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Group proposes nine-hole Hanover Country Club plan to Dartmouth

  • Lucas Downing, who has worked on the grounds crew at the Hanover Country Club for 14 years, removes sprinkler heads on on a portion of the Hanover Country Club golf course in Hanover, N.H., Thursday, July 23, 2020, that is not included in a proposal to continue as a nine hole course. Under the proposal authored by Luke McLaughry, a 2012 graduate of Dartmouth College and part-time Norwich resident, the northern portion including holes seven through 15 near Lyme Road would remain open. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Luke McLaughry, a 2012 graduate of Dartmouth College is leading a group alumni and supporters proposing to take over the northernmost nine holes of the Hanover Country Club with an initial pledged investment of $7.5 million. Out of the existing 18 holes, numbers seven through 15 would remain, in Hanover, N.H., Thursday, July 23, 2020. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Hanover Country Club grounds workers removed sprinkler heads on half of the course in Hanover, N.H., Thursday, July 23, 2020. A group of 17 alumni and supporters is proposing to take over the northernmost section of the course with an initial pledged investment of $7.5 million. (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 Staff Writer
Published: 7/23/2020 10:36:36 AM
Modified: 7/23/2020 10:01:07 PM

HANOVER — A group of supporters of the shuttered Hanover Country Club has submitted a proposal to Dartmouth College that it says would halve the golf course’s layout, eliminate concerns about operating losses and create an entity that would manage the reconfigured facility.

Norwich native and Dartmouth graduate Luke McLaughry this week delivered a plan that would address the college’s land needs as well as those of the course.

The proposal would reduce Hanover CC from an 18- to a nine-hole layout, employing the current seventh through 15th holes in a lease arrangement with the college. Dartmouth would continue to own the entire parcel, and the land no longer used for golf would be left to the college for future expansion.

The plan includes construction of a new clubhouse along Lyme Road and preservation of the course’s practice area.

“What I’m hearing from across the alumni base, golfers and non-golfers really view Hanover Country Club as one of the college’s major historical and unique assets,” McLaughry, a 2012 Dartmouth graduate and former ski team captain, said in an interview on Thursday.

“I can tell you I’m really hearing and seeing a lot of energy and financial support for continued operation of the course. I’m a good example: I’m not a golf team guy, but I play golf when I can. I’m not out there every week, yet this is an important issue.”

Dartmouth closed the 121-year-old golf course in April in a wider coronavirus-related campus shutdown. President Phil Hanlon announced the permanent closing of the course on July 9 as part of $2 million in athletic department cuts that included the elimination of five varsity sports programs, among them men’s and women’s golf. The golf course is on Route 10 north of downtown Hanover, near the edge of the Dartmouth campus.

Hanlon at the time said in a communitywide email that “the property, which we have no plans to sell, remains important to Dartmouth’s future. We are committed to providing public access to the adjacent Pine Park and, in partnership with the town of Hanover, we will explore how to safely open the land for community recreational use.”

McLaughry — who now works for a Boston-based investment firm — said the proposal’s goal is to recognize the college’s current financial and future potential needs while providing a viable option for the course. He said alumni have pledged $7.5 million toward immediate capital projects. McLaughry added that he hopes to begin meetings with college leaders in the next couple of weeks.

“We had a couple of discussions and Zoom meetings and stuff like that, and Luke put it on some important people’s tables on Monday,” said longtime Hanover CC member Scott Peters, one of the plan’s signatories. “He did a really nice job in providing a proposal that, in my mind, is a great win-win.”

But on Thursday, Dartmouth spokeswoman Diana Lawrence said via email, “Dartmouth is unwilling to continue to run a golf course that has lost between $500,000 and $700,000 a year for the last 12 years and was on track to lose $1 million annually. We are willing to entertain proposals with respect to the course, but believe our right to reclaim the land makes any proposal nonviable.”

Hanover CC began as a nine-hole track in 1899, expanding to 18 holes in 1922. The course underwent a redesign in 2002 geared toward making it more attuned to the modern long-distance game.

McLaughry said reducing Hanover CC’s footprint would greatly cut the potential for future debt by lowering the cost of operation.

Meanwhile, the $7.5 million would immediately reach the country club’s most pressing needs, among them tearing down the bridge over Girl Brook on the current sixth hole, addressing deferred maintenance projects and providing a pool of funds to absorb operating losses and maintain liquidity requirements.

“When it comes to financial support for the course, it’s clear that over a number of years there is substantial support for investing in the golf course through private donations,” McLaughry said. “That really hasn’t changed; that’s not so much a new factor. The $7.5 million is the number needed to reposition the course to get it back to a place of stability and long-term success, but the amount of capital out there that is supportive of the golf course is probably several multitudes of that.”

The 18-hole layout overlaps parts of Pine Park, the wooded 95-acre preserve bordering the golf course’s western side and the Connecticut River. Pine Park Association president Linda Fowler said the group would have to be included in any discussions about reviving the golf course as a nine-hole entity.

Fowler, who was a longtime government professor at Dartmouth, had hoped the course’s closing would help the association resolve boundary issues with the college. A map included in the nine-hole proposal as well as one on the Pine Park Association website indicate the new layout would tread minimally on park territory, if at all. Fowler noted golf course erosion issues have affected the park in the past.

“My feeling about the proposal is that there wasn’t much understanding of the complication of issues surrounding the Girl Brook ravine, interaction between the Pine Park land and so forth,” Fowler said. “Even though they don’t envision they’ll have their course on our land, they still would be, although not in a major way. There’s still a legal responsibility to returning our land to the way it should be as a park. You can’t just walk away from that stuff.”

The plan’s timeline asks for the college to continue basic maintenance on the proposed nine-hole route for now; a management group that would include college representation would work toward finding a third party to operate the course and begin designing the new clubhouse. The hope is to have the new building ready by the 2022 season.

McLaughry wants to begin a respectful dialogue, recognizing the present and future needs of all involved. Dartmouth economics lecturer and former men’s golf team member Charlie Wheelan, who chaired the golf course study committee of two years ago, sees the proposal as an opportunity.

“I think it’s possible to make everybody happy here, if we’re creative, which is to say we can minimize the financial exposure for the college, keep an asset for the community and respect Pine Park,” Wheelan said. “But all of those parties have to be willing to do what it takes to make that compromise happen.”

Hanover High math teacher and golf coach John Donnelly, whose program has won a New Hampshire Interscholastic Athletic Association-record 20 state championships using Hanover CC as its home, is keeping his expectations in check.

“I’m a big proponent of golf as an educational tool,” he said. “Golf teaches kids about socializing. From an educator standpoint, it’s important to have golf at Hanover High School and Dartmouth, frankly.”

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




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