Dartmouth Considers Closing, Selling Hanover Country Club

  • Finn Higgins, of Norwich, Vt., tees off as Christopher Sundaram, of Hanover, N.H., watches on Wednesday, Aug. 16, 2017, at the Hanover Country Club in Hanover, N.H. Sundaram said that he and Higgins have been golfing at the country club for the past four summers and he would be upset if it was sold and not continued as a golf course. "It would be really sad," says Sundaram about a potential closure. "It's a great way to spend a summer day and Hanover High uses this course for matches. It's a great place." (Valley News - Charles Hatcher) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Alex Kirk, a golf profesional with Hanover Country Club, explains the course and procedures with four golfers at the first tee on July 28 during the Tommy Keane Invitational at Dartmouth College’s Hanover Country Club. The school currently is considering shuttering the club and potentially selling off the land to shift costs.

Valley News Staff Writer
Thursday, August 17, 2017

Hanover — Dartmouth College is considering closing Hanover Country Club and also possibly selling the land as part of a four-year effort to shift millions of dollars in operational expenses to academics.

School officials on Wednesday said they haven’t yet decided the fate of the 123-acre club and course near Occom Pond, but said that financial losses and membership declines in recent years had made closing the facility an option.

“It is no secret that memberships are down at golf clubs nationwide and they are losing money,” college spokeswoman Diana Lawrence said in an email on Tuesday. “We would be remiss if we did not consider ways to alleviate costs associated with owning and operating the Hanover Country Club. No final decisions about the club have been made.”

The club ran an average annual deficit of $595,000 over the past four years, and membership declined to about 300 last year from 551 three years ago, Lawrence said.

News of the possible closing was first reported on Tuesday by the website Dartblog.

The Hanover Country Club, which was founded in 1899, stands at the bend joining Occom Ridge and Rope Ferry Road and is a popular destination for golfers, joggers, dog walkers and sightseers.

“There are people from the community who are members, who play golf there,” said Rick Mills, Dartmouth’s executive vice president. “There are people who walk dogs there, and even if you don’t use it, you might drive by and enjoy seeing that open space.”

Mills, who is leading a four-year drive to move about $17 million in administrative spending to the college’s academic programs, said the possible closing or sale of the course was only one of a wide range of options administrators were considering.

“It’s everything from ‘Does Dartmouth need to own as many vehicles as it owns?’ to ‘What’s the optimal amount of cleaning supplies?’ to ‘What’s the optimal amount of office space?’ ” he said in an interview on Wednesday.

The cost-shifting operation was announced in 2016 with a target range of $20 million to $25 million, but eventually was reduced to $17 million with help from recurring donations secured by college President Phil Hanlon, Mills said.

Dartmouth already has met between 25 and 35 percent of the goal in its operating budget, according to Mills.

Mills said that the decision of whether or not to shutter the club ultimately would be left to Hanlon, whereas the Board of Trustees signs off on land sales.

“I think Dartmouth is sensitive to the role that we have in the community and making decisions that have an impact on the community,” Mills added. “I think we need to take that into account.”

Hanlon, a 1977 Dartmouth alumnus and an avid golfer, expressed affection for the club in a 2014 interview with Dartmouth Alumni Magazine, where he called the course a “treasure.”

“It’s about community and fellowship,” he said. “It was that way when I was a student and it’s the same today. You don’t have to nail a 250-yard drive down the middle to feel like your day was a success. You might watch a doe and her fawns amble through your shot or share a laugh with colleagues and friends back at the clubhouse. That’s a good day in my book.”

At the same time, Hanlon has expressed concern that the college’s traditional revenue sources — philanthropy, endowment returns, tuition revenue and grants — are “under pressure.”

“To support ongoing academic investment, we are reviewing spending in non-academic areas with an eye toward identifying expenses that can be reduced or eliminated in order to be reallocate funding to academic priorities,” he told Dartmouth News, a website run by the college’s communications department, in November.

The land and clubhouse, the value of which the town assessor places at about $6.4 million, underwent a $3 million renovation in 2000.

Hanover Country Club’s holdings intertwine with the town-owned Pine Park recreational trails, with some of the golf course’s access points passing over Hanover’s land and vice versa.

Officials from both the college and the town noted that decades-old access and maintenance agreements would need to be sorted out should Dartmouth sell the course.

Golfers from the wider community on Wednesday lamented the news that Dartmouth was considering a change, while also recognizing the pressures on golf courses, both private and college-owned, nationwide.

David Laurin, a club member who grew up in White River Junction, said he remembered visiting during the winter to use the rope tow as a child.

But given the course’s finances, “I can see how they’d want to have that on the table,” he said as he unpacked his clubs on Wednesday afternoon.

“It would be a shame if Hanover Country Club closed,” John Donnelly, a math teacher who coaches the golf team at Hanover High School, said in a Wednesday email.

At a time when high school programs struggle to find enough players for a golf team, Hanover High fields both varsity and JV squads, thanks in part to the school’s access to the club, Donnelly said.

“Not only does Hanover Country Club provide 18 great holes, it also has a practice facility that is second to none,” he said. “ ... The success of our program is directly linked to the people at HCC and the wonderful facility that we enjoy.”

Dartmouth’s athletic director Harry Sheehy said he felt for those concerned about the potential loss of a public resource and focus of school traditions.

All the same, he said, the course’s financial health and the school’s academic priorities meant closing was an option that had to be considered.

“Dartmouth exists for it to be the best education institution that it can be,” Sheehy said in a telephone interview. “Some things are more central to its mission than others. While I have sympathy for Hanover High and others, it simply can’t be the piece that drives the boat.”

Sheehy, who said he had seen “panic” among some community members since news of the closing consideration broke, emphasized that nothing was final.

“I say that without a clue about what will happen,” he said.

Rob Wolfe can be reached at rwolfe@vnews.com or 603-727-3242.