleton says. “We lost some time to rain but for the most part the drought helped us.” Renovations on the front nine began when the course closed Oct. 1, 2006. “There’s really no timetable for when they’ll have the whole thing finished; it’s very dependent on the weather,” Crunkleton adds.

The golf course proper isn’t the only feature up for renovation. The course’s lake was drained when it was determined that an earthen dam damaged by Hurricanes Ivan and Frances in 2004 should be replaced. The result: a stronger dam and three fishing landings added along the road abutting the lake, giving anglers lake access but not interfering with play on the links. The lake was stocked with nearly 7,000 bass, bream, catfish and grass carp earlier this year.

Other changes are in store. Construction on a new clubhouse begins later this year and the chalet/lodge currently housing the pro shop and administrative offices will be torn down. That area will be home to a mixed-use “village” featuring shops, restaurants and condominiums from the $200,000s. The homes will be privately owned and leased back to the resort as rental property. New home sites may also be available later.

Because Sky Valley isn’t just a resort but an incorporated municipality with 224 full time residents on the voting rolls, the redevelopment process was open to public scrutiny. The city held numerous meetings during which citizens could voice their concerns. “I think our residents are beginning to get an idea of what’s going to happen, now that the golf course construction is well under way,” Crunkleton says. “There’s no doubt this project is going to positively impact Sky Valley and all of Rabun County.” – Patty Rasmussen

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