The membership of Grinnell (Iowa) G&CC voted to sell the club to the college. The club, founded in 1899 as a non-profit membership organization by college faculty, will now be run as a public resource, with an open course and swimming pool.
On February 9th, the membership of Grinnell (Iowa) Golf and Country Club voted 107-1 to sell the club to Grinnell College, according to a campus memo reported on by The Scarlet & Black, the college’s student newspaper.
The former country club will now be run as a public resource with an open golf course and swimming pool, The Scarlet & Black reported.
Grinnell Golf and Country Club was founded as a non-profit membership organization by college faculty in 1899, according to Kate Walker, Vice President for Finance and Treasurer of the college. Since then, the club has experienced financial difficulties. In 2001, the college invested $50,000 dollars to support the club, The Scarlet & Black reported, and as the largest single investor in the club, the college was promised first right of refusal on any possible sale.
“Over the past few years, the country club has been in a death spiral,” Walker told The Scarlet & Black. “They wanted to talk with us about whether or not we wanted to exercise the option to buy it.”
Before making that decision, the college’s Treasury Department began conducting due diligence by looking at financial statements, taking tours and talking with vendors and employees before the college ultimately decided to make an offer, The Scarlet & Black reported.
Investments into renovations at the club will also need to be made, The Scarlet & Black reported. Funds for initial investments, Walker said, will come from the college’s Strategic Reserve, a fund that is used for acquisitions and initial upgrades.
“The money we used to purchase the golf course came from the Strategic Reserve,” Walker told The Scarlet & Black. The funds in that reserve are set aside specifically to allow agility in response to strategic opportunities. They are not part of our operating budget and they do not factor into operating decisions such as, for example, how we set tuition.”
Eventually, fees for ongoing operation and maintenance of the club will come out of the college’s operating budget, which funds the cost of compensation for faculty, staff and student employees, program expenses and service on debts, The Scarlet & Black reported.
“We’re not expecting to break even or make any money the first few years,” Walker said. “Ultimately, the goal will be a break-even operation, exploring revenue options to offset operating costs.”
One reason that the college felt the purchase of the club was a necessary investment was to have a degree of control over the land directly adjacent to campus, The Scarlet & Black reported. As part of the agreement for the sale, the college agreed to maintain a golf course, which was one of the major requests from the club’s Board.
“The opportunity to pick up 56 acres of beautiful space that we already use for our own golf team directly adjacent to campus was something that doesn’t come along very often, if at all,” Walker told The Scarlet & Black.
Some Grinnell College students expressed mixed feelings about the purchase to The Scarlet & Black, however. Rafael Estrada, from the class of 2018, said she felt that the purchase of a golf course tells students they are not the college’s first priority.
“There are clear demands by students for greater spending on other resources that are desperately needed,” Estrada said. “If they’re putting more money into purchasing golf courses, then they’re putting less money into hiring a psychiatrist on campus.”
Alex Mitchell of the Class of 2017 told The Scarlet & Black that while he views the acquisition as a sound investment, he also feels that purchasing a golf club sends a strange message to the town of Grinnell, in addition to the campus community.
“A lot of students have been talking about how that money could go to tuition [and] making buildings more accessible,” Mitchell said. “What bothers me is that even if we hadn’t purchased the country club, those problems would still exist.
“It’s kind of a trend we’ve seen at Grinnell, where we spend money because we have money, but then we save money that we don’t need to save,” Mitchell added.
Grinnell students also cited the apparent contradiction of a social justice-oriented college owning a country club, The Scarlet & Black reported.
But Walker stressed to The Scarlet & Black that the property will be no longer run as a country club, but instead as a public resource.
“The idea of a limited-access country club controverts our institutional commitment to making this a community resource,” she said. ”Under college ownership, the golf course will become a public course, open to use by all. We will recognize and welcome past members, but we will no longer promote ‘members only’ privileges or events.”
This change to the golf course’s structure will make it more accessible to the town and any travelers coming through, she added.
“We want good partnerships,” Walker said. “We’re not trying to take over downtown, but rather we want to complement it.”
The treasury department’s goal is to have a symbiotic relationship with the town, and not a competitive one, she added.
“It’s our goal to develop good community partnerships that complement and build on Grinnell [College]’s strengths,” Walker said. “If the College is going to be strong, we need the town to be strong. And for the town to be strong, the college needs to be strong.”