The 118-year-old club has been running an average annual deficit of nearly $600,000 over the past four years and seen membership cut nearly in half in three years. The College has launched a drive to move $17 million in administrative spending to academic programs.
Dartmouth College is considering closing Hanover (N.H.) Country Club (HCC) and also possibly selling the land, as part of a four-year effort to shift millions of dollars in operational expenses to academics, the Valley News of West Lebanon, N.H. reported
School officials said on August 16th they haven’t yet decided the fate of the 123-acre club and course, but that financial losses and membership declines in recent years had made closing the facility an option, the Valley News reported.
“It is no secret that memberships are down at golf clubs nationwide and they are losing money,” college spokeswoman Diana Lawrence said in an e-mail to the Valley News. “We would be remiss if we did not consider ways to alleviate costs associated with owning and operating the Hanover Country Club. No final decisions about the club have been made.”
The club ran an average annual deficit of $595,000 over the past four years, and membership declined to about 300 last year from 551 three years ago, Lawrence said.
News of the possible closing was first reported on August 15th by the website Dartblog, the Valley News reported.
Hanover CC was founded in 1899 and is a popular destination for golfers, joggers, dog walkers and sightseers, the Valley News reported.
“There are people from the community who are members, who play golf there,” said Rick Mills, Dartmouth’s Executive Vice President. “There are people who walk dogs there, and even if you don’t use it, you might drive by and enjoy seeing that open space.”
Mills, who is leading a four-year drive to move about $17 million in administrative spending to the college’s academic programs, said the possible closing or sale of the course was only one of a wide range of options administrators were considering, the Valley News reported.
“It’s everything from ‘Does Dartmouth need to own as many vehicles as it owns?’ to ‘What’s the optimal amount of cleaning supplies?’ to ‘What’s the optimal amount of office space?’ ” he said in an interview with the Valley News.
The cost-shifting operation was announced in 2016 with a target range of $20 million to $25 million, but eventually was reduced to $17 million with help from recurring donations secured by college President Phil Hanlon, Mills said.
Dartmouth already has met between 25 and 35 percent of the goal in its operating budget, Mills added.
The decision of whether or not to shutter the club ultimately would be left to Hanlon, Mills told the Valley News, and the college’s Board of Trustees would need to sign off on any land sales.
“I think Dartmouth is sensitive to the role that we have in the community and making decisions that have an impact on the community,” Mills added. “I think we need to take that into account.”
Hanlon, a 1977 Dartmouth alumnus and an avid golfer, expressed affection for Hanover CC in a 2014 interview with Dartmouth Alumni Magazine, where he called the course a “treasure,” the Valley News reported.
“It’s about community and fellowship,” Hanlon said in the article. “It was that way when I was a student and it’s the same today. You don’t have to nail a 250-yard drive down the middle to feel like your day was a success. You might watch a doe and her fawns amble through your shot or share a laugh with colleagues and friends back at the clubhouse. That’s a good day in my book.”
At the same time, the Valley News reported, the Dartmouth College President has expressed concern that the college’s traditional revenue sources— philanthropy, endowment returns, tuition revenue and grants—are “under pressure.”
“To support ongoing academic investment, we are reviewing spending in non-academic areas with an eye toward identifying expenses that can be reduced or eliminated in order to reallocate funding to academic priorities,” Hanlon told Dartmouth News, a website run by the college’s communications department, in November.
The Hanover CC land and clubhouse, the value of which the town assessor places at about $6.4 million, underwent a $3 million renovation in 2000, the Valley News reported.
Hanover CC’s holdings intertwine with the town-owned Pine Park recreational trails, with some of the golf course’s access points passing over Hanover’s land and vice versa. Officials from both the college and the town noted that decades-old access and maintenance agreements would need to be sorted out should Dartmouth sell the course, the Valley News reported.
Golfers from the wider community lamented the news that Dartmouth was considering a change, while also recognizing the pressures on golf courses, both private and college-owned, nationwide, the Valley News reported.
David Laurin, a club member who grew up in White River Junction, N.H., said he remembered visiting the club during the winter to use the rope tow as a child.
But given the course’s finances, “I can see how they’d want to have that on the table,” he told the Valley News as he unpacked his clubs to play a round.
“It would be a shame if Hanover Country Club closed,” John Donnelly, a math teacher who coaches the golf team at Hanover High School, told the Valley News in an e-mail.
At a time when high school programs struggle to find enough players for a golf team, Hanover High fields both varsity and JV squads, thanks in part to the school’s access to the club, Donnelly noted.
“Not only does Hanover Country Club provide 18 great holes, it also has a practice facility that is second to none,” he told the Valley News. “The success of our program is directly linked to the people at HCC and the wonderful facility that we enjoy.”
Dartmouth College’s Athletic Director, Harry Sheehy, told the Valley News that he felt for those concerned about the potential loss of a public resource and focus of school traditions.
All the same, he said, the course’s financial health and the school’s academic priorities meant closing was an option that had to be considered.
“Dartmouth exists for it to be the best education institution that it can be,” Sheehy said in a telephone interview with the Valley News. “Some things are more central to its mission than others. While I have sympathy for Hanover High and others, it simply can’t be the piece that drives the boat.”
Sheehy, who said he had seen “panic” among some community members since news of the closing consideration broke, emphasized that nothing was final. “I say that without a clue about what will happen,” he said.