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Midlands golf course gets new life as hiking trail, link to Three Rivers Greenway

Aerial photographs of the former golf course off of Coldstream Drive.
Aerial photographs of the former golf course off of Coldstream Drive. The State

When Tim Turner was raising his family at their home on a fairway at the former Coldstream golf club near Lake Murray, they often were confronted with the hazards of country club life.

The children heard screamed oaths from golfers who miss-hit shots. And, of course, the miss-hit shots peppered their house with golf balls.

Now, with the golf course closed, he and his family are confronted with new challenges: Keeping the grass behind their house cut well onto the fairway to keep weeds and critters at bay; and being wary of mischievous people or criminals using the old cart paths as a convenient way into and out of the neighborhood.

"We used to fish golf balls out of the pool; now it's snakes," said Turner, an airline pilot who noted that his house was burglarized once. "They stole our bikes, filled up the kid carriers with stuff and just rode away."

But there are big changes planned for the old course.

The Mungo family, who along with other developers has packed the area around the golf course with thousands of homes in myriad subdivisions and developments since the 1960s, in December donated the 116-acre course to the Irmo Chapin Recreation Commission.

The commission wants to turn the 4.5 miles of cart paths into hiking and biking trails while also planting trees and letting the entire former golf links return to its natural state.

"It's not every day that someone gives you 4.5 miles of green space," said Mike Smyers, the commission's executive director. "It's a big deal."

Link to the Three Rivers Greenway

Eventually, supporters hope to link the Coldstream or Rawls Creek trail with a planned Lexington County section of the Midlands' Three Rivers Greenway.

The Lexington County extension would run from the new Saluda Riverwalk being built in Richland County around Riverbanks Zoo to the Lake Murray dam, a distance of about 7 miles.

"You could hop on your bike on (the University of South Carolina) campus, ride it to Lake Murray, go sailing and ride back in one day," said Stewart Mungo, chairman of Mungo Homes. "Lots of cities have greenways, but not from downtown to a 50,000-acre lake. Check a box on the cool list for Columbia."

The Rawls Creek trail could be a funnel for thousands of families onto the proposed Lexington riverwalk and the rest of the Three Rivers Greenway, Smyers said.

"The trail reaches out into the community," he said. "People could hop on their bikes in their backyard and ride to the lake or downtown Columbia. They could leave their cars behind. "


But there are challenges.

For one, the donation was made in December without warning, and the recreation commission has no plan or budget for the conversion or maintenance. The Mungos, however, are providing $25,000 a year for five years for maintenance.

Presently, the commission operates and maintains four major parks, including Saluda Shoals Park, on an annual budget of $11 million. The golf course would swell the total park acreage for the agency from 701 to 817.

"This could tip us out of balance," Smyers said.

Some residents are concerned that without proper mowing, planting and reforestation, the fairways and greens would just spring into unsightly patches of weeds, as has happened already in some stretches.

"Great big ones," Coldstream resident Chip Atkinson said.

Atkinson, whose house overlooks the former seventh-hole green and eighth-hole tee box, said some residents have purchased riding lawnmowers and have attacked the weed patches themselves.

"There are only a few areas that are overgrown now," he said.

Atkinson, a minister, is also not fond of a planned parking lot for the seventh green.

"That's a beautiful wide open space," he said.

Grow into it

Smyers said the recreation commission is not building any parking lots right now, but would be directing people to park at the existing club house on Lake Murray Boulevard. But he noted that the two bridges over Rawls Creek — which cuts the golf course in half — were destroyed in the 2015 floods.

"So if parking becomes a problem on the other side, (the seventh green) is something we're looking at," Smyers said.

Other residents are nervous that the park will bring more traffic to two-lane Coldstream Drive, an artery that links many of the large subdivisions that line the golf course.

"The traffic is already pretty heavy; it's pretty bad," said Joanne Fineberg, president of the Coldstream Homeowners Association.

Also, right now, there is no funding for the Lexington riverwalk, which has been on the drawing board for eight years.

But Richland County is completing the Saluda Riverwalk, which runs generally from the confluence of the Broad and Saluda rivers northwest to roughly the intersections of I-20 and I-126 at the county line, Smyers said.

That means the Lexington riverwalk "wouldn't be a trail to nowhere. You could go from Lake Murray to downtown in an afternoon," he said.

The greenway link was news to Atkinson.

"First we've heard of it," he said.

But he said that he supports the new park as long as the maintenance is done and traffic isn't impacted.

"Some people are overreacting," he said. "Others are underreacting. But there needs to be buy-in from the community."

For Smyers, it's all part of a process to add a valuable new asset to the community.

"Plans will be birthed out of need," he said. "We're going to grow into this thing."