Top 50 Tempest Golf Club has Storied Past and Promising Future
GLADEWATER — The history of Tempest Golf Club has been woven through three different names, several owners and constant changes for the better or worse, but loyal members and fans remained committed to the newly renovated Jeffrey Brauer championship design, recently ranked as one of the Top 50 Golf Courses in Texas.
“I’ve seen it when it was nothing, but a tree covered farm, but now there is no prettier or more challenging courses anywhere,” said Leslie Thurston. He along with his younger brother Micah used to ride dirt bikes on the property long before it became an award-winning semi-private golf course and have played on every course configuration on the property and under every different course name.
“It’s just incredible what it’s become. It’s always been a great site for golf with all the elevation changes. Somehow in the dark times, they always managed to keep the doors open, and now people are seeing how good it is,” Micah added.
Tempest Golf Club, their course, is enjoying its greatest days after years of golfing boom and bust, following the acclaimed Brauer renovation completed in 2018.
The brothers, Leslie is 59, Micah, 58, were born in Kilgore and attended Rusk ISD schools, but mainly knew the wooded area, just 2 miles north of Interstate 20, near Liberty City, as a prime dirt bike tract where they could have freedom zigging and zagging among the pines.
In the early 1970s, a local rigging company began to cuts trails in property. That led to more riding explorations, more elevation jumps, but still no golf.
In 1989, the Webb family, led by Larry Webb, Sr., took over the property and opened a nine hole golf course, called Shallow Creek, built by Bill Webb, with a double wide trailer serving as the clubhouse.
“It was OK, but pretty basic,” said Leslie, “but the land was always good for golf.”
While the Webb ownership didn’t last very long, the RV Park, Shallow Creek RV & Golf Course they built is still open and overlooks some of the front nine holes on the course they founded.
Eventually, the Larry Odom family took over in early 1996 and it was expanded to 18 holes, using the same Webb design, but with a new clubhouse and a new name. Southern Hills Golf Club. The course drew golfers from around the area, but lack of consistent funding and weather problems eventually caused plenty of heartache for the dedicated players who showed up.
An adjacent housing development, The Bluffs at Southern Hills, also opened and is still operational today.
“Let’s face it, near the end, Southern Hills (course) got in some pretty rough shape,” Leslie said.
“It would just be nice to have some grass to play off of,” remembered Micah.
Current owner Joe Bruno, a prominent New Orleans attorney, purchased the property with a partner in the fall of 2006, after the Katrina Hurricane in ‘05, deciding that adding the golf business to his portfolio would be a welcome change after years in the storm.
After taking over the course himself, he struggled for several years with the Southern Hills layout, before deciding to make the most fortunate decision in the club’s long history. Hiring Texas architect Jeffrey Brauer to do a total renovation staring in 2016.
The project was originally estimated to take eight months, but it spilled over to two-plus years, opening in the summer of 2018 with a dozen new holes and nearly universal acclaim.
“I didn’t really know anything about Jeff Brauer when he started other than he had designed the Dallas Cowboys Golf Club in Grapevine,” Leslie said. “ I figured if the Dallas Cowboys had anything to do with him, he must be a top cat.”
Indeed he is, as the new par 72 Championship Layout is the only course in Texas to go from unranked in the annual 2021 Texas Golf Survey by the Dallas Morning News to top 50, and has already hosted a local U.S. Amateur qualifier.
“(Superintendent) Stephen Killngsworth does an outstanding job of keep the course ready and in great shape. What Joe Bruno has done with the ownership and Jeff Brauer with the design is just great,” said Director of Golf Randy Wade.
The Thurston’s uncle, Mike Clements purchased and had installed the giant American Flag and flagpole on Veterans Day 2020, which stands overlooking the 9th green. It’s a marker to the decades of many lives spent here, those who gave life for freedom, and enduring East Texas golf love tapestry woven through the storied golfing facility in the scenic pines.