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Last round: Brave souls fight bitter cold to say goodbye to Buffalo Valley

Joe Avento • Updated Dec 31, 2017 at 5:44 PM

UNICOI — It felt more like Buffalo, New York, than Buffalo Valley, but a group of hardy souls prepared to ring in the new year Sunday by playing a round of golf.

It wasn’t just any round of golf, though. It was at Buffalo Valley Golf Course on what was probably the popular layout’s final day as a golf course.

Johnson City had earlier announced plans to close the course at the end of the year, and a small group of friends couldn’t resist. Bundled up and shaking off the 20-degree temperatures, nine golfers got together to pay their respects.

It didn’t matter that the Weather Channel was passing along a “Special Weather Statement” that included the words “Arctic chill.” We were going for it.

The weather was almost fitting because the players who showed up had to really want to play.

“When I saw the Facebook post, I said ‘Yeah, I’m coming,’ ” said Donnie Overbay, who spent 14 years working as a golf professional for Johnson City, mostly at Buffalo Valley. “I’m just glad to be invited. I’ve got a lot of memories here. It’s sad. It really is.”

Overbay remembers the heyday of the course when it was a venue to raise money for groups as well as serving as the practice site and home course for several schools. Buffalo Valley also joined Pine Oaks to co-host Tennessee’s largest two-day tournament, the old Spring Fling, which annually drew more than 400 golfers.

“It was jumping here,” he said. “About every weekend we’d have an outing, some group out here. Hundreds of groups got to raise money by playing tournaments here.”

Whatever becomes of the course in the future — there are rumors that a group might look into trying to buy it from the city —  it was the site of one last memorable round. Despite the chill and some spitting snow by the end of the day, there was a warm feeling. There will be more golf for us to play, but it appears as though none of that will come at Buffalo Valley, so a proper sendoff was necessary.

“My heart’s right here, always has been,” Bill Tolley said with a sigh. “I’ve been playing here ever since I was in high school and that was 1984. I hate to see it go. This has always been a great golf course.

“It didn’t matter if was raining, snowing, you know I was going today. I knew I wanted to be here.”

Also joining us were Warren Ballagh, David and Cole Greer and James Pickering and his sons, Eric and Nate.

We would all go our separate ways afterward to ring in the New Year. But earlier in the day, the only ball this group was interested in seeing drop was that Titleist into the hole.

We were saying goodbye to an old friend, the best way we knew how, and making sure this old acquaintance will never be forgotten.

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