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Rincon Golf Course making the turn; improving, and attracting more players
New manager optimistic course will appeal to golfers
Brian Bessinger
Bryan Bessinger is a PGA pro and new general manager of the Rincon Golf Course. (Photos by Barbara Augsdorfer/Effingham Herald.)

By Barbara Augsdorfer, Editor for the Effingham Herald

You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression. The Rincon Golf Course is certainly trying to prove that saying false.

Public golf courses have the general perception and common reputation of not being up to par with private or semi-private golf courses that usually feature pristine, green fairways and immaculate greens. Water hazards may have aeration fountains and an intentional blue-green hue to hide drowned golf balls. Even the roughs and strategically placed trees on dogleg lefts look manicured. Basically, you get what you pay for.

The city of Rincon purchased the Lost Plantation Golf Course in the early 2010s. For several years the city tried various improvements and staff changes where some worked and some didn’t. The course couldn’t shake the stigma of being a poorly maintained city-owned golf course. For golfers, a city-owned golf course usually means, yeah, the green fees are cheap, divots may be plenty, and greens are usually various shades of greenish yellow.

Clubhouse Drive
Approaching the course from Clubhouse Drive, some new fencing was recently added to one of the buildings that still needs to be painted.
According to some less-than-five-star reviews on sites such as Yelp, course maintenance didn’t seem to have a high priority with the city. To remedy that situation, Rincon hired Bryan Bessinger as the course’s general manager in early 2023.

A big part of the course’s rebirth was the name change. The Rincon Golf Course is the only golf course in Effingham County. Even though it competes with nearby courses such as Crosswinds in Savannah and Black Creek in Bryan County to attract golfers, Bessinger is optimistic Rincon Golf Course will eventually make it to the top of local golfers’ lists of favorite courses.

 “The reason why they changed the name to Rincon Golf Course, was they wanted people to understand that this is not a private golf course. This is a public golf course -- for the citizens and city of Rincon and beyond,” Bessinger explained. “It’s for the whole Effingham County. We needed people to understand that Rincon Golf Course is here. It's a public golf course.”

While driving to the course off Fort Howard Road around the quiet neighborhood of higher-end homes and on to Clubhouse Drive, it’s easy to notice the improving conditions of the course.

“You saw the Number 17 tee box to your right and then Number 18, and those two holes are beautiful,” Bessinger said. “So that’s what we have as our first impression.”

Chris Bell on mower
Chris Bell, the full-time member of the maintenance crew, waves while mowing one of the fairways.
The neighborhood retained the name “Lost Plantation” and includes amenities such as a pool and tennis courts. These are not owned by the city and are not part of the golf course.

The course’s greens and fairways feature plenty of green grass. The course was closed July 27 for aeration where machinery is used to punch holes in the ground to allow for air, water, and nutrients (just like the name implies) to get into the soil and feed the roots. Bessinger said the course reopened the next day. The course was “bumpy” for a few days, but all the aeration holes should be healed by mid-August.

Jim Watlins is the director of agronomy who handles all the maintenance of the course.

“It’s more than just growing grass,” Bessinger said. “It’s a whole lot more. That’s what brings people in.”

Bessinger explained the grass on the course is Bermuda – a hot-weather grass – watered with reclaimed water from the city’s treatment plant. Along with Watlins, Bessinger is working to improve the condition of the greens, which in turn, makes the course more appealing to golfers.

“We have about 75% of our greens (that) are really good. The other 25% are good. They're getting better,” Besssinger said. “They don't necessarily meet our expectations, especially Jim’s. His expectations are very high.

 “The most important part of the golf course (is the green),” Bessinger said. “People either love or hate your golf course based on the greens.”

Part of maintaining the greens is having consistent cart paths. Bessinger said there are several holes where the cart path abruptly stops. People drive carts on the grass, which of course causes ruts. It can take up to two months for a tire rut in the grass to heal.

Improvements to include signage and a restaurant

Other amenities Bessinger wants to add include increased signage on the course – basically polite signs along the cart paths to remind patrons to keep the carts on the concrete paths and to not park on the grass. He also wants to add a “nice” sign on Hwy. 21 and Fort Howard, rather than the current plain green “Public Golf Course” with an arrow. A larger sign with the course’s new logo, Bessinger believers, will tell people, yeah, it’s a public golf course, but it’s a nice public golf course, to encourage people to come play a round of golf.

Bessinger wants to reopen the Grillroom to offer golfers a dining experience before or after their rounds. For the time being golfers can purchase beverages – including beer – at the clubhouse and also grab-and-go snacks. He’s also hoping to add a beverage cart to the course so golfers can purchase refreshments mid-round; more merchandise to the clubhouse, offer golf lessons, and host tournaments.

“All of that is still in the works,” he said.

Councilmember Michelle Taylor is enthusiastic about the changes at the golf course and is spearheading beautification – everything from cleaning up the landscaping to repainting the buildings on the course.

Taylor started beautification projects within the city in 2021 and is budgeted $100,000 to do so. So far at the golf course she said the parking lot stripes have been redone, a landscaper is cleaning up the flower beds around the buildings, the dining room has been cleaned up and is being rented out for private events – however, food still has to be catered since the kitchen is not yet operational. Taylor added that she’s currently getting bids to repaint all the buildings on the course.

“(Bryan has) a great vision for the golf course,” Taylor said. “We’re trying to pretty it up so maybe people will take pride in it and not damage it.”

Other improvements at the golf course, according to Bessinger, is that he recently hired marshals to roam the course and help maintain the flow of play. The marshals also keep an eye open for anyone who may try to do any sort of vandalism on the course.

New E-Z-Go golf carts have been ordered, which should be delivered by the end of the year.

“(The new carts) are the new lithium ion battery carts. They are phenomenal,” Bessinger said. “They have GPS which tells you the layout of the hole and also tells you how far you have (to the pin).

“The GPS is going to be a really nice feature for our members and guests,” Bessinger added.

Even through the golf course is owned by the city, the course doesn’t receive Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) funds. All funds generated by the course are used by the course for its operations.

“We're very proud to say that this current budget year is the first year that the city is not contributing to the operations of the golf course,” said City Manager Jonathan Lynn. “They were budgeted to be fully self-sufficient, and we see that trend continuing for next budget year.”


COVID helped the golf course

Zachary Webb
Zachary Webb, a junior tight end on the ECHS football team, played a practice round on the course. He said he will try for the golf team in the spring.
In an odd twist of fate when most activities and public gatherings were curtailed or halted during the pandemic, golf flourished – even at the then-named Lost Plantation Golf Course.

“The golf course has never really done very well, because it's never been in very good shape. But COVID is really what started everything,” Bessinger explained. “Because what was the number one thing people did during COVID? We came to sports. Golf. Boom, like by over 200%.

“Then in 2022 is when they hired Jim (Watlins), our superintendent, our director of agronomy, and his staff really (began) ramping things up,” Bessinger continued. “That is what's brought people back this year to say, ‘Wow, the golf course is 100% better than it was,’ and it's not even near where it's going to be.”

Bessinger said the number of rounds during the past three years has steadily increased. In 2022, rounds increased 6,000 from 2021; and so far in 2023, the number of rounds is 32,000, which is up 5,000 from 2022.

Bessinger said rounds can be booked through apps such as GolfNow, but it’s better to just call the course at 912-826-2092 or book via its website at