The River Hills Country Club has had a rich and varied history. The story of its origins and development goes back for over 60 years. The Country Club, and the River Hills Plantation in which it has prospered, are integral and important parts of the growth and attractiveness of Lake Wylie Community of York County.
In 1937 Curtis B. Johns, owner of the Charlotte Observer, purchased 123 acres just south of the Buster Boyd Bridge and established the Charlotte Observer Fresh Air Camp, Inc. (now Camp Thunderbird). Johnson built a large summerhouse for him and his wife on eleven and eight tenth acres adjoining the camp. He had a passion for wild ducks and collected many varieties, clipping their wings so they couldn't fly away. He built "the duck pond,” a brick reservoir still visible in the lake, to contain them. In the late 1940's, the Johnson family offered the property for sale.
The Belk family, owners of Belk's Department Stores, purchased the Johnson's summer home and grounds and added a pool house cottage, another building called the Crows Nest Cottage, and a large Quonset hut which was used for store employee parties. But, after Henry Belk's 10 year-old daughter drowned in the lake in 1957, the Belks lost interest in the property and it was again listed for sale.
Wilson Lewith, a Charlotte textile machinery businessman, had a summer place on the east shore of the lake. He and his friends would regularly cruise the lake, lashing-up at times to discuss how nice it would be to have a place on the lake where boating enthusiasts could get together. When Lewith heard the Belk property was for sale, he visualized it as the ideal place for a Yacht Club, and convinced a friend, Maurice Weinstein, to join him in the purchase. On May 12, 1960 the Belk interests were deeded over to their Marine Development Corporation. The new owners converted the Belk Mansion into a clubhouse and organized the Commodore Club; 150 covered boat slips were built in Commodore Cove. A bar and an Epicurean restaurant were set up in the converted mansion, and the cottage by the Duck Pond was turned into a lunch and snack bar. A fire had destroyed the Belk Quonset hut prior to the sale of the property. So, in its place, the Commodore Club built a brick building for large gatherings with a wall of windows facing the lake. Its large open hall, known as the Regatta Room (now Thunderbird's dining hall), had banquet and kitchen facilities and served as a meeting room, a ballroom or a dining room for private parties. The Club soon had over 350 members and developed a social calendar unparalleled in the Charlotte area, which caused it to be recognized as one of the finest marina clubs in the Southeast.
The Commodore Club became such a center of social and recreational activity that Lewith and his associates reasoned that it might be profitably expanded into a residential golf course development and country club. They approached other members of the Charlotte business community to help finance the venture. In 1967 they made a deal with Dr. Robert A. Moore who owned 357 acres including a small marina (Pier 88) in a cove just west of Commodore Point (now the site of River Hills Marina). The Commodore Development Group also purchased land from Crescent Land and Timber, the land management arm of the Duke Power Company. Altogether, they amassed 884 acres. In 1968 they hired golf architect Williard Byrd along with Walter Reynolds, then head Golf Professional at the Carolina Country Club, to develop a tournament level golf course. They also hired a civil engineering group to develop a land-use plan to layout residential lots and roads around the golf course. Ground breaking for the golf course took place in mid-1968. In November 1969, the Commodore Yacht and Country Club golf course was open for play.
By early 1970, the overall project was well underway. Lewith and his associates were ready to begin selling lots. They approached Pentes Designs and Jerry Smith about developing a marketing program. Smith was so impressed with the potential of the Commodore Club project that he contacted Charles Fraser, the developer of Sea Pines at Hilton Head Island, and suggested that he consider the project for development as the first non-coastal Sea Pines Plantation. Fraser inspected the property and immediately began negotiations to buyout the Commodore group. River Hills Plantation, a Sea Pines Community, was born. By April 1971, Sea Pines Development was in control and the construction of the infrastructure and the amenities of River Hills began in earnest. The Sea Pines golf professionals made some major changes in the original golf course plan. Construction was started on the front gate guardhouse and a combined golf proshop and property sales building. The old Commodore Yacht Club swimming pool was opened to all property owners, and the "Crows Nest" was made available for private meetings and parties.
The Sea Pines planners began to define their goals for " A Way of Life" rather than a subdivision. So while the plans for roads, utilities and security were being developed, other planners were working on community amenities such as golf and tennis facilities, a marina, a game room, a general store and restaurants. On June 10, 1972, with a great deal of fanfare, Sea Pines held the Grand Opening of the River Club. All current property owners were invited to come and bring their friends.
A $1.25 million plan for Moore's Landing was unveiled. It called for the removal of the old Commodore Yacht Club docks on Commodore Point. Moore's Landing, named for Dr. Moore, was to be the site of a marina with covered boat slips and a gas dock…now the River Hills Marina. Also included in the plan were a racquet club with seven lighted clay tennis courts and a pro shack. Completing the Moore's Landing complex were three buildings: a convenience store with a bar and sandwich shop, a shower and locker room for boaters and a Recreation/Club Room for community meetings, classes, and general socializing.
In late 1972, at the request of the River Hills Plantation Company, The River Club membership elected an Advisory Board of Directors to facilitate communication between the Club and the Company. By 1975 the River Club had over 300 members. As provided for in the Property Buyers Guide, the membership made an offer to the Company to buy the Clubhouse, the golf facilities and the tennis complex. This offer set off a long-term negotiation between Sea Pines, their lender GMI, and at least two separate groups of club members. By the end of 1976, these negotiations were still unproductive. An economic downturn had left the River Hills Plantation Company with no equity. GMI officials wanted to sell their interest to the members if an acceptable price could be negotiated. The members were able to arrange the necessary financing to satisfy GMI's final offer and the operational turnover of the club was finalized on June 14, 1977. By-Laws were adopted by the membership and the name was changed from the River Club to the River Hills Country Club, Inc.
Since that time, many major improvements and additions have been made to the facilities, programs and services offered by the Club. In 1980, a large addition was completed to the Clubhouse which included the main dining room and a new bar and lounge area. A large lap pool was added in 1987, and the golf pro shop and the cart barn renovation were completed in 1988. Three new all weather tennis courts were completed in 1989. In 1996, the Club completed a $1.5 million dollar renovation and addition to the Clubhouse, and to the tennis and golf pro shops. These improvements included the addition of an enlarged informal "grill room" for family dining and major renovations to the main dining room, lounge, the Cove Room, the Snack Bar/Turn Shack facility, the reception area, the administrative offices, the outside decks and terrace, and the locker rooms. Extensive changes and upgrading were also done to the golf pro shop and the tennis facilities.
In 2006, architect Kris Spence redesigned and rebuilt all the bunkers on the golf course. The driving range was renovated and the teeing area was expanded from 10,000 square feet to 25,000 square feet. The entire area was laser leveled and sodded with Bermudagrass. During this time, the front entrance to the Clubhouse was rebuilt and a new patio was added. In 2008, a new Fitness center was installed, furnished with the latest in workout machines and exercise equipment.
In 2012, we asked Kris Spence back to the club to assist with the largest renovation to our golf course in the history of River Hills. With his help and the hard work of our Agronomy team, we transfer our antiquated bent grass greens to Champion Dwarf Bermudagrass while redesigning and recontouring each putting surface. With the remaining funds we also extended our short game practice facility to rival the best in the south.