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Golf Course’s Future Takes Stage

  • Todd Becker, of Manchester, N.H, chips a ball onto the putting green on Friday, July 28, 2017, during the Tommy Keane Invitational golf tournament at Dartmouth College's Hanover Country Club, in Hanover, N.H. (Valley News - Charles Hatcher) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.



Valley News Staff Writer
Monday, April 09, 2018

Hanover— Close to 200 people who packed into a classroom at Dartmouth College’s Moore Hall Monday night to listen to a presentation by the college’s Golf Course Advisory Committee learned that the group is leaning toward recommending that the Hanover Country Club be kept open by redesigning it to make it more viable — and that the college had received a pledge of a significant donation to make that happen.

The audience was made up of a wide variety of interested parties — homeowners with properties adjoining the 123-acre course and club near Occom Pond, members of the club that have seen it grow and change over its 119-year history, and student-athletes of Dartmouth’s golf teams who use the course to practice and play. Also in attendance were 11 members of the advisory committee, which was formed in late February to study the property and make a recommendation to the college’s board of trustees in the summer.

Dartmouth announced last August that it was considering closing the course and repurposing, or selling, the land to curb an average annual deficit of about $600,000 as part of a four-year effort to shift millions of dollars in operational expenses to academics. The college reported that HCC has seen a decline in membership to about 240 regulars and 52 students from a combined 551 golfers three years ago. 

Charles Wheelan, a 1988 alumnus who was a Dartmouth varsity golfer and who is chairman of the committee, presented for nearly two hours, going over his committee’s findings, potential improvements and course infrastructure that needs to be addressed soon. 

“Clearly, we weren’t expecting (this turnout) or we would have had a bigger room,” he said. “I’m encouraged that so many people came and that the discussion was very positive and constructive.”

Dartmouth Executive Vice President Rick Mills is leading an effort to move about $17 million in administrative spending to the college’s academic programs, and he said in August that the possible closing or sale of the course was only one of a wide variety of options administrators were considering.

The committee was formed to study three possible scenarios: first, to continue operation of the 18-hole course with “identified steps to reduce costs and limit financial burden on the college,” according to a press release in March; second, reconfigure and upgrade the course via capital investment by outside donors; third, eliminate the course, construct an indoor practice facility for the college’s golf teams and conduct an “analysis of options for funding the practice facility and appropriate ground maintenance.”

Much of Wheelan’s presentation focused on the second option, which largely focused on ideas to reinvigorate the course to generate new revenue streams for the college, fix existing problems with the current layout of the property and broaden the course’s appeal to golfers of different skill levels.

“I think we have finished the process of understanding the asset we are dealing with, and we have finished the process of understanding the various stakeholders,” Wheelan said. “As of tonight, I think we’ve finished understanding the process of what people want. They want the resource to work. Next, we’ll roll up our sleeves and put some more meat on the bones of the various proposals.”

One of the biggest, and most expensive, improvements proposed was a possible multi-functional clubhouse, built in a more access-friendly location off of Lyme Road. HCC’s current clubhouse limits the course’s functionality as a year-round facility. A new clubhouse could be constructed to serve as a space for weddings and large gatherings and a restaurant or catering service.

In calling for redesigning the layout of the course, many in the audience on Monday asked for something less challenging that would favor beginner or intermediate golfers who are not used to such a challenging terrain. Peter Williamson, who is a 2008 graduate of Hanover High, a 2012 graduate of Dartmouth and a professional golfer, has been helping the committee design an easier course that could favor newcomers to the sport.

“The big thing about Hanover is that it penalizes the golfer that is just starting out,” Williamson said. “The hazards are in places that are not penalizing for someone, like me, that is going to fly all of them in one shot. I’ve figured out that there are places on the golf course that need to address every type of golfer. I think playing around the world as a professional has given me a lot of cool visuals about how you would do that.”

Williamson said his designs, at this stage, are general ideas of how the course should play that could best utilize the space and also serve both the college’s and the HCC’s goals of being financially stable. Ultimately, Williamson said, he’d like to keep the improvements and renovations to the property under $10 million — given any fundraising challenges the course may face — and that the renovations could take years to complete.

Both Steve Richardson, a member of the advisory committee and a member of HCC, and Jim Wilson, a member of the Hanover Country Club Advisory Board, confirmed this week that an anonymous Dartmouth alum has pledged $5 million to the renovations. Richardson said the donor also is considering an additional $5 million to the Tuck School of Business, but only if the HCC is not permanently closed. Richardson said the donor was cautiously optimistic that the pledge will help persuade other alums to step forward. Wheelan said there have been several alums who have reached out and pledged to help offset renovation costs.

“I’ve been on the country club’s advisory board for a number of years, and we’ve often talked about a clubhouse like, ‘Wouldn’t that be wonderful?’ ” Wilson said. “Partly because we’d like to have a better clubhouse. … But I think the topic of making the course a little bit user friendly hadn’t really come up because most of the people who are outspoken at the golf course are men and are better golfers. So the voice of others hadn’t really come up. It did come up today.”

Wheelan said the ultimate costs of any recommended renovations are too early to estimate, though cost is part of the final report his committee will present to Dartmouth President Phil Hanlon in June. The renovations and improvements plan, he said, has been the bulk of the committee’s focus in trying to fit the needs of all involved parties.

Dartmouth has pledged to keep HCC open for at least the next two seasons. After that, its future is up the air; a recommendation by the advisory committee to renovate the course, not shut its doors, is not a guarantee. Wheelan said he just hopes the committee can make a compelling argument.

“Scenario three, if you close it, they need to think more seriously about what you do with the land,” Wheelan said. “It’s up to the committee to remind them that they would have to do something to the land. The golf course does not get teleported away. And while you may need some of it for college expansion, you do not need all of it.

“My personal view is that scenario three would be an egregious error because, as a Dartmouth alum, the competitive advantage of Dartmouth College is New Hampshire, it would forgo the opportunity to make Pine Park a better place and I don’t think it would be good for the community,  the golf programs or otherwise,” he continued. “I just don’t see any upside other than what is not a huge savings in the grand sc heme of things.”

 Josh Weinreb can be reached at jweinreb@vnews.com or 603-727-3306.

Correction

Jim Wilson is a member of the Hanover Country Club Advisory Board. His first name was omitted in a story in Tuesday's Valley News.