Winter Creek development booming under new owner, second course contemplated

Like and Follow Golf Oklahoma

By John Rohde

Winter Creek Golf & Social Club in Blanchard, Okla., has been down this bumpy road many times before.

Now, thanks to Sunshine Industries based in Louisville, Ky, that road has been repaved.

James French, who is president of the company’s Oklahoma Division, recalls his first-ever glimpse of what would soon become his future residence.

“I had never been in Oklahoma before, and the main road into Winter Creek at the time was basically a gravel road,” French said. “I’m driving around thinking, ‘What have I got myself into?’ As soon as you get to the front gate at Winter Creek, you’re like, ‘Holy Cow. This place is awesome. This is a little paradise right in the middle of flatlands Oklahoma.’

French was introduced to Winter Creek by a friend of a friend. At the time, the property was owned by Legacy Bank. With the onslaught of the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) due to COVID, French knew Legacy Bank needed to get rid of some bad debt. “We basically were in the right place at the right time to write a check,” said French, who preferred to not share the purchase price.

Located 20 miles southwest of Norman, 35 miles south of downtown Oklahoma City and 55 miles south of heralded Oak Tree National in Edmond, Blanchard has a population of 9,759 according to this year’s Census. That number has gotten a bump from the swift rise in popularity of Winter Creek.

Upon his arrival, French said his first order of business was to build four spec homes. Soon came his own property, which sits just a lob wedge from the clubhouse.

Much more has come in the interim.

French said the initial investment included building roughly 20 houses, spending more than $2 million on roads and infrastructure (including repaving the main road), committing $750,000 into remodeling the main clubhouse that now includes two new bars and a speakeasy/cigar/bourbon lounge in the basement. The old pro shop was transformed into a simulator game room. A state-of-the-art irrigation system is due for completion by mid-October. Also added was a $1.4 million resort-style pool featuring a fully functional bar with three 90-inch televisions. “It’s basically a pool/resort/sports bar,” French said.

When French relocated from Kentucky to Winter Creek on Jan. 4, 2021, the 460-lot property had 12 houses. By the end of 2023, there will be more than 100 homes. By the end of 2024, more than 200-plus houses are envisioned.

“In Year No. 1, it was just me begging people to come down here and give us a shot,” French said with a chuckle. “If you’re even looking at building a house, I’ll cover your golf when you make a visit. I’ll take you around. I’ll buy your drinks. Just come down here and give us a chance. We’ll incentivize you to put eyes on this property. Then it slowly started taking off.

“Year No. 2 was just gangbusters. Even people from Norman were like, ‘We’ve never even heard of Winter Creek.’ Now they show up and they’re sold. I’m not selling it. The land sells it.”

French’s decision to relocate came on Nov. 7, 2020, which was his wife, Beth’s, 30th birthday. They are joined by daughter Madeleine (8 years old), son Alexander (6) and daughter Mackenzie (4).

The original footprint of the Winter Creek course remains, as does the original design of architect Rocky Roquemore from the late 1990s. Perhaps the most significant change under Sunshine was eliminating one pond, taking the total from 14 down to 13.

“It just wasn’t a very good body of water, so we just blew it up and filled it in,” French explained. “It was at No. 16, a par-3 with a 120-yard carry. It was just super unfair for your higher handicap golfers. We have the No. 1 youth program in Oklahoma and we’re just not going to punish that many kids by putting bodies that force carry over water.

“Close to 150 individual kids have participated in our junior program just this year. All three seasons – spring, summer and fall – consist of clinics, camps and different leagues, Over the year, we will have 10-plus different programs geared toward juniors of all ages (5 to 18) and skill levels. An estimated six to eight families will join Winter Creek partially because they want easier access for their juniors to play here. Parents enrolling their juniors in individual lessons have also increased roughly 50 percent amongst the pros.”

French said substantial finances were put into bunkers the first year and also enhancing the driving range. “It was mostly lipstick,” French admitted. “It was raising the canopies on the trees that were overgrown. Really kind of clean-up work.

“Year No. 2 is when we started working on the development infrastructure. The pool, the amenities and we started to check some boxes on the golf course. The timetable is still going on, but I would challenge anybody to say we could work faster than we have. I really feel like we have moved much, much faster than what we or anyone in this community expected us to.”

As of early October, roughly 189 lots remained available and range from $75,000-$125,000 per half-acre. “We’ve also got roughly 40 ‘super-premium’ lots situated around the lake that cost significantly more than that, but they’re bigger lots, too,” French said.

Asked to describe the course’s primary appeal, French said, “It’s the lakes and the rolling hills we have. There’s a whole lot more elevation out here than what you normally see in Oklahoma. Every single person who plays here says, ‘I cannot believe how much water you all have. It’s beautiful.’ ”

How are Sunshine and French going to save a place where so many failed before?

“Our team at Sunshine, from the very beginning, was overly committed to Winter Creek’s success, so our output of capital went toward the improvement of the course and the development,” French explained. “We knew that if we stuck to our values and stuck to our gameplan that this would work. We did not expect it to work as quickly as it has, which is why we are looking at expansion in Blanchard.”

It was at this point French confirmed Sunshine is on the verge of closing a deal to purchase 1,000 acres where the abandoned Indian Ridge golf course once sat, a choice piece of property located just five miles northwest of Winter Creek that borders on the opposite side of Highway 62 and offers more than a mile of commercial frontage.

Much like with Winter Creek, French’s optimism overflows at the prospect of Indian Ridge.

“Our group at Sunshine would expect to move as quickly there as we have here,” said French, who said he would share more information about the Indian Ridge project at the appropriate time.

French said Winter Creek lots already have been purchased by people from California, Texas, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Florida, Colorado, Tennessee, Nevada and South Dakota.

As a result, Winter Creek indirectly has become its own 545-acre Field of Dreams.

“We just took the approach, ‘If you build it, they will come,’ ” French said. “We knew we couldn’t tip-toe into this thing. We had to really show some significant investment. We built some spec homes. We sold some lots. We remodeled the clubhouse. We put some effort into the golf course itself. We had to change the local perception of Winter Creek. We had to change those minds. The whole first year essentially was convincing people, ‘Hey, we’re here and we’re going to stay. We care about this place.’ ”


 

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