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May 2013
The Scottish Muir Revisited
By Zenda Douglas

     Each time Mel Graham passes through the gates at The Club at Longview, he is struck by the natural beauty of the land—the rolling topography of old trees, natural streams and Six-Mile Creek, along with natural land preserves.

     “God gave us a wonderful canvas to work with,” says Graham, the founding partner and visionary of The Club at Longview. And what a masterpiece he and his partners have created.

     The Club at Longview is situated in a 500-acre private gated residential community south of Charlotte with the region’s only Jack Nicklaus Signature Golf Course. The Club is consistently ranked one of the top 20 private clubs in North Carolina by Golf Digest ‘Best in State.’

     Graham began design and construction of the Club in 2000 and completed it in 2003. He owns it in partnership with James Little, formerly an investment banker, and Bruce Anderson and Pat Welsh of Welsh, Carson, Anderson & Stowe.

     Together, the partners have built a community that promotes an atmosphere of relaxation and exclusivity with uncompromised conveniences and amenities for members to enjoy, with respect for the highest quality design concepts and land preservation.

     There are 310 manor-style luxury estates. Approximately half of the home sites are built out with homes valued from $1 to over $10 million. There are 40 home sites remaining for sale. The integrity and high standards of the community are maintained by the Club’s Architectural Review Committee.

 

A Signature Imprint

     The “signature” attraction to The Club at Longview is its 220-acre, 18-hole Jack Nicklaus Signature Golf Course.

     “As Jack Nicklaus stood on this property, and looked at the gently rolling hills with its pines and hardwoods, its creeks, ponds and nature preserves, he said, ‘It’s as if it was always meant to be the home of a great golf course,’” Graham remembers. “Jack shared and appreciated the inherent beauty of the land, and had a plan to maximize and preserve it.

     “I told him we wanted the architecture and old-world themed amenities emulating traditional English and Scottish manors—something that looked like it had been here forever,” continues Graham.

     It was a natural for Nicklaus, who said it reminded him of Muirfield, which he had designed in his hometown of Dublin, Ohio, the site of the famous PGA Memorial Tournament, echoings old stone walls and Irish-themed landscaping.

     Graham worked closely with Nicklaus as he personally designed the course, and supervised the building of it every step of the way. “The process is incredibly involved; everyone sees the surface result, but what is necessary to make a golf course functional is literally buried,” explains Graham.

     “There are hundreds of thousands of tons of dirt that must be moved to grade and balance the site, plus there are over 30 miles of irrigation lines, 280-plus miles of wiring and over 15 miles of drainage lines that must be laid at the site. Add to that an average of 100 million gallons of irrigation water annually, and there is a lot going on beneath your feet.

     “Each green also has its own separate remote-controlled mister system to cool it during hot weather conditions. There are over 1,500 sprinkler heads that are individually controlled and a sub-air system that functions as a giant shop-vac, to pull moisture out of the green.

     “Jack is very specific about what it takes for proper play conditions and proper course health, and what goes on beneath the surface is a huge component of that,” Graham comments, appreciative of Nicklaus’ strict course specifications.

     “Working with the natural topography of a great piece of land, he designed a world-class golf course,” Graham says, nodding. “Jack Nicklaus is a great in the golf world and a great friend. We could not have worked with anyone better.”

     Graham credits director of golf course operations and longtime friend, Ray Avery, for overseeing the details of construction and the ultimate quality of the course today. “The golf course would not be what it is today without Ray and his great team of maintenance professionals,” says Graham.

 

Idyllic Surrounds

     The charming gatehouse and the magnificent clubhouse of The Club at Longview have an air of distinction, and along with the manor-style homes on the grounds look native to England or Scotland, favorite travel spots for Graham and his wife Terri.

     “This is the common theme and goal for the entire project—the golf course, clubhouse, streets and homes. We want it to have an old-world look and a feel of home and permanency,” says Graham. “It’s unique architecture that you won’t find anywhere else in the Carolinas.”

     While the architecture may be purposefully dated, the amenities are anything but. The clubhouse facilities, totaling 38,000 square feet and open 24/7, include a 10,000-square-foot activity center housing a full-service fitness center, adult and family pools, aerobic studio, spa and steam room, and an expansive youth lodge. Buildings also include a gate house and carriage house.

     There are multiple dining facilities on the property to accommodate both casual and formal dining, as well as banquets and meetings. Four hydro-clay tennis courts await the inclination of members. There is a tennis pro and a golf pro on staff to provide instruction. Personal concierge services are available.

     “When you first drive through the gates, you don’t realize the complexity of the operation. It takes a small army to manage this property and all the amenities,” says Graham, adding “We have a great staff that is second to none. We train our people to treat members and guests with down home southern hospitality.”

     Waxhaw resident Rick Poling is the Club’s general manager; he most recently hails from the Miramont in Bryan, Texas. Chip Swanson is the director of golf, a PGA member since 1993 most recently hailing from The Club at Spanish Peaks in Big Sky, Montana, although he has over 20 years’ experience at several high end clubs throughout the country.

     The tennis pro is world-renowned ATP tennis tour coach Louis Vosloo from South Africa. Vosloo has played with the likes of Pete Sampras, James Blake, Robin Soderling, the Bryan Brothers and Andy Roddick. As a tennis pro and coach, he has worked with the Brickell Tennis Club in Miami as well as The Dunes Golf and Tennis Club and The Sundial Beach and Golf Resort on Sanibel Island.

     Both Avery and Golf Course Superintendant Barry Rewis maintain and manicure the course to provide one of the best conditioned courses in the Carolinas.

 

The Longview Tradition

     The history of Longview dates back to the 1800s when it was first known as The Longview Black Jack Farm. In the early 1950s, a portion of the grounds were purchased by Graham’s father, owner of Graham Brothers’ Dairy Farm and brother of Reverend Billy Graham, to put his dry cattle out to pasture.

     “As a kid, I walked the property all the time, appreciating this God-given, beautiful landscape,” says Graham. “I always knew we could make Longview something very special.”

     Graham alongside his father farmed the land into his twenties at which time he embarked on what became a successful career in the construction and real estate business.

     “As I started making money, I began to purchase adjoining parcels to the farm,” recounts Graham, “and, over the next 20 years, was able to accumulate over a thousand acres. In the late 1990s, Charlotte was exploding to the south. So when the Rea Road extension and Highway 485 were announced, I decided to develop what is now Longview,” recalls Graham.

     At the highest points of the property, the Charlotte skyline is visible. “This property was perfect due to its proximity to the rapidly growing south side of Charlotte. It’s 30 minutes from uptown Charlotte, a reasonable commute, plus, its location in Union County means lower taxes and great schools,” he points out.

     Graham’s vision came about after extensive travels through England and Scotland. “I fell in love with old world architecture and wanted to create one of the finest residential communities anywhere in the Carolinas. I wanted classic architecture that would withstand the test of time.”

     He was also influenced by the longevity and stability of Charlotte’s Eastover and Myers Park neighborhoods. The streets of Longview are lined with plantings of majestic oak trees now 10 years old. “They will only improve with age,” observes Graham.

     “I enjoy golf. I’m not a pro but enjoy playing on a challenging, fair and physically attractive golf course,” says Little, who adds that he’s always wanted to own a golf course. “The opportunity to become a partner came at just the right time.”

     “There is a tendency for people to assume that anyone who invests in this [Longview] is in it for the money, but it’s a long term prospect,” says Little. “It’s really about seeking a high quality of lifestyle.”

     “It’s a close-knit community and a great place for families. The schools are ranked very highly. When it was conceived, everybody thought that only older people would live here, but that’s not the case now,” Little says.

 

Life at Its Best

     Although The Club at Longview has certainly felt the slowing effects of the recent economic downturn, Graham says they have continued to grow at a rate of about 12 new members per year. Currently, there are 22 homes—all sold—under construction.

     Graham attributes Longview’s success to the business knowledge and economic strength of the ownership partners. “We had the pockets to support it,” says Graham. “Not only did we weather the storm, but we paid off all the debt.”

     The partners also recently invested an additional one million dollars to complete and repair infrastructure across the property. “We put our money where our mouths are and stuck with our original convictions,” says Graham. “I have three great partners and I am thankful for them.”

     Graham describes the membership as “a broad mix, bringing together older families from Charlotte and Union County and newcomers from across the country. We have self-made entrepreneurs all the way to executives and CEOs. It’s a wide demographic and racially diverse.”

     “Most residents within the community tell me they feel very fortunate and blessed to live in such a pristine, serene neighborhood,” says Graham, “ and we are very appreciative of the support we have from them.”

     Membership to The Club at Longview is contingent upon application approval by the membership committee. “We’re looking for like-minded individuals and professionals that can contribute to the social community that we’re building here. That will require the financial wherewithal to be a member of the club,” explains Little.

     “People come for different reasons,” says Graham. “Some are here because it’s a great place to raise a family; for others it provides a second or third retirement home. Still, others are attracted to all the activities, and, of course, excellent golf with no tee times.”

     The Club at Longview has four types of memberships: golf memberships, social memberships, corporate memberships and national memberships. Golf memberships are capped at 395, but are still available. Social memberships have no cap; management expects to add 30 new members this year.

     The Club at Longview also contributes to the greater region. “We want to be good corporate citizens and an asset to the surrounding area,” says Graham. “Personally, I believe that God has blessed me and I want to reach out to the community and give back.”

     The Club sponsors multiple fundraisers each year to benefit a wide variety of charities. Last year, it hosted the Chiquita Golf Tournament. Approximately $1 million in proceeds went to benefit local charities.

     Mel Graham currently has a home in Blowing Rock and also lives in the old governor’s mansion in Charlotte, known as Morrocroft.

     “I kept about 50 acres in the heart of Longview which was the small farm that my daddy first bought,” confided Graham. “I intend to build out there. I can have all the stress the world has to offer, but when I pull through the gates of Longview, it all disappears leaving peace and serenity.

     “For me, Longview is far more than another real estate venture—it is home.”

 

Zenda Douglas is a Greater Charlotte Biz freelance writer.
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