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Future of Montcalm Golf Club Is Under Discussion



Valley News Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Enfield — The future of the Montcalm Golf Club is in question after the owner detailed financial pressures the private club is facing in a letter to members and at a time when the Upper Valley Land Trust is considering playing a role in determining how the property might be used. 

Upper Valley Land Trust President Jeanie McIntyre said she toured the 18-hole, 358-acre golf course located a few minutes off Exit 15 on Interstate 89 in Enfield last Friday and “in recent days we’ve been discussing various alternatives (for the property) with some of the interested parties.”

McIntyre stressed she has not had any direct conversations with Montcalm Club owner Andy Sigler about the golf course and said that the land trust’s communications with “interested parties” — whom she declined to identify — do not envision placing the land in “traditional conservancy,” but instead would entail Montcalm continuing to operate as a golf course.

She said the land trust already owns land parcels adjacent to the golf course, which it pays taxes on, and noted that “there are a lot of different ways (the Montcalm) property can be owned and managed in the future”

McIntyre said she toured the property at the invitation of concerned individuals, which came in the wake of a letter that Sigler recently sent to club members outlining the financial bind in which the 15-year-old golf course finds itself as the sport struggles to attract players. Dartmouth College also is weighing what to do with its Hanover golf course, which is experiencing declining membership and dealing with significant annual operating losses.

“Membership fees at Montcalm are insufficient to cover the annual operating cost,” Sigler said in a two-page letter to club members. “I have been willing and able to fund the deficit each year, but this is not a sustainable option.”

He wrote that he wanted to “develop a plan that will sustain Montcalm in future years in a way that will preserve its benefits, namely a well-maintained private club that is not crowded.”

Sigler, reached at Montcalm on Tuesday morning, declined to comment.

In his letter, Sigler said there are currently 44 “local full members” with 17 in the “additional member category” and 21 “remote members” at the club. Membership dues generated annual revenue of $300,000 on top of $200,000 in golf shop revenue, according to the letter.

But annual operating expenses total $1.1 million, “leaving a deficit of $600,000,” which “does not account for funds for capital improvements or new equipment periodically,” Sigler wrote.

Sigler explained that he is seeking to form a committee of four to six club members that would make “strategic recommendations” about how to move forward. He proposed several solutions to the “fiscal problems,” including recruiting more members, increasing membership fees — which range from $500 for those under 20 to $4,500 for a single full local member, according to the club’s Facebook page — to sponsoring more events that would raise money and granting tee times to non-members “on certain days of the months.”

Sigler, 87, a Norwich resident and former chief executive of paper maker and forest products company Champion International, spent four years building the carefully manicured fairway and greens on hills near Mascoma Lake. The George F. Sargent Jr.-designed golf course is widely considered to be one of the most beautiful — and challenging — in New England and features a mile-long drive from the gate to the clubhouse.

Enfield town property records show that Sigler, through Enfield Land Co. LLC, controls about 405 acres in six different parcels near Smith Pond Road. By far the largest parcel, at 319 acres, currently has a net assessed value of $3.4 million and paid about $44,500 in taxes for the six month period that ended on July 6, according to the town’s online property tax records.

In the letter, however, Sigler flagged the likelihood that an ownership change looms for Montcalm.

“At some point, I (or my estate) will need to sell Montcalm,” he wrote. “It is unlikely that the current membership number and fiscal situation would entice a buyer who is interested in maintaining the club as we know it.

“Instead, potential buyers would likely convert the club to a public course or create an associated housing development that would likely reduce it to a 9-hole residential course,” Sigler wrote.

Meredith Smith, chairwoman of the Enfield Selectboard, described Montcalm Golf Club as “always clouded in mystery, to tell you the truth” and is unknown to even many town residents. She expressed concern that the property could land in the hands of a developer who would build condos for the wealthy, similar to what happened at the collapsed Kings Ridge ski area in New London.

“I would like to see workforce housing,” Smith said, noting she was speaking for herself and not in her capacity as a Selectboard member. “We don’t need more McMansions. We need housing for working people ... and a supermarket. Everybody wants a Market Basket here.”

McIntyre, with the Upper Valley Land Trust, called Montcalm an “absolutely fabulous property. I can understand the passion members have for that golf course.”

“I think there are different possibilities of what could happen there,” she said, adding she “can’t go into details. Obviously Mr. Sigler is making a decision that’s important to him and the golf course.”

But McIntyre cited one possibility that could serve as a model for Montcalm: The former Ascutney ski resort that was acquired by a national land trust that worked with the town and now is in permanent conservation operating as Ascutney Outdoors, a four-season public recreation area.

She said such partnerships in recent years have developed across the Northeast, and could be adopted for Montcalm.

“Looking at Ascutney Outdoors, that’s an example of people coming together to the table with open minds to a solution to an asset that is important,” she said.

John Lippman can be reached at jlippman@vnews.com.

Correction

The Upper Valley Land Trust’s discussions about the future of the Montcalm Golf Club have been conducted with people whom land trust President Jeanie McIntyre identified only as “interested parties.”  In an interview after the story was published, McIntyre said she has had no “direct conversations” with club owner Andy Sigler and that the options discussed would not remove the property from Enfield’s tax base. An earlier version of this story and its headline incorrectly described the substance of those discussions and the parties involved.