Western North Carolina destination reimagines its purpose at a time when the golf community model is making a resurgence
A member of the Rumbling Bald on Lake Lure finance committee recently put her home on the market for family reasons and had five offers within 24 hours. The interest in property in the beautiful rural western North Carolina setting of the Blue Ridge Mountains is the norm not the exception in the first quarter of 2021 following a year of COVID-19 in which more folks than ever worked from home.
“It’s that kind of crazy, the inventory we have now for re-sales is incredibly low,” said Rumbling Bald on Lake Lure general manager Jeff Geisler, whose sprawling property features 36 holes of golf and a surrounding lake with 27 miles of shoreline. “I read something recently that people either want to be right in the downtown area and in the middle of everything, or they want to be in the boonies. Well, we’re the boonies.”
The current rebranding push on what was once labeled a “resort” to what is now called “a community” couldn’t be happening at a better time for Geisler and his team. Geisler, who previously spent 25 years in the automobile world with Toyota, was faced with an aging mountain retreat when he came aboard four years ago.
And if the punch list wasn’t long enough, the property endured a 7,100-acre mountain wildfire in 2016 and a flood two years later that wiped out several bridges and roadways.
“We’ve gone through a couple of years of identifying ourselves, of who we are and who we are hoping to target. It just made sense to focus more on the community part and not so much on Rumbling Bald on Lake Lure as a resort,” Geisler said. “We are not a resort in a traditional sense. It’s not Las Vegas; it’s just a total different feel. So we want to focus on what we are — which is part of Lake Lure, part of a mountain, a beautiful place to visit and maybe a place to come live some day.”
Rumbling Bald on Lake Lure derives its name from the beautiful ridges and cliffs of Old Bald Mountain, which surrounds the property and provides some of the most dramatic scenery in western North Carolina. It was here that the Carolina Gold Rush of the 1800s was born, and is home to such films as Firestarter, Dirty Dancing and Last of the Mohicans.
The real-life version of Rumbling Bald has seen quite a transformation in the past few years. Geisler quickly recognized there was no widespread fiber network, and his resort centerpieces — Apple Valley and Bald Mountain golf courses — were in serious need of some TLC. Apple Valley’s greens were 35 years old and Bald Mountain was suffering from more than five decades of tree overgrowth.
The membership and property owners — who purchased the timeshare resort from Fairfield in the 1990s — met with Geisler and an outside firm to evaluate and prioritize needs. “There were a total of 16 meetings that included a dues increase and some soul searching,” he said.
“Then I used a little of my background in automotives,” added Geisler. “When you look at a brand new car there are always imperfections, it’s just impossible to build a perfect car, at least at mass production prices. So there are A, B and C surfaces on the car. The A surface is something that you always see every time you touch the car. For A surfaces the standard is near perfection. The B surface is something you may run across when you wash the car, it’s not a big deal but still needs to be pretty tight. And a C surface is something the customers would never, ever see, like the underneath of the seat. So we kind of applied those same principles to Rumbling Bald. What are the places people see every time they come, and how do we upgrade those, and freshen those up and work our way through that list?”
Soon a five-year, $8.5 million capital budget was put into place to parallel the rebranding effort.
New greens were unveiled on Apple Valley this past fall, and when the Bald Mountain courses opened in early April a new feel awaited golfers.
“The Bald Mountain course had become a bit claustrophobic,” said golf operations manager Adam Bowles. “Golfers will now say, ‘Wow, I can see the golf course, I can feel the golf course for what it is, there is a great course now in front of me.’ We’ve make leaps and bounds to get this place to how looked 40 years ago. We’re super excited about showing this new look to everybody when they come back to the resort.”
Geisler said golf rounds in 2020 were the most in at least a decade.
“We think our investments in the golf courses couldn’t have some at a better time,” he said. “We hate that some of it is COVID-19-related , we wish COIVID would have never happened, but we seemed to be a place that people were comfortable coming and they had a great experience.”
“And you always want to have some new stuff to talk about,” Bowles added of the major improvements to not only the golf courses but the community in general. “People come here year-after-year, and while there is some great charm and comfortableness seeing the same things when life is so crazy and ever changing, if you’re not upgrading what you’re doing then someone else is going to beat you to it.”
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