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Group chips in to renovate Strawberry Ridge Golf Course

Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review - Owner Tim McNulty poses for a portrait along the second hole at his Strawberry Ridge Golf Course in Harmony on Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2013.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review</em></div>Owner Tim McNulty poses for a portrait along the second hole at his Strawberry Ridge Golf Course in Harmony on Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2013.
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review - The club house and restaurant at Tim and Ann McNulty's farm turned golf course, Strawberry Ridge Golf Course, is covered in snow as a painted rock illustrates the tenth hole in Harmony on Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2013.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review</em></div>The club house and restaurant at Tim and Ann McNulty's farm turned golf course, Strawberry Ridge Golf Course, is covered in snow as a painted rock illustrates the tenth hole in Harmony on Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2013.
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review - The inside of the clubhouse and restaurant at Tim and Ann McNulty's farm- turned-golf course, Strawberry Ridge Golf Course, in Lancaster on Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2013.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review</em></div>The inside of the clubhouse and restaurant at Tim and Ann McNulty's farm- turned-golf course, Strawberry Ridge Golf Course, in Lancaster on Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2013.
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review - Tim and Ann McNulty transformed a former strawberry and pepper farm in Lancaster into Strawberry Ridge Golf Course. Today, they're planning more improvements with the help of investors that include friends and former employees.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review</em></div>Tim and Ann McNulty transformed a former strawberry and pepper farm in Lancaster into Strawberry Ridge Golf Course. Today, they're planning more improvements with the help of investors that include friends and former employees.
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review - Strawberry Ridge Golf Course owner Tim McNulty drives past a stand of trees along his farm turned golf course in Harmony on Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2013. When transitioning the strawberry and pepper fields to a golf course, the McNultys transplanted trees from the edges of their property to spaces throughout the course to form boundaries between holes.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review</em></div>Strawberry Ridge Golf Course owner Tim McNulty drives past a stand of trees along his farm turned golf course in Harmony on Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2013. When transitioning the strawberry and pepper fields to a golf course, the McNultys transplanted trees from the edges of their property to spaces throughout the course to form boundaries between holes.
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review - Strawberry Ridge Golf Course owner Tim McNulty looks out onto a sloping series of golf holes along his farm turned golf course in Harmony on Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2013. A winding golf cart path snakes through what was once strawberry fields and down the hilly ridge to the 14th hole below.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review</em></div>Strawberry Ridge Golf Course owner Tim McNulty looks out onto a sloping series of golf holes along his farm turned golf course in Harmony on Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2013. A winding golf cart path snakes through what was once strawberry fields and down the hilly ridge to the 14th hole below.
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review - Tim and Ann McNulty have transformed a former strawberry and pepper farm in Harmony into Strawberry Ridge Golf Course. They pose for a portrait in front of the golf course club house on Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2013, into a banquet hall.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review</em></div>Tim and Ann McNulty have transformed a former strawberry and pepper farm in Harmony into Strawberry Ridge Golf Course. They pose for a portrait in front of the golf course club house on Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2013, into a banquet hall.
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review - Tim and Ann McNulty have transformed a former strawberry and pepper farm in Harmony into Strawberry Ridge Golf Course. They pose for a portrait in front of the golf course club house on Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2013, into a banquet hall.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review</em></div>Tim and Ann McNulty have transformed a former strawberry and pepper farm in Harmony into Strawberry Ridge Golf Course. They pose for a portrait in front of the golf course club house on Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2013, into a banquet hall.
Saturday, Dec. 14, 2013, 7:57 p.m.
 

Tony Tamaro used to call the Strawberry Ridge Golf Course “the dust bowl” during the early days in its transformation from a former farm into a nine-hole golf course in 2000.

“There wasn't that nice of a finish to it,” said Tamaro, 71, of Cranberry who played regularly at the Lancaster course as it expanded to 18 holes and underwent other upgrades.

“It's been phenomenal watching the transformation.”

Tamaro is one of several people who have agreed to invest in improvements to the family-owned layout.

Owner Tim McNulty, along with his wife, Ann, said the investment group, a mix of about 10 friends and former employees, has pledged $200,000 to $250,000.

It will pay for paved golf cart paths, a driveway, a new sand trap area and a second practice green.

“I find myself humbled with appreciation,” McNulty, 55, said. “It feels like our customers are a family within this community.”

McNulty and his family started a farm nearly 32 years ago, he said, growing produce such as strawberries and bell peppers. They sponsored a large annual Halloween festival.

By the mid-1990s, McNulty said, it was time to make a change.

“We had looked at a golf course probably about 20 years ago, but it was a good seven years before we went ahead,” McNulty said.

He admitted he should have taken another year to open the course, but forged ahead in the summer of 2000.

“Things were rough,” McNulty said. “They were terrible.”

But by 2003 he had expanded the course to 18 holes, and business steadily improved. Tamaro said he has been impressed with the work that McNulty has done on his own to improve the course, sculpting the earth for the holes and making a paving machine.

“It's far from pristine, but it's pristine compared to what it used to be,” McNulty said. “I'm grateful those people stuck with us.”

Further down the road, he said, is the possibility of a banquet facility in an old barn on the nearly 140-acre property.

“Are we going to go nuts at this? No. We have to make the conservative decisions,” McNulty said. “We have to make improvements so that we get the most punch for the money.”

McNulty would not say how many golfers he gets yearly, or what his annual revenue is, but acknowledged that the industry as a whole has struggled.

“Very few places are getting the rounds we actually need,” McNulty said.

His course has plenty of competition.

According to the Butler County Tourism and Convention Bureau, there are at least 10 golf courses in the county, including Strawberry Ridge, all within 30 minutes of each other and drawing golfers from around the region.

Bill Vidonic is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5621 or bvidonic@tribweb.com.

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