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Kerr takes reins of local links
December 16, 2011 · Jake Krob

Mark Kerr worked summers as a young adult at the local Hillcrest Country Club.

Now, he owns the place.

Owned by shareholders for nearly 60 years, the nine-hole course and clubhouse will now go by the name Kernoustie Golf Club. Hillcrest shareholders approved the sale in mid-October, and Kerr became the sole owner when the deal closed Dec. 1. Shareholders put the operation up for sale this fall after the course faced financial challenges in recent years.

"I'm excited - I really am," said Kerr, as he sat in the clubhouse on an afternoon last week and spoke about his plans for the course. He added that he's appreciated all of the support from golfers and non-golfers since the deal was approved.

Kerr brings a lifetime of golf experience to the local course, which has land in both Mount Vernon and Lisbon. His family first lived in West Liberty, where his father, John, took care of a course there. The Kerrs then moved to West Branch, when John built a course there. In 1972, the family moved to Mount Vernon. Kerr recalls playing the Hillcrest course a few years before then, and regularly played it after moving here.

Kerr started working at golf courses right out of high school. During the summers from 1979 to 1980, he worked the grounds at Hillcrest while working toward a horticultural degree from Kirkwood Community College.

The local course has always been a part of his family history. For instance, club members threw a party for Kerr and his wife, Peg, when they were married.

Kerr worked at several other courses in Iowa, including at the Cedar Rapids Country Club, in Clear Lake for eight years, and until his purchase of Hillcrest at Saddleback Ridge Golf Course in rural Solon. He knows course management as a superintendent, and golf as a Class A PGA Pro.

And he knows course design. Kerr worked on designs for Wildcat Golf Course in Shellsburg, Saddleback, the Talons of Tuscany in Ankeny, Ridge Stone Golf Club in Sheffield, Indianola Country Club and Harvest Point Golf Course in Oskaloosa.

The renaming of the Mount Vernon-Lisbon course - to Kernoustie (pronounced Kerr-Noo-Stee) - is one change. It's akin to the Carnoustie Golf Club in Scotland (Kerr's family is of Scottish and Irish heritage).

The main plans are focused on improvements.

Irrigation has been an issue in recent years, and Kerr said that's his No. 1 priority. He's already purchased new irrigation heads and plans to install them and new controls.

He'll also focus on improving general turf conditions, particularly the quality of the greens and tee boxes.

Kerr said another outside priority is the general physical condition of the course, which could include rebuilding tee boxes and expanding some greens.

In the clubhouse, Kerr will focus on TLC items - cleaning and painting. He said food will still be a part of the operation, but he's still working on the details. He said providing a venue for receptions and other gatherings will be a priority, whether done in-house or catered.

He said he'll work hard to add even more golf opportunities to Kernoustie, especially junior events. And the course will still be a place for the community - Mount Vernon's July Heritage Days activities will continue to be held there.

After all, the community is important to Kerr and his family. His wife, Peg, heads the nursing program at the University of Dubuque. Two of their children - Jackie and Chris - attend school there. Their other daughter, Lindsey Hotz, works in human resources at Cornell College. She and her husband, Jeremy, have two children, Lillian and Tucker.

Kerr anticipates fees for golfing will remain the same. However, people won't have to buy shares, as they did with the Hillcrest setup.

"I really enjoy the people here and I love this town," Kerr said. "This is a good fit for me."

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