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Sterling Links golf course, something to be proud of

If you’ve driven down Port Royal Road or Timber Trail Road anytime this past year, you may have been wondering what all the construction is about.

The answer is a massive planned community entitled Richmond Hill Plantation. As part of that plan, Richmond Hill is on the verge of having its first public golf course within city limits. The course, Sterling Links, located directly in the center of town, is slated to open for play within a month’s time.

During an invitational preview event on Sept. 14, Sterling Links General Manager Clint Murphy said the official grand opening will follow in early 2008 as the completion of the clubhouse and numerous enhancements will be underway between now and then.

Sterling Links superintendent Billy Harkins, who designed the course along with golf pro John Fesperman, Jr. and land developer Johnny Murphy, said the course is something to be proud of.

Harkins has overseen many courses before this one, including the private course at Ford Plantation, and said he had three goals in mind when he jumped on board the Sterling Links project in 2006. "Number one, I wanted to build the best golf course ever in regard to conditioning and appearance. Number two, I wanted to design a course that’s fun to play on – not overly difficult but not too easy either. Third, I wanted to make it a course that will bring people back to play on it again and again. I think we’re well on our way on all counts."

Harkins said landowner Murphy "spared no expense" in allowing him to reach his vision and described the greens as "jaw-dropping beautiful." Part of this entailed planting a high quality grass "that has never been used on a public course before."

"My goal is to make it the nicest golf course in the state of Georgia with public access," Murphy said. "I think we came pretty close to that mark. We treat the golf course like we do our children; we think we have the prettiest one, but we know that can only be determined by the people who play on it."

Murphy said he plans to attract a national women’s golf tournament within five years, overlooking the men’s nationals due to too much competition, but "if all else fails, we wind up with a great golf course in the city of Richmond Hill."

Sterling Links is the crown jewel in Murphy’s billion-dollar, 900-acre planned community known as Richmond Hill Plantation which is gradually coming to fruition. Already in place at Plantation is the Publix shopping center and a couple dozen homes.

Eventually, Richmond Hill Plantation will additionally include a total of about 1,100 homes and a medical complex. Murphy estimates the project, in its entirety, to value around $1 billion and cover 900 acres, or around 2 square miles in land surrounded by Timber Trail, 144, Port Royal and Harris Trail.

When asked about Richmond Hill Plantation, Murphy said it is a master plan that he began working on about seven years ago.

"Back when I developed the concept of the Plantation, I posed the question of what we need here in the heart of Richmond Hill to make it a fun place – keeping in mind restaurants, entertainment, shopping, retirement, housing, you name it," he said. "That’s what I did here. This wasn’t speculation – this was just fulfilling that need which I haven’t stopped trying to do for the last seven years."

Murphy said part of Richmond Hill Plantation was originally slated to include a city-run convention center and aquatics center, but negotiations with the city recently fell apart in regard to this.

City officials are now exploring other areas in which to place the convention center.

Murphy said this change of plans delayed the opening of the golf course, but did little else to curtail the development of Richmond Hill Plantation. He said the stage is set for the remainder of the planned community, which is steadily being built.

"My work is nearly done with this project," Murphy said. "The main infrastructure is in place, and I am now currently pursuing new opportunities."

This includes a planned community in North Georgia next to a national forest he describes as "a wildlife refuge that enables people to be able to live in the wild without a strain on the natural habitat."

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