Tumbleweed Smith
Tumbleweed Smith

The Birmingham Forest Golf Club is on 100 acres of land on the edge of Rusk. It has mostly been known as the Birmingham Golf Club, because it is located on what was once a community named New Birmingham that produced iron ore.

“We’re thinking about changing the name back to its original, Birmingham Golf Club because that’s what everyone calls it,” says Angela Raiborn, who owns the course with her husband Mark.

They bought the course 25 years ago when Mark was working there. Angela had worked there previously. When they acquired it, Mark was 25 and Angela was 21. They had a one-year-old child. The previous owner wanted to sell and apparently he wanted the young couple to have the golf course. He agreed to finance it himself if the couple could come up with a down payment of $20,000.

To Angela and Mark the amount was more like $200,000. They couldn’t find a bank that would loan them the money. Thoughtful golf club members wanted to help so they paid their dues five years in advance to cover the down payment. “We bought it in October,” says Mark. “That’s not exactly the height of the golf season and for the first three months we used our credit cards to pay expenses. By the fourth month we were able to pay bills with the income from golfers.” They should have the place paid for in three years.

This is a dedicated, hard working couple. They sold their house in town and added living quarters to the pro shop. “We’ve been able to live here and raise a family and provide a fun golf course,” says Angela. “We have tournaments for dads and daughters, grandsons and grandfathers, just all sorts of things. We even have a fenced area with chickens, ducks and a goat. We don’t charge for kids under 12 and we let the high school golf team use our course.”

The course itself is no picnic. One golfer who has played there 20 years or more told me it’s the most challenging 9-hole golf course in East Texas. It has pine trees, hills and a lake. There is not much level ground and it always seems like you have to hit a golf ball on a slope. The longest hole is 450 yards with a par 5.

Golf Business Magazine did a cover article on Birmingham Forest in 1999 as part of a series on mom and pop golf courses. The publication did a follow-up story on Birmingham this year. As a result people from all over the country and beyond have made the course a destination. It is affordable with fees as low as $15 a day. It has 62 members who pay $70 a month.

Angela and Mark run the place themselves, although Angela has another job. She is a casework supervisor for CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate). Angela also happens to be the mayor of Rusk, a position she has held for 13 years. She is in her 7th term. When I met the couple I had no idea she was mayor of a city with a population of 6,000. It was sort of an after thought when she said, “Oh, yes, I’m also the mayor of Rusk.”