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Future of Plainville golf club in doubt - The Sun Chronicle : Local News

Future of Plainville golf club in doubt

Abrupt closure, and silence since, raise concerns

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Posted: Friday, October 22, 2010 12:00 am

PLAINVILLE - It wouldn't be the first time Wentworth Hills Golf Club came back from the dead.

But four years after the course's first financial collapse, with the effects of recession still lingering, golfers and town officials are wondering whether the sudden closure Tuesday of the 8-year-old course might be its last.

For the second straight day Thursday, Potomac Realty Capital, the company that owns Wentworth Hills, did not return calls for an explanation of why the course closed or what its future might be. The company that had been running Wentworth, Billy Casper Golf, has referred all calls to Potomac.

That silence, along with the course's history of financial trouble and management changes, has left many concerned about its prospects of reopening next year.

"It's deja vu all over again," Plainville Town Administrator Joseph Fernandes said Thursday of Wentworth's shuttering. "Hopefully, we can find a partner that will keep it as a golf course."

When Wentworth Hills went through foreclosure in 2006, Fernandes said some of the bidders were not interested in revitalizing a golf course, leading to concerns that the property could eventually be carved up to make way for houses.

"From the town's perspective, I would hate to see it sold and developed as a single-family home division or whatever could be considered the highest use," Fernandes said. "It is an asset for the community."

Golfers, meanwhile, are not standing still.

"I loved it there, but I am not waiting around," said Wentworth member Judy Maynard of Norton. "They made a big push for members to re-up for next year, but I was dragging my feet. Now I'm glad I did."

Wentworth hasn't been the only area golf course to suffer recently.

Earlier this year, Sterling National Country Club in Sterling was sold at foreclosure auction and Pleasant Valley Country Club is scheduled to be auctioned next month after it defaulted on its mortgage.

From its first days as an 18-hole course in 2002, Wentworth Hills, built on land that was once home to a satellite campus of Wentworth Institute of Technology, has been somewhat apart from other area courses.

One reason is its location, with a clubhouse in northwest Plainville and holes straddling three towns and two states.

For its members, that location meant seclusion, but many visitors became lost trying to find the club and the location meant low visibility to vehicle traffic.

In price, Wentworth roughly was in line with similar courses in the area, with full memberships around $2,500 and weekday passes around $1,100, according to one member.

In the end, Wentworth Hills' position mirrors that of many others in this economy: too much debt, against too little revenue.

After its original owners, Dennis and Kelli Baker, defaulted late in 2005, the course was taken over by Forewinds Hospitality backed by loans from Sawyer Realty Holdings of Needham. Around the same time, Forewinds also took over Sterling National.

Forewinds promised to raise Wentworth's profile with a marketing blitz and make it a lifestyle destination with improved food and other amenities.

But Forewinds stewardship at Wentworth only lasted about a year, according to Jeffrey Robinson, the company's marketing director.

While the deal was with Sawyer, records for the property filed at the Norfolk County Registry of Deeds list Potomac Realty Capital as the mortgage holder.

Reached by phone Thursday, Robinson said he had "no clue" who Potomac is and would not comment on Forewinds' departure from Wentworth.

Like Sawyer, Potomac's offices are in Needham.

In addition to the economy, Wentworth faced significant competition in the tight Southeastern Massachusetts golf market.

After hearing of Wentworth's closure, one of those competitors, Norton Country Club on Oak Street, quickly offered to take in any members of Wentworth Hills left in the lurch for the rest of the year, free of charge.

"It's unfortunate that this happened - it's a tight knit golf community," Norton Country Club General Manager Jeff Carroll said Thursday. "Of course, we are not immune to the economy, either, and have lost some members. But 2010 has been a good year for Norton."

While they aren't offering a free remainder of the year to Wentworth refugees, Foxborough Country Club pro Lou Rivers said memberships are available at Foxborough and the club had already been visited by one foursome from Wentworth.

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