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Newport Golf Club sold to Kentucky bank; future of course still up in the air

  • Auctioneer Jim St. Jean, left, confers with Joe Hafley, of First Southern National Bank, right, during a break in the bidding for the Newport Golf Club in Newport, N.H., Tuesday, April 30, 2019. Unsatisfied with offers that only reached $400,000, Hafley bid $800,000 and no one countered. Brent Murray, of Grantham, second from back left, was the second-highest bidder. Gale Starr and her husband Jack, both 72, of Newport, once loaned money to the Catsams brothers when they bought the course and were repayed. Shay Pendygraft, of First Southern National Bank is at right. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Newport (N.H.) Golf Club member Idabelle Mills, of Newport, looks out at the course from the club house before the auction for the property Tuesday, April 30, 2019. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News photographs — James M. Patterson

  • Brent Murray, of Grantham, left, thanks his banker from Claremont Savings Bank, who declined to give his name, after an auction for the Newport Golf Club in Newport, N.H., Tuesday, April 30, 2019. Murray's bid of $400,000 was only half of the price mortgage holder First Southern National Bank was willing to accept. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News — James M. Patterson

Valley News Sports Editor
Published: 4/30/2019 6:14:22 PM
Modified: 4/30/2019 10:22:09 PM

NEWPORT — The century-old Newport Golf Club has a new owner. What it doesn’t have is a golf course operator.

Kentucky-based First Southern National Bank submitted a winning bid of $800,000 to purchase the course, its buildings and equipment at a public auction on Tuesday.

In a sale with only three other registered bidders but close to 50 interested onlookers, the bank took possession of the course from brothers Nick, John and Joe Catsam, who purchased the former John H. Cain Golf Club out of bankruptcy in 2003 and had run it since.

The sale took less than 10 minutes to complete. After getting no response with an initial request for $800,000, auctioneer James St. Jean dropped the price to $200,000 before drawing a reaction. Bidding went no higher than $400,000, at which point St. Jean called a halt and conferred with two First Southern National representatives.

One of them, Joe Hafley, said out of the meeting that “we don’t want to own the property. I’m going to bid $800,000, and I’ll not bid a dime over.” No one countered him.

First Southern National filed a civil suit against the Catsams earlier this year, seeking nearly $1.4 million, alleging that it had not received a mortgage payment from them since last April. The course appeared to be in good shape, with its greens and tees recently mowed.

What isn’t known is when, or if, Newport will ever open for play again.

“I think the bank is interested in keeping it as a golf course,” said Concord attorney Julie Connelly, who represented the bank at the auction and will represent it in any further legal action. “The bank is not in the golf course business. The bank is going to have to figure out how to get it manned and get it running.”

Newport Golf Club turned 100 years of age this year. Tuesday’s auction was the second in its recent history.

Nashua attorney David Campbell, representing Nick Catsam, took in the auction and said his client is disappointed to see it go but remains hopeful for its future.

“I think everybody in town is saddened by the prospect of the course not being operational,” the Newport-native Campbell said in a phone interview. “It’s been an asset for the town and the area for a long time, as long as I’ve been alive.”

Two bidders — Brent Murray, of Grantham, and Bob MacCormack, of Billerica, Mass. — took turns building up bids after St. Jean dropped the asking price down. Murray, owner of Lebanon’s Dairy Twirl ice cream stand, made the final $400,000 offer that led to First Southern National’s solution.

“As you can see by the turnout, a lot of people are interested in it,” said Murray, who said he had no prior golf course management experience. “I hate to see it go, but obviously we couldn’t come to that number. I was thinking that same kind of idea, $400,000 maybe. It needs a lot of work to bring it back up to what it should be.

“It’s disappointing for the community. The facility itself has a lot to offer. It has beautiful greens. I hate to see it sit idle.”

MacCormack owns three other New Hampshire golf courses: Canterbury Woods Country Club in Canterbury, Ridgewood Country Club in Moultonborough and Pembroke Pines Country Club in Pembroke. Given Newport’s location and the general golf business climate, however, MacCormack said he likely would have liquidated its assets.

“I was here as much to keep up on what’s going on in the market,” MacCormack said. “I didn’t have a really strong interest in buying the golf course to run it as a golf course, but I did think there was some value there. …

“I think the golf industry is in a state of flux. I think they overbuilt back in the ’90s with the Tiger Woods era. Right now, in the golf business, there’s an attrition going on. There are too many courses for the demographics they support, and this is one of the courses that’s feeling that pinch.”

Several Newport members approached Hafley after the auction ended to get a read on the bank’s plans. At least one indicated a willingness to help get the course going if the bank had an interest.

“There are people that I’ve known for years that work here or have worked here or just want to see it open,” said Chris Marcotte, of Newport, a longtime player of the course. As for a clue on the bank’s intentions, “there was no answer one way or another,” Marcotte added. “But they’ve got to do something: mowing it, keeping the fairways and greens, or they’re going to lose the golf course.”

The lights went out in the clubhouse a few minutes later. The bar sat ready for customers. Ashtrays on deck tables remained filled with old cigarette butts, and chairs were stacked in a corner.

Inside, a dry-erase board calendar still read 2018. The last entry remained from Oct. 31, with a pumpkin marking Halloween. Below that, words that may have summarized last season, but may ultimately sum up Newport Golf Club: “Good-Bye All!!!”

Greg Fennell can be reached at gfennell@vnews.com or 603-727-3226.


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