Justin Timberlake, to a tee
By Ron Cobb
MILLINGTON, Tenn. When Justin Timberlake bought and renovated a golf course near his boyhood home just outside of Memphis, Tenn., he might easily have exercised a bit of ego by calling it Timberlake Golf Club. The natural-sounding name would have attracted lots of attention, brought in a few extra golfers and probably sold a lot of shirts and golf hats bearing Timberlake logos.
Instead, the entertainer-actor opted, simply, for Mirimichi, an American Indian word that is said to translate to “a place of happy retreat.” The explanation is that Timberlake not only has the game of golf in his blood, but some Indian ancestry, too. The concept was one of golf course as sanctuary, reflecting an Indian respect for the land and natural landscape.
Timberlake is an avid golfer who spent a reported $16 million to buy and renovate the golf course. When it opened in July 2009, he told a reporter, “I think this is probably the coolest thing I’ve ever been a part of in my life.”
The golf course, between Memphis and Timberlake’s hometown of Millington, was called Big Creek before Timberlake bought it. He learned to play there as a child. His mother, Lynn, and stepfather, Paul Harless, held their wedding reception there in 1986, when Timberlake was 5.
Timberlake enjoyed the game as a youngster, then got away from golf during his ‘N Sync period. He says he caught the bug again about eight years ago when his crew began playing between concerts. He hired Tiger Woods’ former coach, Butch Harmon, and lowered his handicap to 6. Timberlake was so hooked, he began scheduling concert venues based on the time of year and the kind of weather he could expect.
Golf courses, he said in an interview with ESPN, “might be the only place where I don’t have such critical expectations of myself. The mental release is why I love it so much.”
The downturn in the economy hurt many golf courses, including Big Creek; Timberlake bought it at auction.
He and his parents set the bar high, envisioning a public golf course that would draw visitors from across the country and would be the equal of prestigious American daily-fee courses such as Bethpage Black in New York and Torrey Pines in San Diego, both of which have hosted U.S. Opens. According to plan, Mirimichi will eventually host a major championship.
Golf courses do not achieve that kind of status right out of the chute. Mirimichi would need a few years to mature and undergo refinements. Timberlake didn’t want to wait. Six months after it opened, he and his parents – all three are co-owners – shut down Mirimichi last January for an extensive upgrade.
The renovations followed input from public golfers, pro golfers and organizations such as the U.S. Golf Association. Greens were improved and repositioned, tee boxes were added, bunkers were redesigned and improved, the driving range was expanded, and an 18-hole putting course and nine-hole executive course were added, among other upgrades.
Mirimichi reopened for business in September and is now part golf course, part eco-friendly nature preserve featuring abundant native grassland, four waterfalls, six lakes and two meandering streams.
Co-existing with nature was an important factor from the beginning for Timberlake, who was quoted as saying, “I was able to pose the question, ‘Is it possible for a golf course to actually be “green”?’”
In 2009, Mirimichi became the first U.S. golf course to be certified as an Audubon International Classic Sanctuary. This year, Mirimichi became the first golf course in the Americas – and the ninth worldwide – to be certified by the Scotland-based Golf Environment Organization, a recognition of its environmentally conscious use of water, pesticides and energy.
Timberlake appears to be serious about creating a sanctuary. Much of the course is bordered by forest and is expected to stay that way. Mirimichi encompasses enough land buffering the course to guard against development.
Although Timberlake resides mainly in Los Angeles, he gets home when possible to visit his parents and Mirimichi, his “place of happy retreat.”