WORCESTER BUSINESS JOURNAL Sterling Opportunity: Interest Keen, But Future Unclear For Golf Club

April 11, 2010

The 18-hole private course, located on the Sterling-Lancaster line, opened in 1991. In 2005, it was acquired by Forewinds Hospitality, a division of Needham-based Sawyer Realty Holdings LLC, and the company quickly built a new pool and added other improvements.

But the club soon hit major financial difficulties. Last September, members were informed that it had been sold to Potomac Realty LLC of Needham and would be operated by Billy Casper Golf, a national golf company. Then, this February, it suddenly closed its doors.

High Interest

Now, TD Bank, which wrote a $5 million mortgage for the property in 2005, is foreclosing. Justin Manning, president of J.J. Manning Auctioneers, which is handling the foreclosure, said interest in the property is "very high." By the end of March, he said, the property's page on the auctioneer's web site had received more than 2,600 unique viewers, more than 1,200 people had downloaded information about the club, and 60 groups had reached out to him by phone.

"It looks like golf course owners and operators are very hot to trot for this," Manning said.

Also among those who are interested is the Town of Sterling, which is "seriously considering" trying to buy the club and run it as a public municipal course, according to Selectman Paul M. Sushchyk.

But Manning said not everyone who's interested in the property wants to reopen the course. He said investors and developers, including several national homebuilding companies, have expressed interest in the property, probably with an eye to converting it into a residential development.

Manning said conversions from golf courses to housing, including subdivisions and assisted living facilities, have become common in recent years, particularly in the south.

"It's interested, because that's trickled up into this area," he said.

Manning said developers sometimes reduce courses from 18 to nine holes and add in a residential element that can benefit from the attractive green space of the course.

Nationally, the last few years have been rough on golf clubs. According to the National Golf Foundation, as reported by Alan Blondin in of Myrtle Beach, Fla., the number of golf courses peaked in 2005. In 2009, the foundation estimated 145 courses shut down while just 55 new ones opened.

Surplus Courses

David Frem, general manager of Cyprian Keyes Golf Club in Boylston, said there is an oversupply of golf courses in the local area, and the economy and weather over the past few years have only made things more difficult.

"It's been a tough few years for the golf business," he said.

Frem said any buyer taking on Sterling National right now would face an additional challenge since the golf season has already begun and the club's calendar is blank.

"Right now there's no business," he said. "They're closed, so there's no members, no outings."

People who had booked summer weddings and other events at Sterling went elsewhere after it closed. In fact, Frem said, Cyprian Keyes and a number of other local courses held open houses specifically aimed at the club's former members.

Sushchyk said he believes if the course were operated well it could be a good source of revenue for the town. And Frem said he wouldn't write off the idea that Sterling could be revived as a successful golf business either.

"It's a good golf course," he said. "It's a good property."