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March 2020

Practicing Visionary

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Dr. Bennett York Saw Golf On His Land Even Though He Doesn’t Play

By Steve Eubanks

It started with a love of water and dirt, a need to move and shape the earth and build large things after crafting a life in intricacies.

At age 78, Bennett York still performs oral surgery three days a week in his Hattiesburg, Mississippi, practice. He drills and sutures, rebuilds features and restores lives. Then he goes to his other life as one of the most successful real estate developers in the Delta. But when the employees on the grounds crew at the country club he owns need oral care, Dr. York flips back to his first career, telling them to come on by the office on Monday or Tuesday. That’s the kind of man he has always been, down-home, hard-working, flexible and always looking out for others. 

He’s also a visionary, a man who saw the course he visits almost daily on the ground before it ever existed, even though he has never played the game.
 
“We’re place-makers,” Bennett’s daughter Paige York said of her father and the family business she’s been a part of since graduating from Harvard Business School in 1994. “Dad’s been practicing oral surgery for 50 years and he splits his time between the practice and the development business. He performs surgery three days a week and is in the development office the other two days plus weekends.” 

The result is a multi-state business that includes office space, apartments, billboards, shopping centers, the Lowes in Hattiesburg, several self-storage facilities, high-end residential communities in Florida and Mississippi, and Canebrake Country Club, with a spa and multiuse clubhouse facility overlooking a Jerry Pate-designed championship golf course and a beautiful 250-acre lake.

The lake was how it all started.

“My dad started buying timberland 40 years ago,” Paige said. “And he began developing shopping centers and apartment complexes. But he loves lakes. He has four lake communities now. Canebrake started as a lake and then a development around a lake.”

As Dr. York surveyed the gentle topography and grand pines, a golf course entered his mind, even though neither Dr. York nor his daughter play.

“We’ve always been engaged in the work,” Paige said. “But we certainly thought the terrain was optimally suited for a golf course, so we started on a venture we’d never tried before.

“It was certainly a journey. But (the golf course) is centered around a magnificent brake of bamboo cane that is probably 30 feet tall. There’s not much else like it.” 
Sometimes even a non-golfer can appreciate land that nature made specifically for the game. In the case of the Yorks, they knew they had something special.

“We try to create magical places for people to call home,” Paige said. “Whether it’s crafting a golf course out of the Mississippi woodlands or, as we have just done, creating a new clubhouse experience, we believe in quality. We just finished a massive renovation of the main dining room, so we were able to update and freshen it up.

“We have 830 members now, so it’s very robust. I helped with some of the marketing efforts and make sure that the club is presented in the way that reflects the quality we believe is part of who we are and everything that we’ve done.” 

Dr. York is can be found there often. There are plenty of trophy bass in the big lake and two other smaller lakes on the golf course just waiting for his attention.

“It’s definitely a legacy property for us and we want it to be a special place for golfers and families to enjoy,” Paige said. 

They’ve built a flexible-space campus in Nashville catering to creative entrepreneurs, and they have a senior-living facility in Delray Beach, Florida. But as Paige says of her father, “Lakes are his passion.”

That passion keeps the good doctor close to his golf course, one he might never play but one he was able to see before putting the first shovel in the ground.

Steve Eubanks is an Atlanta-based freelance writer and New York Times bestselling author.

 

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