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March 2024

Old Toccoa Farm

Revitalized Heartbeat of Bustling Small-Town Georgia

By Scott Kauffman

When Blue Ridge Golf & River Club was being conceived 20 years ago in Mineral Bluff, Ga. as a new upscale residential golf community, the developers had ambitious plans to create one of the top new resort-style real estate developments in the picturesque Blue Ridge Mountains.

However, like so many other established and not-so established real estate projects in the mid-2000s, Blue Ridge Golf & River Club fell victim to the 2008 financial crisis and the unfinished course was left abandoned in 2009 and sat fallow for nearly four years as it went through foreclosure. Current co-owners Kevin Hermetz and Peter Knutzen purchased the property out of foreclosure and resurrected the project as the newly named Old Toccoa Farm in 2013.

Ten years later, the semi-private golf and river community is thriving under its new ownership and the development’s 18-hole championship course and new clubhouse is open to critical acclaim. It’s a far cry from a decade ago, when Hermetz remembers taking over the property.

At the time, 16 of the 18 holes were “probably routed in,” according to Hermetz, and maybe seven holes were irrigated and sodded. Of the grassed in holes, Hermetz recalls, they now had “10 to 12-foot pine trees growing out of them, and weeds were waist high.”

So the new ownership group bush hogged all the grass and redeployed the original design and construction team of Bunker Hill, led by Jack Dredla, Dan Proctor and Dave Axland to finish the golf course. In late 2015, Old Toccoa Farm opened nine holes for play and the full 18-hole championship course debuted in 2020 as the No. 8-best New Course in America, according to Golf Digest.

“Those seven fairways are still the same zoysia grass today,” Hermetz points out. “We did not re-sod [those original holes]. So that’s pretty amazing.”

Indeed, and what’s even more amazing is the buzz being created by the club’s newly opened 5,000-square-foot clubhouse called The Tavern. The award-winning clubhouse was designed by Atlanta-based Kuo Diedrich Chi with thoughtful interior design work by noted Beverly Baribault Design Group. After a soft opening in the summer of 2022, The Tavern was running on all cylinders last year and became the talk of small-town Mineral Bluff and the popular tourist destination of neighboring Blue Ridge on the other side of the namesake Toccoa River.

As lead KDC designer JC Chi put it, the new clubhouse was simply designed as a “welcoming hot spot for interaction” among members and guests and positioned to maximize the stunning vistas of the surrounding Toccoa River Valley and Blue Ridge Mountains.

“The Tavern is meant to be the energy center where everybody can come to enjoy the beautiful setting and just hang out,” Chi added.

Indeed, like many public and private golf facilities these days, one of the main ingredients to any vibrant operation is creating a distinctive dining attraction. And the Tavern’s appealing indoor-outdoor setting has certainly solidified its reputation as the latest go-to destination dining venue for resident/non-resident members as well as visitors flocking to this bustling tourist area and enjoying the semi-private club’s picturesque location.

Though the clubhouse is just a modest 5,000-square-feet of heated and cooled interior space, this intimacy is what helps make The Tavern a massive hit for the estimated 440 members and throngs of golf and non-golf tourists flocking to this quaint mountain community.

Naturally, the Tavern was designed with a sense of overall rustic sophistication and the developers envisioned it to be a newfound place for renewed energy – not just for the gated membership but the greater surrounding community the club strongly supports. For instance, the club hosts numerous rehearsal dinners and the local chamber of commerce and other charitable organizations have regular access to the Tavern’s fireplace meeting room.

Of course, the ownership acknowledges this happens to be great marketing or exposure to non-residents and visitors “that might not be golfers,” which might partly explain why the place is buzzing with activity since it opened.

“The Tavern’s been a game changer because we have members and residents who are either living in our community or live up there and we just never had a common place to meet,” Hermetz says. “It’s just been a great gathering spot. And then, we’re also open to the public so people that don’t play golf but live in the area see it as a great little restaurant to go out to and dine in a nice environment without having to go downtown where the weekends are like an anthill and just crazy.”

After turning a profit in its first full year of operations in 2023, what gives Old Toccoa Farm owners even more pride is the fact that this revitalized semi-private development is helping put economic life back into the relatively more modest Mineral Bluff community living outside the gates of Old Toccoa Farm.
“It’s really become a connector for people who were already coming up to Blue Ridge to visit and those living in the surrounding communities that might or might not play golf,” Hermetz says. “So part of the vision was not only to build a successful golf residential community but also to be a connector within the greater community for people who don’t live here.”

If the Tavern’s peak season happy hours are any indication, or busy Thursday and weekend evenings when the Tavern is packed with members and non-members alike socializing and dining, Old Toccoa Farm has been a resounding success on both accounts – as a business and community connector.

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