The Sturgeon Bay, Wis. property floundered during the 2008 recession and was eventually foreclosed upon, but golf junkie and former Marine Jon Martell has plunged in to undertake its revival.
More than 100 golf courses close each year nationwide, reported Door County Living, and this was once likely the fate for the Cherry Hills Golf and Lodge in Sturgeon Bay, Wis., until Jon Martell returned to Wisconsin, the publication reported.
Martell is a 38-year-old ex-Marine who happens to be a golf junkie. He grew up caddying near Manitowoc, Wis., and parlayed his early love of golf into managerial stints at Whistling Straits (Kohler, Wis.) and Liberty National (Jersey City, N.J.), reported Door County Living.
In early 2015, just one week into his move back to Wisconsin from the East Coast, he was introduced to a course and hotel that had floundered during the 2008 recession and was eventually foreclosed upon. The word “risk” didn’t do the situation justice, reported Door County Living.
“Everything seemed somewhat disheveled, in disrepair or neglected,” said Martell. “The hotel was idle [and] there were a lot of things that needed to be cleaned out.
“I ended up bringing some friends in and asked them what they thought,” he told Door County Living. “Everyone saw the opportunity, but they saw all the work in it, too. That was where I had to step up.”
The carpeting in the club’s banquet hall wasn’t just old, it was filthy. The golf course wasn’t just shaggier than ever, it was also encroached upon by dandelions and unfriendly weeds. Maintenance equipment that sufficed for years was dated and inefficient, reported Door County Living.
“For a while there the greens were like a lunar landscape,” said Thomas Jordan, 68, who has played the course for two decades. “Back then, if you were 20 feet from the hole, instead of putting it, someone would say, ‘Ah, just take two strokes. Let’s get going.’”
Cherry Hills, already modest in its offerings, had become a last-ditch option for local and vacationing golfers alike. In all of that, somehow Martell saw opportunity. It’s funny how changes in scenery can usher in a wave of optimism, reported Door County Living.
“One of the best moments I had early on was when the snow melted,” Martell told Door County Living. “I couldn’t wait to get out there. Walking the course, I could remember every single hole. I could feel the vision of the designer. I could see the character of the course. I’m walking it with no clubs, no balls. Just feeling it and playing it in my mind.”
Martell’s work was incremental and reactive, Door County Living reported. Short on help that first summer, he put his boots on and mowed fairways twice a week. And when he reached points of “Do I or do I not fund this?” the answer was always clear.
“It gets scary with the money, but if this was something that needs to happen, it can’t just not happen,” Martell said. “You do it because it’s what the business needs. It can’t stop just because you don’t want to spend a couple hundred or a thousand dollars on a particular project.”
Martell took over knowing he had to run the business as if he owned it. He was conscious that even though this wasn’t “public property,” the property was public in nature, and his name was on the lease, reported Door County Living.
Eighteen months into the project, much to his delight, Nicolet Bank was desperate to sell the property. Martell reeled in some help, in the form of a friend and two other partners. After a year-and-a-half of investment, Cherry Hills was now 25 percent his, reported Door County Living.
After a record April snowstorm caused a slow start to the 2018 season, the course won’t be breaking any revenue records in 2018, but it will continue taking steps forward, reported Door County Living.
“There are a lot of variables that affect what I can do,” said Martell. “But as I knock down those wickets, I will move on to the next one as the resources allow me to.
“My biggest thing is this,” he added. “Of I’m here three years or 20 years, something is going to be much better every time.”