Newport GC set for June 14 reopening, with ex-owner’s help

Valley News Sports Editor
Friday, June 07, 2019

NEWPORT — Nick Catsam finds himself in an unusual position: He’s helping to get Newport Golf Club back online after its sale to a Kentucky bank, yet he’s also one of the people the bank is suing after foreclosing on the property in late April.

And that bank asked him to be there.

If all goes well with work on the course and clubhouse, Catsam said Newport Golf Club will open for business on Friday after being dormant since the end of last season. First Southern National Bank bought the course at auction on April 30 for $800,000 after Catsam, his brother John and Nick’s nephew Joseph defaulted on the course’s mortgage.

The bank hopes to eventually sell the course. For the time being, Catsam is essentially the maintenance company hired to get Newport back in playing shape.

“It’s kind of a long story, which I really don’t want to get into, but the fact of the matter is when we purchased the course originally, my philosophy was it was a community-oriented project,” Catsam said in a phone interview from Newport’s clubhouse on Friday. “I’ve lived here my entire life. I feel a duty to my community and to help the bank in any way I can, to try to keep the golf course open and operational. I think it’s a vital part of the community, and I would like to see it prosper moving forward.

“They’ve given me the opportunity to help them out. So it works for both parties.”

The Catsams purchased the former John H. Cain Country Club out of bankruptcy in 2003 for $1.9 million. Nick Catsam said he managed the course until 2010, when his brother and nephew took over. The three are estranged and do not communicate, Nick Catsam said.

In the meantime, Nick Catsam — who owns a separate construction business — has been overseeing work to get the course open since shortly before the auction. The property was at risk of losing its value if not maintained, but aside from some ice damage on one backside green, the course came back nicely from winter and is close to being in playing shape.

“I was trying to poke the bank to get started early; they were slow and weren’t prepared for ownership,” Catsam said. “We started mowing a week and a half to two weeks at most before the auction, and we were trying to maintain the greens and tees at that point. The fairways hadn’t been taken care of that much.

“By the time they were totally on board … some of the rough was pretty long. We’re pretty well caught up on those things with the exception of the driving range, which we’ll start tackling today.”

Steve Haselton, of Newport, the longtime organizer of the course’s weekly leagues, started getting hints of a reopening when someone purchased planks from the lumber yard where he works for use in repairing one of the course’s bridges. The Sugar River splits Newport Golf Club right down the middle, and cart paths cross it in at least three places.

“A couple of weeks ago, the bank called and sent out an email to all of us that it was going to open,” Haselton said. “Right now, they have to get a point-of-sale station into the course. But it’s all been mowed, everything. The ball washers are out. It’s getting close. But I don’t know; no one’s talked to me in over a week.”

Haselton notified potential league members about a possible Newport reopening. The response has been strong.

“When they said it was going to open, I put out an email for all the guys in the league that it would be a short season,” Haselton said. “I think I’ve got 22 or 23 teams signed up. It sounds promising, but who knows?”

First Southern National filed a civil suit against the Catsams in February, seeking close to $1.4 million. Joe Hafley, a loan acquisitions and collateral valuations officer at First Southern National, indicated at the auction that the bank had no desire to own the course. The bank took possession of it when no bidder offered more than $400,000.

Catsam understands that First Southern National has no obligation to sell Newport Golf Club — which is in its 100th anniversary season — to someone who will keep it set aside for golf. Having grown up on a farm across the street from the course, however, Catsam believes its current use is its best use.

About 60 percent of Newport’s 151 acres are either in a flood plain or on ledge, and that limits its developmental potential, Catsam said. With farming on the decline locally, that portion of the course would likely become wasteland over time, so keeping the golf course going would be “the highest and best use for the property,” he said.

“At the end of the day, it’s not the bank’s fault,” Catsam added. “I’m not the type of person that holds a grudge because of business. It doesn’t make me happy; rather, it makes me sad that it’s come to this.

“But I think, in the long run, whoever is going to take this over is going to have a much smaller debt service than we had. … With no debt service, it’s actually a profitable business in the condition that it’s in. That being said, we certainly are not that party.”

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