Weatherwax closure feels ‘like a death’ in golfing family

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Weatherwax closure feels ‘like a death’ in golfing family

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Weatherwax Golf Course closed Sunday, Nov. 6. GREG LYNCH / STAFF

More than 240 Weatherwax Golf Course patrons played the 47-year-old course last month during a customer appreciation scramble that touched off a week that could be described as a “visitation” before the course was buried.

“It is a sad week,” Karl Heffner, 79, who has won numerous tournaments at Weatherwax, said last week.

The final golf rounds were played Sunday, Nov. 6.

MetroParks of Butler County is expected to pay $2 million, or $400,000 more than the City of Middletown sold it for two years ago, when it closes on the property on Nov. 21, officials said.

“I still can’t believe it,” said Mike McGee, who grew up on Weatherwax before playing at Ohio State and the PGA Tour.

MetroParks is purchasing the 456-acre parcel of land from Trust for Public Land, a national non-profit whose mission is to create parks and protect land. TPL is buying the property from Bowling Auctioneers Inc. for an undisclosed price.

The Hamilton-based company bought the golf course from the city for $1.6 million in 2014. Auctioneer Myron Bowling said purchasing the golf course worked out “fine” financially, though he refused to say how much he sold the land for to TPL.

“That’s private,” he said.

With the exception of $10,000 from MetroParks general fund, grants were secured to purchase the property to preserve the land for public access and use, said Kelly Barkley, MetroParks’ senior manager for community relations.

The parcel of land will be the Meadow Ridge Area of Elk Creek MetroPark, which also includes 352 acres at the Sebald Park Area, she said. With this addition, Elk Creek MetroPark will become the largest MetroPark in the county with more than 800 acres, she said.

She said the parks organization will seek input from residents on how to best use Elk Creek MetroPark. There will be two meetings that are open to the public. The meetings are set for 6 to 8 p.m. March 8 and June 7 at Central Connections, 3907 Central Ave.

The grant funding MetroParks will use to purchase the land is only for passive recreational purposes, and operating a golf course does not fit in that criteria, she said.

That, of course, upsets golfers, but in the end, the decision to sell Weatherwax or keep operating it came down to money, Middletown leaders said.

The city sold Weatherwax — once appraised at $5 million when the golf industry was vibrant — for $1.6 million in 2014 to Myron Bowling Auctioneers. Jim Kraft, of Middletown, leased the course from Bowling for two years and made a profit, he said.

Golfers had hoped that Kraft would continue leasing the golf course until Bowling sold it to another golf course management company.

Those dreams were dashed after Bowling agreed to sell the property to TPL.

Nov. 6 was the final day for golf at Weatherwax, and an auction, run by Myron Bowling’s company, is set for Nov. 19 when all the golf supplies and equipment, including more than 150 golf carts, will be sold, Bowling said.

Middletown City Manager Doug Adkins said he will “always regret” that keeping Weatherwax as a city asset didn’t fit into the city’s long-range plans, but he’ll never regret selling the course when the city did.

“When a city is not maintaining its paving and water and sewer infrastructure, to continue to lose $400,00 per year in debt and operating costs for a golf course that was located outside of our city limits just didn’t make any sense,” said Adkins, who added freeing up those funds annually helps get the city’s paving program back up and running.

The city put out a Request for Proposal and received two bids, Bowling’s $1.6 million and Midd Cities Midwest Golf Investments LLC for $225,000. In a letter to concerned residents after a Journal-News article said the course may be sold in 2016, Adkins wrote the two proposals gave the city the “best chance to get out of the losing golf business” and to let the course remain open.

If the city had operated the course for three additional years from 2014-2016, it would have been another $1.2 million in the hole, he wrote.

“It was time to get out of the golf business,” Adkins wrote.

Middletown Mayor Larry Mulligan said selling the course got the city “on better footing” financially. When asked about receiving just two proposals and accepting the $1.6 million bid, he said: “We had to recognize the changing marketplace. There were a number of courses closing and the supply was more than the demand. It wasn’t like we got 50-100 offers.”

Then he added: “The market is what the market is.”

Longtime player Heffner said now that Weatherwax is closing, he’s worried about all the tournaments, many of them that benefit local non-profit groups. For decades Weatherwax was home to several local high school golf teams and hosted the Division I District tournaments for boys and girls. This year, those districts for boys and girls were held at Beavercreek Golf Club and Glenview Golf Course near Cincinnati, respectively.

As a longtime member of the Golf Commission, Heffner said there was some discussion over the years about selling Weatherwax. He just never figured the course would be sold, and certainly not for $1.6 million.

“What really upsets me, what really upsets me, they sold it for so little,” he said.

Middletown’s Jeff Jena agreed.

“I feel like the city mismanaged that,” Jena said before his round. “You can’t blame this guy who bought this place. He saw an opportunity and he resold it and made a lot of money. Why couldn’t our city leaders see the money that was here? I think they let something go very cheaply.”

Jena believes losing Weatherwax, though it’s located outside the city, will hamper the appeal of Middletown. Weatherwax and Middletown were synonymous, he said.

“The city has less to offer to potential residents, to potential businesses,” he said. “There is just less to offer.”

Last week, Kraft walked around the clubhouse, his dog, right at his feet. He greeted every customer and thanked them for their continued business. He said the golfers are “all in disbelief since it’s the last time.”

Kraft, sitting on the porch, was asked what Weatherwax has meant to the Middletown community.

“It’s the soul,” he said.

Kraft will sign a one-year deal next week to manage Forest Hills Country Club in Middletown.

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