Varieties of blooming Southern standards like camellias, hydrangeas, day lilies, and gladiolas color the landscape surrounding the pecan tree shaded streets and the nearby home of Jimmy Alton and Mary Nell Cartee on Highpoint Road. Like a Van Gogh painting, the verbena, marigolds, roses, and zinnias stir in the breeze in the dappled light.
Every seed, every bulb, every cutting, has been planted and carefully tended by Cartee, a long time Bulloch County farmer, on land he has acquired over the years between Sinkhole and Harville Roads in southern Bulloch County.
Mary Nell and Jimmy first met in elementary school, later graduated from Georgia Teachers College High School and Statesboro High School respectively, and got married on a weekend pass after Jimmy was drafted into the U.S. Army.
“We went to Texas first,” Mary Nell related. “I had never been out of Bulloch County. I drove out there with the wife of another soldier from Savannah. We’re still good friends.”
After Jimmy completed training to be a medic in Texas, the Cartees were stationed in Germany.
“We went to see Elvis, he was in Germany too, at a post nearby in 1958,” Jimmy shared. “He was performing for the troops.”
Daughter Terri was born in Germany, while the Cartee’s three sons, Caleb, Jamey, and Al, were all born in the U.S., during a span of 12 years.
Starting out as sharecroppers in 1959, after returning from Jimmy’s two-year stint in the U.S. Army, the Cartees eventually purchased much of the land they farmed, adding adjoining acreage when it became available.
Cartee used planning skills and business acumen to build a farming operation overseeing 8,000 acres under cultivation in four counties. He grew a variety of crops from 1959 until 1984, including peanuts, cotton, soybeans, corn, and tobacco; investing in a full line of modern farming equipment and the earth-moving equipment needed to maintain such a large operation. In 1982, Cartee employed 14 men and held $900,000 in tractors and equipment.
The 1966 Bulloch County Young Farmer of the Year was invited by Elanco and DuPont, some of the herbicide and pesticide companies he used, to be a spokesman in ads and commercials. He was featured in newspaper and magazine articles including Farm Futures, Soybean Digest, and Farm Journal magazines. Cartee was considered an expert and an innovator by those in the industry.
His “make it happen” spirit led to the development of new equipment as well. A proponent of the “no till” method, Cartee and his crew built four custom one-pass planters, complete with subsoilers and colters, for corn and soybeans. He and his men built the planters and maintained all of the farm’s equipment in a shop, saving on outside repair costs and down time.
Keeping an eye on those costs was Mary Nell who kept the farm’s books, managed the trucking concerns, and worked as a bonded grain dealer. “I could let Jimmy know if a certain crop did well in a certain area or if he needed to plant something else,” she said.
After having survived the grain embargos and 17% interest rates of the late 1970s and early 1980s, Cartee began to prepare for an alternative use for the family’s land. Sensing the decline of family farming operations in the U.S., Cartee looked for new ideas.
“One Sunday when all the kids were here, he called them out onto the back patio and told them he had a vision of building an 18-hole golf course on the family farm,” said Mary Nell.
Smiling she related, “’We’re going to build an 18-hole golf court,’ he said, ‘There’ll be golf bats in all the runways!’” Famed comments still remembered with delight by the family.
The 167-acre tract Cartee envisioned developing was the prime location for a golf club and adjoining subdivision of 215 home sites. Cartee named the development Meadow Lakes.
“I researched golf course developments in Florida and places, and asked golf course designer Arthur Davis to lay out our course,” Cartee said. Davis had done courses in Metter, and in Europe and Japan.
“I would have wasted property,” Cartee related. “He utilized everything. He laid out the course and the subdivision.”
The entire course and adjoining subdivision were then built by Cartee, “Out of my own pocket,” he said.
He paved all the roads and ran the underground electricity. With the necessary big equipment already on hand at the farm, Cartee set about clearing the land and building the hills and bunkers for the first nine holes. The only thing he subcontracted was the golf course’s irrigation system. He was assisted by sons Jamey and Al after school and on weekends. Within nine months, the first nine holes opened on November 12, 1985.
“We were in school at the time. We’d stay out late, come home to irrigate, then cook us something to eat.” Jamey remembered.
In 1990 Jamey graduated from Georgia Southern with a degree in Building Construction and has since built most of the homes in Meadow Lakes as the lots sold. The Cartees also put in the subdivision’s water system which they continue to own and operate.
“I managed the golf club,” Mary Nell said. “I ran the golf course, kept the books, managed the pro shop, golf carts; even picked up trash in the parking lot.” She also cooked a huge meal each day at dinner time.
“It was like Thanksgiving, a big meal for everyone there, with plenty of fresh vegetables,” daughter Terri said. “It tasted like grandma’s cooking.”
The family ran and managed the golf course for ten years before selling it to Andy Pittman and other investors who re-named the club Southern Links. Georgia Southern University purchased the Southern Links clubhouse and the golf course in 2013 and renamed it again – Georgia Southern University Golf Course at University Place. A dedication ceremony and grand opening were held on October 10, 2013.
Cartee is proud to have the course in university hands. “They researched the history of the course when they bought it,” he said. “They replaced all the original granite markers we had on the course and offered them to me.”
He now has the markers as monuments to the vision, spread out across the flowering landscape around his home, where at 80-years-old he continues to plant new flower beds, mow all the empty lots, ditches, entrances, and yards around some of Meadow Lake’s homes.
“I have pride in this community. It’s a place with my name on it. I see it as a legacy that will be here forever,” Cartee said. “As long as I’m able, I’ll keep doing it.”