Tuesday, January 25, 2011

EDITORIAL >> Golf courses need rescue

Is there a millionaire in Jacksonville and Cabot who could take over the ailing golf courses there and run them at a loss until the economy turns around?

The Foxwood Country Club has been a financial drain on owner Ted Belden for decades and has closed the links until a buyer comes forward. You’ve also heard by now the owners of the two golf courses in Greystone, Cabot’s upscale subdivision, are defaulting on their loan and need a financial rescue to save their golf club.

Greystone, which opened in 1994, is losing about $500,000 a year, and owners Jack King and Bill Minton told subdivision residents those losses are impossible to sustain. They auctioned off several hundred acres in the fall to try to stay afloat, but membership keeps falling, the golf pro left last year and losses keep mounting.

There is talk of the property owners buying the club, but to make a go of it, they’d need at least 200 new members who would pay several thousand dollars a year in dues. That’s a tall order in today’s economy, although the 44-year-old Rolling Hills Country Club, at the other end of town, has more than 300 members and is doing fine.

But financial hard times, coupled with fewer people playing the game — some 200 golf courses across the country closed in recent years — have made golf a much less lucrative business.

Greystone homeowners worry that if the club closes, their property values will plummet, which is why they’re hoping the city will rescue the two courses. They point to Sherwood, where the Greens at North Hills is now city-owned. The cost to the city was $5.5 million plus another $1 million for repairs and renovations. So far the course is doing well and could return a profit one day.

The owner of Foxwood Country Club last year asked the city to contribute at least $200,000 a year to keep it open, but Jacksonville officials said they couldn’t afford it and the course closed in December.

Eddie Cook, director of operations for Cabot, told The Leader on Saturday that Cabot is not prepared to “go into the golf-course business,” but that the city is concerned about Greystone’s future.

“We’ll continue to monitor the situation, and we’ll help any way we can,” Cook said. “We do care about them and they do have a huge economic impact on the city.”

Someone could buy Greystone and Foxwood at a bargain price and promote them to nearby residents as more than golf courses but key parts of their neighborhood’s character.

State Sen. Eddie Joe Williams, the former Cabot mayor and a Greystone resident, says its golf courses are a large part of Cabot’s identity.

“It’s a great part of who we are,” Williams said.

Greystone was built more than 15 years ago, and the subdivision and its golf courses helped Cabot grow. But the danger of shutting down the links there, and in Foxwood, for that matter, is that property values could plummet and people would move elsewhere. Jacksonville and Cabot officials might look to Sherwood on how to rescue a golf course.