published Thursday, August 15th, 2013

Urban golf course in works near Champy's Chicken in Chattanooga

Wiley Morton hits a golf ball in the empty lot on the corner of University and East 10th streets. Morton hopes to transform the vacant lot, as part of a project for Chattanooga State Technical Community College, into a "pitch and putt" for charities.
Wiley Morton hits a golf ball in the empty lot on the corner of University and East 10th streets. Morton hopes to transform the vacant lot, as part of a project for Chattanooga State Technical Community College, into a "pitch and putt" for charities.
Photo by C. B. Schmelter.

Something unusual is taking shape in a vacant lot off M.L. King Boulevard just a stone's throw from Champy's Chicken.

Flags are flying on the roughed-in greens of a two-hole golf course coming to life on a 1-acre lot at University and East 10th.

"It's weird, ain't it?" Wiley Morton said.

Morton is a retiree who is transforming the once overgrown and littered lot into Pitch 'n' Putt, what he calls an "urban golf" course at which charity organizations will hold fundraisers and the public will be able to chip and putt golf balls.

Because there's no room for long drives on a fairway, Morton plans to put up a small building that will hold an indoor golf simulator. Golfers will start at the course playing virtual golf and -- depending on how well they hit -- will have their ball placed accordingly on the real-life, two-hole course.

"I don't have a fairway, but I do have a simulator," Morton said.

Morton said he learned how to do golf course landscaping at Chattanooga State Community College under associate instructor Casey Neal and building the course is Morton's class project.

He expects to open the business in the spring.

Morton has been working on the urban golf course with help from homeless people who traverse the neighborhood that's near the Chattanooga Community Kitchen and other homeless services on East 11th Street.

Morton isn't paying his homeless helpers, but he plans to make them partners once the business takes off.

"As we grow it, then they grow with it," he said.

Morton said he learned to spot people's potential as a data services manager for Tricor, the state prison industries agency.

John Holt, a homeless man, was helping clear brush at the site Wednesday afternoon.

"It just seems like it's going to take off," Holt said. "The virtual golf is going to be interesting."

The golf course is behind Key Bonding Co., whose owner, Charles Key, said he gave Morton permission to use the lot.

Contact Tim Omarzu at tomarzu@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6651.

about Tim Omarzu...

Tim Omarzu covers education for the Times Free Press. Omarzu is a longtime journalist who has worked as a reporter and editor at daily and weekly newspapers in Michigan, Nevada and California.

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