Suher Buys Holyoke Country Club for $850K; Other Area Golf Courses Also on the Blocks
Financial woes at some area golf courses result from a weak economy, last year’s late-summer rains and a late-October blizzard.
By DAVID REID
HOLYOKE – Music mogul and businessman Eric Suher, of Holyoke, bought the Holyoke Country Club on Thursday, paying $850,000 for the 112-acre parcel at 2 Country Club Road, according to records of the Hampden County Registry of Deeds.
Suher – through ESHCC LLC, a limited liability corporation he formed last fall – bought the nine-hole golf course from club members organized as Holyoke Country Club Inc.
The course, nestled in the foothills of Mount Tom just off Route 5, is located on property next to the Delaney House restaurant, separated only by Interstate 91.
In a press release issued Thursday, Suher vowed to reopen the 106-year-old golf course on April 1 “without missing a beat.” The club, his statement said, will be managed by his Iron Horse Entertainment Group, which will provide “a full schedule of entertainment and activities that will appeal to a variety of tastes.” He added that the club is “actively seeking new members.”
Last July, a majority of the club’s 120 members – who owned equity shares in the golf course – approved the sale and the price; although Suher reportedly told the members he would maintain the course as a golfing venue, the sale documents do not contain any guaranty he will do so.
Reached by phone late Friday, Suher – who grew up in Holyoke and played the course as a kid – told Northampton Media his only intention was to preserve golf at the course and protect the parcel for future generations from possible development.
Among the course members are city police and firefighters, and many Holyoke residents, some of whom Suher counts among his friends. Suher said he plans to make improvements to the golf course itself, and hopes added entertainment will make the place a fun venue. He said his entertainment group has already taken over the website and will use its Facebook page to publicize activities.
The country club purchase is only the latest in a string of Paper City acquisitions Suher has made in recent years.
In 2006, Suher paid $1.6 million for the old Mountain Park property, the site of a defunct amusement park that closed in 1987 after almost a century in operation; Suher has converted the site into an outdoor music concert venue. He also owns a large residential parcel just south of Mountain Park and the Castle Hill Apartments just off Mountain Park Road, among other properties.
Last year, Suher withdrew a zone change request for 11 acres of his property near the park entrance, where he proposed overflow parking for up to 300 concert-goers. During joint hearings by the City Council’s Ordinance Committee and the Planning Board, dozens of opponents spoke against the project. (To see Northampton Media’s story on a December 2010 public hearing, click here.)
Suher, who owns E-S Sports Corp. in Holyoke, is also a major property owner in downtown Northampton, his portfolio including three prime music venues: the Calvin Theater, the Iron Horse nightclub and the Pearl Street nightclub.
Other Area Golf Courses in Limbo or Changing Hands
With a number of other area golf courses either in trouble or changing hands, Suher seems to be getting a jump-start on the 2012 golf season.
Proponents of a casino in Holyoke have designated the private Wyckoff Country Club as their prime site, putting that golf course’s future in some question. But newly elected Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse opposes the casino in his city, and the Boston Globe has reported that Hard Rock International has signaled it might pull out of its plans to partner for a casino there. (Wyckoff’s website appeared to be disabled today.)
Last month, the 18-hole Hampden Country Club was sold at auction for $1.4 million to Jerry Antonacci, a Connecticut businessman and president of USA Hauling and Recycling. The at-times hilly 295-acre golf course, which had changed ownership structures over recent years, first opened in 1973.
Both the nine-hole, 27-year-old Northampton Country Club in Leeds and the 18-hole Hickory Ridge Country Club in south Amherst remain on the blocks. In both cases, the owners have run into some financial difficulties and have lost money on golf operations, and their timely opening this season is in question. Both clubs also offer restaurants and function rooms.
In Greenfield, the member-owned Country Club of Greenfield will open for business this year, but a new clubhouse won’t be opened until at least August, members say. On Oct. 22 last year, an early morning fire destroyed the century-old clubhouse at the 18-hole, links-style golf course, which has been open since 1896; until the new clubhouse is built, operations will be run out of a trailer, the club reports.
Area golf courses suffered from an inordinate amount of rain last summer and fall, as well as a freak snow storm in late October. That storm knocked down many trees throughout the region, and racked up huge expenses to clear golf fairways of limbs and branches.
The semi-private Hickory Ridge never reopened after the storm, with tree damage remaining uncleared even now, more than three months later, at the 42-year-old tract.
In mid-January, the Daily Hampshire Gazette published a story about Hickory Ridge’s financial woes. That story, run without input from course owner Douglas Harper of Sandwich, prompted Harper – who bought the club in 2003 for $3.5 million – to email the club’s approximately 250 members, saying he was still seeking financing and hoped to reopen the popular semi-private club this spring. He said the Gazette story overstated the effect of what was a routine change in its restaurant management. (To see Harper’s entire email, click here.)
At a couple of private Hampden County golf clubs, negotiations with potential buyers continue as a way to shore up flagging finances.
All this uncertainty has left regular golfers wondering whether their courses will open on time, or at all, this spring, and where if anywhere they should become members.
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In a related story, noted golf course architect Geoffrey Cornish died in Amherst Friday at the age of 97. The native Canadian, who earned a Masters degree in Agronomy from the University of Massachusetts, designed numerous golf courses in this region, including his home course of Hickory Ridge, Springfield’s municipal Franconia Golf Course, the Springfield Country Club in West Springfield, the city-owned Chicopee Country Club, the Crestview Country Club in Agawam, and the Berkshire Hills Country Club in Pittsfield.
(To see Cornish’s obituary by the American Society of Golf Course Architects, click here.)
© 2011 Northampton Media
David Reid can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org