A year after The Winchendon School retained Sterling Golf Management to operate the club, using a Donald Ross course on its grounds that dates to 1926, it announced it would close the course for 2017, explaining that “continuing to drag along a loss-producing golf operation puts unneeded financial pressure on the School.” Options will now be assessed that may include “the slight chance” of preserving a few holes for limited play, the school said.
Almost exactly a year after The Winchendon (Mass.) School, a private boarding and day school, had announced that Sterling Golf Management had been retained to operate the Winchendon Golf Club using the Donald Ross course on the school’s grounds, the school announced that it would close the course for the 2017 season.
In a February 15th letter, Kevin Osgood, President of Sterling Golf Management, and Tom Borden, the club’s PGA Head Professional, wrote a letter to “all [of] our members, golfers and friends” expressing their “sincerest apologies for having to announce” the school’s decision.
“We were just informed by The Winchendon School that they would not be renewing our contract to manage the Winchendon Golf Club for 2017,” the letter said. “What was even more disheartening was the news that they decided to close the golf course itself. After all our efforts and hard work to revitalize its operation and the conditions of the course, we are extremely disappointed that this Donald Ross course will no longer be in business.”
Osgood and Bordon told the letter’s recipients that they would contact everyone who had already paid their 2017 Winchendon membership within the next few days, to offer a membership to The Shattuck Golf Club in Jaffrey, N.H., which is also managed by Sterling.
“We understand The Shattuck is a little further drive and you may be intimidated by its reputation; but we’re not only offering a discounted membership, we’re asking you to become a member of The Shattuck’s Family of Friends,” the letter read. “Until you’ve experienced the welcoming atmosphere and the camaraderie between members, golfers and staff, you’ll be surprised you waited so long to join.”
Osgood and Borden’s letter also said that refunds would be offered to Winchendon members who did not want to transfer to The Shattuck GC.
Their letter also included the letter from John Kerney, Head of School, that offered an explanation for the decision.
“It is with sadness and resignation that The Winchendon School announces that its golf course will not be re-opening for the 2017 season and will be closing its doors effective immediately,” Kerney’s letter read.
“The sadness stems from the fact that we understand that over the last century the School’s golf course has brought joy and many happy memories to so many. In recent years, as the School’s leadership discussed this challenge, we have always kept in mind that the golf course is an important community resource.
“The resignation comes from the fact that over the last eight or so years, we have considered every reasonable option with the hope of finding a sustainable plan,” Kerney’s letter continued. “While many good minds have been focused on this dilemma and many ideas have been evaluated, there has been no reasonable solution. We may be able to identify great course managers, but the external factors inherent in a struggling golf industry are too much to overcome.
“I believe that for the 2016 season we had the best possible team here in Kevin Osgood and his Sterling colleagues,” Kerney’s letter continued, “and I am appreciative of their efforts.”
Kerney’s letter went on to cite the challenges now faced in operating a high-tuition secondary-education institution as a major contributing factor for the decision. “Continuing to drag along a loss-producing golf operation not only puts unneeded financial pressure on the School, it distracts us from delivering an exceptional education and from making the School standout more in a very competitive landscape. A weakened Winchendon School would be bad for the whole Town of Winchendon,” the Head of School wrote.
“We are very thankful to our loyal members and patrons,” Kerney’s letter said. “I am saddened that we couldn’t make this work for you. I am also appreciative of our staff, some of whom have worked hard for the players for many years, and of the team from Sterling Golf who gave it their best effort last season.
“We are not sure exactly yet what the next steps for the course will be; we will be evaluating our options in the coming months. There is a slight chance that we may work to preserve a handful of holes right around the campus for limited play, but that will take time to assess,” Kerney added. “In the meantime, we wanted to notify you as soon as we knew that we would not be operating the course so that you can make alternative plans for your upcoming golf season.
“Again, I am sorry to have to share this news and only hope that you can understand the position that our School is in and that you will continue to enjoy the game at many of the other golf courses in the region,” Kerney’s letter concluded.
The Winchendon GC website described its course as “short [and] narrow with small, undulating greens and hilly fairways that are basically untouched from the day Donald Ross redesigned them in 1926. Some bunkers and tees have been modified over time but the basic layout remains intact. The course requires an accurate short game and local knowledge will help the golfer overcome the often tricky lie.
“The golf course features bent / poa greens and narrow native grass fairways and rough,” the website continued. “There are no homes bordering the fairways, allowing for magnificent views of the surrounding mountains and extensive woodlands. A striking view of the New England landscape from the 3rd and 7Th tees, with Mt. Monadnock in the distance, will rival any in the area. Playing this course in the autumn is especially picturesque with vivid reds, yellows and gold surrounding the golfer in a serene, natural atmosphere.
“Here is a course where Ross maximized the topography, keeping all its very best features,” the website said. “As little earth as possible was moved, and like many Ross courses, it looks far easier than it is. Ross lovers will love Winchendon very much indeed.”
When The Winchendon School announced its agreement with Sterling Golf in February 2016, it issued a statement that the course would be presented “in the manner that Donald Ross intended it to be played.”
“We are hopeful that the opening of the 2016 golf season will reflect a new chapter in the history of our golf course by placing the stewardship of Donald Ross’ legacy into the hands of some very knowledgeable and highly regarded golf professionals,” the school’s statement said at that time.
In addition to The Shattuck Golf Club, Sterling Golf operates six courses in Massachusetts.