The historic property in Walpole, N.H., which includes a nine-hole course once rated 11thbest in the country and a mansion dating back to 1788, had been kept in trust by town selectmen and operated by members to protect against its development. The new owner, a former lumber company owner who does not play golf, says he views the course as an asset to the community and wants to preserve it as such.
The Hooper Golf Club in Walpole, N.H., finally has a buyer, the SentinelSource of Keene, N.H. reported.
Frederick Dill of Walpole officially purchased the land and the business from the Hooper Trust at Walpole Town Hall on July 2nd, the SentinelSource reported.
Named the 11th best short course in the country by Golf World magazine in 2010, Hooper Golf Course sits on approximately 139 green, rolling acres, the SentinelSource reported.
The nine-hole course was designed by noted golf course architects Wayne Stiles and John Van Kleek following the formation of the Hooper Golf Club by Walpole residents in 1926. The land is part of a trust that was established by George L. Hooper and left to the town of Walpole that year, the SentinelSource reported.
The town’s three selectmen serve as the trustees of the Hooper Trust, which owned the property before the July 2nd sale and oversees the Frederick H. Hooper Institute, the SentinelSource reported. The institute, which wasn’t part of the sale, conducts youth educational programs in agriculture, forestry and botany.
For decades, the New Hampshire’s Attorney General’s Charitable Trust Unit—which oversees trusts in the state—said the town had a duty to maximize the value of the land and wasn’t doing so by leasing it to the Hooper Golf Club, the SentinelSource reported. That position prevented selectmen from using trust money to maintain aging buildings on the property, and led to the formation of the Hooper Study Committee in 2011.
Peggy Pschirrer, chairwoman of the Walpole Board of Selectmen as well as of the Hooper trustees, served as a member of that committee. She described the study group to the SentinelSource as a veritable cross-section of Walpole, representing the concerns of golfers as well as people with no vested interest in the property.
“We spent close to two years interviewing people, looking at other courses around the country, and studying the history of the [Hooper] property,” Pschirrer said.
The study committee eventually recommended selling the property at its assessed value of $1,188,000 to someone who was willing to maintain it as a golf course, the SentinelSource reported. The trustees then partnered with the Monadnock Conservancy of Keene to put the bulk of the property under a conservation easement. The Monadnock Conservancy purchased the easement with $450,500 raised by individual donations from Walpole residents, Pschirrer said.
“We knew we didn’t want it to get developed,” Pschirrer said of the course. “We didn’t want 35 housing lots up there, and the townspeople didn’t want that either.”
Ryan Owen, Executive Director of the Monadnock Conservancy, acknowledged the uniqueness of the partnership to the SentinelSource.
“You typically don’t see ‘conservation’ and ‘golf course’ in the same sentence, at least not in a positive light,” Owen said. “But I’m very proud we did it. It’s not a forest or something like that, but it’s still beautiful, green, open space.
While the conservation easement protected the course from development, the trustees still needed to find someone to purchase the property, the SentinelSource reported. The price tag was set at $737,500, reflecting the assessed value of the property, minus the conservation easement.
Pschirrer told the SentinelSource that the trustees met with at least four people before Dill, but none of those deals panned out.
“We spent a great deal of time with them, and inevitably, they pulled out at the last minute for one reason or another,” she said, noting that one prospective buyer withdrew his offer only 48 hours before he was set to close.
The trustees eventually lowered the price to $500,000—a bargain, in Pschirrer’s estimation. In addition to the golf course, the property includes the pro shop, a barn, a cottage and a mansion that dates back to 1788, the SentinelSource reported.
In 2016, several members of the Hooper Golf Club established a corporation, Meeting House West LLC, to run the course until the trustees could finalize a deal, the SentinelSource reported.
Dill approached the trustees with a $25,000 non-refundable deposit in April. After a couple of months spent hammering out the details, they closed the $500,000 agreement on July 2nd, the SentinelSource reported.
Dill, who owned the former Perkins Lumber Co. in Keene, does not play golf, the SentinelSource reported. But he said he views the course as an asset to the community and wants to preserve it as such.
“I thought we ought to do something and not just let it go down the drain,” Dill told the SentinelSource.
Dill said he wants to fix up the colonial mansion on the property and reopen it as a community gathering place that could be rented out for family get-togethers and other events. Not wasting any time, he told the SentinelSource that he planned to start repaving the parking lot on July 3rd.
Dill said he also wants to raise membership dues and green fees, the SentinelSource reported, describing an increase as a necessary measure for the financial viability of the course.
While Dill said he hadn’t yet arrived at a figure for the new fees and dues, he said he was taking suggestions. Today, a single membership at Hooper GC is $550 per year, while members of the public can play all nine holes for $20. The course is open from April to November.
After signing the paperwork Monday, the trustees expressed relief and confidence in Dill’s ownership, the SentinelSource reported.
“Boy, it feels good to sign this, doesn’t it?” said Hooper trustee and Walpole Selectman Steve Dalessio.
Pschirrer—who prepared a cheese platter and popped a bottle of prosecco to mark the occasion—concurred. “It means there’s a heavy weight lifted off our shoulders,” she said. “Now it’s on [Dill’s].”