John's Journal... Entry 1
John's Journal... Entry 5
America's Only Cow Pasture Golf Course And Real Country Club
How would you like to play 18 holes of golf for $17, drive your golf cart across a logging-truck bridge and perhaps even enjoy a home-cooked meal for free if you're in the clubhouse at lunch? The Big M Country Club, located in Calera, Alabama, just south of Birmingham, puts the country back into the words country club.
At the Big M Country Club from time to time, cows will meander along the fairways and the greens. You'll also frequently see several different dogs lying along the fairways or sitting on the edge of the rough. If you by chance hit your ball into the rough, more than likely you'll have to cross a barbed-wire fence and take a shot between the cows.
"If a ball hits a cow or a dog," 59-year-old Charles "Papa" McCombs of Calera, Alabama, the creator and owner of Big M, said, "we simply play off the animal. Then wherever the ball hits after it ricochets off the cow or dog is where you'll have to begin play from."
HOW MCCOMBS CREATED A BRIDGE WITHOUT BUILDING IT
McCombs developed a new concept in bridge building for his Big M Country Club. Because Papa McCombs had two fairly large creeks running through his cow pasture, he knew he'd need to build bridges to allow the golf carts to cross the creeks. However, after researching his material and labor costs, he discovered that each bridge would cost him about $2,000.
"Our trucking company had contracts with Kimberly-Clark and Gulf States Paper to carry logs for them," explained McCombs. "After our family quit trucking, we had a number of big logging trailers just sitting around my farm.
"I realized a golf cart was narrow enough to be driven across those logging truck trailers. I decided if I floored the trailers with good lumber, they'd make great bridges that would never move and would stay in place above the creeks during any storm or high-water conditions. Since the logging trailers were already paid for, and I wasn't using them, I just took a skidder and backed them off in the creek, tires and all. They've worked fine."
WHAT TO DO WHEN THE ROUGH IS TOO ROUGH
When one of Papa McCombs' players came into the clubhouse complaining about the high grass in the rough that caused him to lose his golf balls, Papa McCombs listened with sympathy and understanding.
"Listen, this is your golf course, you can have that grass in the rough at whatever height you want it," McCombs informed the disgruntled customer. "There's a weed eater on the front porch. You're more than welcome to take it down to the rough and cut that grass to any height you think is appropriate."
WHAT ABOUT LUNCH?
At the clubhouse, which resembles a double-wide house trailer, Papa McCombs has tables and chairs set up like a dining area. When I asked Papa McCombs if he served food at the Big M Country Club, he told me with a big smile splitting his face, "Yes, we do. Yesterday we fed nine of my golfers who showed up at lunchtime. A lady comes in and makes home-cooked meals every day for me. We'll have butter beans, black-eyed peas, fresh corn cut off the cob out of the garden, red, ripe juicy tomatos, cornbread and often fried chicken. I insist that we have only good food here at lunch."
"What do you charge for lunch?" I questioned.
"What do you mean charge?" McCombs said with a questioning look on his face.
"We don't charge anybody to eat. If my players are hungry and they're here at lunchtime, they're welcome to eat anything I'm eating."
WHAT IS THE BIG M'S FEE STRUCTURE AND DRESS CODE?
McCombs charges $10 for a green fee and $14 for the golf cart. If two people play, that comes to a total of $17 each. "If three people want to play together, I simply charge all three of them $17 each," McCombs commented.
When McCombs realized that some of his regular patrons paid $17 almost every day, year-round, to play cow-pasture golf, he set up a membership program to cut their expenses.
"I charge $125 a year to be a member of the Big M Country Club," McCombs mentioned. "Also a $30-a-month fee lets you golf whenever you want. Then you pay a $10 green fee each time you play. I feel like this is much more fair than charging my regulars $17 every day they play."
According to McCombs, he has a strict dress code at his golf course. The men must keep their shirts on at all times, because, "We have ladies out here playing golf. But I don't tell anyone at my country club what kind of shirts, shoes and pants they must wear to play golf here."
Once when McCombs and his wife went on a week-long vacation, he didn't want to shut his golf course down since so many people depended on it for their recreational outlet. "I left the clubhouse open and a bucket on the counter with a sign that read, `Green fee $10. Golf cart $14. Keys are in the carts. Leave your money in the bucket, and put the cart back where you found it. See you next week.' Well, when we came home, the bucket held $600. What other golf course in America has that caliber of players?"
McCombs never plans to change his golf course, increase his fees or try and attract wealthier golfers. "If I make this golf course like everybody else's golf course and this country club like everybody else's country club, I'll lose the people I built this golf course for and I enjoy being around them. As long as I live, the Big M Country Club will be what it is. Hopefully after I'm gone, it will continue on in this same tradition."
To get to the Big M Country Club, go from Birmingham, Alabama, south on I-65. Get off at the first Calera exit, and turn left onto Highway 31. Go 1 mile to Highway 70, and turn right. Travel 1 mile to Highway 42, and turn right. Go 2 miles on Highway 42. You'll see the Big M Country Club street sign on the left. Here's the club's address: 2211 Hwy 42, Calera, Ala. Phone: (205) 668-2218.