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Bank might foreclose on historic course

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- At the age of 89, Lewis Keller decided to sell White Sulphur Springs' historic Oakhurst Links golf course and all it represents at a public auction.

He'd tried to sell it earlier, he said, after the land was priced by a broker at $4 million. Four men proposed to buy the property for $2.5 million. Keller said that fell through when the group failed to show at the closing.

Now the $410,000 winning bid at the July 28 auction has fallen through as well.

Auctioneer Tommy Garten of Greenway's Real Estate and Auction, Inc., in Covington, Va., confirmed the bid did not go through after 50 people showed up for the auction.

So, after devoting decades of his life to the course, Keller might lose his treasured golf course outright. Southern National Bancorp of Virginia, Inc., (aka Sonabank) might foreclose.

"We don't know a thing," Keller said. "It might be they do [foreclose]."

Oakhurst Links represents much in southern West Virginia. The course has been called the American birthplace of golf. It held its first competition in 1884, predating by a few years the St. Andrews Golf Club of Yonkers, N.Y. Keller bought it in 1959 from Russel Montague after urging from friend and golf legend Sam Snead.

Keller initially bought the property to use as a summer retreat and raise horses, but golf designer Bob Cupp heard of the place and volunteered to help restore it to the days of Montague. Work started in 1991 and it reopened in 1993.

Oakhurst has hosted the National Hickory Championships for years. Visitors to the event use hickory clubs, Gutta-Percha golf balls and hit off sand tees. Sheep graze the course.

"It's been a joy to own this treasure to our state and nation," Keller said.

"Margaret Prescott Montague, who was raised here, wrote about the course and what it means to the state and golf. She received the first O. Henry Award from President [Woodrow] Wilson. [West Virginia] has a lot to be proud of."

Keller's lawyer, Jesse Guills of Lewisburg, did not return phone calls. Keller, however, said the course is in "perfect condition."

"We just had the National Hickory tournament here in June," Keller said. "It might have been the best we've had."

Odds are, however, it might be the last.

"It's out of my hands totally," Keller said.

Reach Mitch Vingle at 304-348-4827, mitchvingle@wvgazette.com or follow him at twitter.com/MitchVingle.


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