(Photo by Michael Lin / The Dartmouth)
The permanent closing of the 121-year-old property owned by Dartmouth College was announced on July 9. But now an alumni group has made an initial pledge of $7.5 million that it says would be put toward turning the 18-hole course’s holes 7 through 15 into a new nine-hole layout, while also building a new clubhouse and preserving the practice area, with ownership remaining with the college and land no longer used for golf left for future expansion. “There is substantial support for investing in the course through private donations; the amount of capital out there is probably several multitudes [of $7.5 million],” said one of the group’s leaders.
A group of supporters of the shuttered 121-year-old Hanover (N.H.) Country Club has submitted a proposal to Dartmouth College that it says would halve the golf course’s layout, eliminate concerns about operating losses and create an entity that would manage the reconfigured facility, the Valley News of West Lebanon, N.H. reported.
The college closed the club’s golf course in April as part of a wider coronavirus-related campus shutdown, the Valley News reported, and then Dartmouth President Phil Hanlon announced its permanent closing of the course on July 9, as part of $2 million in athletic department cuts that included the elimination of five varsity sports programs, among them men’s and women’s golf. The golf course is on Route 10 north of downtown Hanover, near the edge of the Dartmouth campus.
At the time, the Valley News reported, Hanlon said in a community-wide e-mail that “the property, which we have no plans to sell, remains important to Dartmouth’s future. We are committed to providing public access to the adjacent Pine Park and, in partnership with the town of Hanover, we will explore how to safely open the land for community recreational use.”
But now, the Valley News reported, Dartmouth graduate Luke McLaughry has delivered a plan designed to address the college’s land needs, as well as those of the course.
The proposal would reduce the course at Hanover CC from an 18- to a nine-hole layout, employing the current seventh through 15th holes in a lease arrangement with the college, the Valley News reported. Dartmouth would continue to own the entire parcel, and the land no longer used for golf would be left to the college for future expansion.
The plan also includes construction of a new clubhouse and preservation of the course’s practice area, the Valley News reported.
“What I’m hearing from across the alumni base, golfers and non-golfers really view Hanover Country Club as one of the college’s major historical and unique assets,” McLaughry, a 2012 Dartmouth graduate and former ski team captain, told the Valley News.
“I can tell you I’m really hearing and seeing a lot of energy and financial support for continued operation of the course,” he added. “I’m a good example—I’m not a golf team guy, but I play golf when I can. I’m not out there every week, yet this is an important issue.”
McLaughry, who now works for a Boston-based investment firm, said the proposal’s goal is to recognize the college’s current financial and future potential needs while providing a viable option for the course, the Valley News reported. Darmouth alumni have pledged $7.5 million toward immediate capital projects for the property, he added, and he hopes meetings with college leaders can begin in upcoming weeks.
“We had a couple of discussions and Zoom meetings and stuff like that, and Luke put it on some important people’s tables,” slongtime Hanover CC member Scott Peters, one of the plan’s signatories, told the Valley News. “He did a really nice job in providing a proposal that, in my mind, is a great win-win.”
However Dartmouth spokeswoman Diana Lawrence told the Valley News via e-mail on July 23 that “Dartmouth is unwilling to continue to run a golf course that has lost between $500,000 and $700,000 a year for the last 12 years and was on track to lose $1 million annually.
“We are willing to entertain proposals with respect to the course, but believe our right to reclaim the land makes any proposal nonviable,” Lawrence’s message added.
Hanover CC began as a nine-hole course in 1899, expanding to 18 holes in 1922. The course underwent a redesign in 2002 geared toward making it more attuned to the modern long-distance game, the Valley Newsreported.
Reducing Hanover CC’s footprint would greatly cut the potential for future debt by lowering the cost of operation, McLaughry noted.
The $7.5 million would immediately reach the country club’s most pressing needs, among them tearing down a bridge on the current sixth hole, addressing deferred maintenance projects and providing a pool of funds to absorb operating losses and maintain liquidity requirements, the Valley News reported.
“When it comes to financial support for the course, it’s clear that over a number of years there is substantial support for investing in the golf course through private donations,” McLaughry said. “That really hasn’t changed; that’s not so much a new factor.
“The $7.5 million is the number needed to reposition the course to get it back to a place of stability and long-term success, but the amount of capital out there that is supportive of the golf course is probably several multitudes of that,” he added.
The 18-hole layout overlaps parts of Pine Park, a wooded, 95-acre preserve bordering the golf course’s western side and the Connecticut River, the Valley News reported. Pine Park Association president Linda Fowler said the group would have to be included in any discussions about reviving the golf course as a nine-hole entity.
Fowler, who was a longtime government professor at Dartmouth, had hoped the course’s closing would help the association resolve boundary issues with the college, the Valley News reported. A map included in the nine-hole proposal as well as one on the Pine Park Association website indicate the new layout would tread minimally on park territory, if at all. Golf course erosion issues have affected the park in the past, Fowler noted.
“My feeling about the proposal is that there wasn’t much understanding of the complication of issues surrounding the interaction between the Pine Park land,” Fowler said. “Even though they don’t envision they’ll have their course on our land, they still would be, although not in a major way.
“There’s still a legal responsibility to returning our land to the way it should be as a park,” she added. “You can’t just walk away from that stuff.”
The timeline for the alumni group’s plan asks for the college to continue basic maintenance on the proposed nine-hole route for now, the Valley News reported. A management group that would include college representation would work toward finding a third party to operate the course and begin designing a new clubhouse. The hope would be to have the new building ready by the 2022 season.
McLaughry told the Valley News that he wants to begin a respectful dialogue, recognizing the present and future needs of all involved. Dartmouth economics lecturer and former men’s golf team member Charlie Wheelan, who chaired the golf course study committee of two years ago, sees the proposal as an opportunity, the Valley News reported.
“I think it’s possible to make everybody happy here, if we’re creative, which is to say we can minimize the financial exposure for the college, keep an asset for the community and respect Pine Park,” Wheelan said. “But all of those parties have to be willing to do what it takes to make that compromise happen.”
Hanover High math teacher and golf coach John Donnelly, whose program has won a New Hampshire Interscholastic Athletic Association-record 20 state championships using Hanover CC as its home, is keeping his expectations in check, the Valley News reported.
“I’m a big proponent of golf as an educational tool,” he said. “Golf teaches kids about socializing. From an educator standpoint, it’s important to have golf at Hanover High School and Dartmouth, frankly.”