Golfers planning final rounds at Weatherwax

WEATHERWAX GOLF COURSE HISTORY

1969: Weatherwax is built on land purchased from W.W. Sebald to be used for a golf course and public park. A $75,000 donation by Bessie Weatherwax, in honor of her husband Russell S. Weatherwax Sr., is used for landscaping the course.

1972: The four nine-hole courses, designed by Arthur Hills, open and Tour professional Tony Jacklin plays the first round. Funding for the construction of the course is through a 20-year bond that’s retired in 1995.

1996: The entire 36 holes and the driving range are reconstructed with bunkers, tees and fairways. Another 20-year bond is used to fund the work. As a result, the course rises from a three-star rating to a four-star rating and is a top-10 ranked public course in Ohio from 2002 to 2006.

2012: Tim Sorrows fires a 63, sets course record.

2014: City sells Weatherwax to Hamilton auctioneer company for $1.6 million. Myron Bowling leases course to Jim Kraft, who signs a one-year lease with a one-year option.

2015: Kraft plans to accept option year and operate Weatherwax as golf course through 2016.

Sept. 23, 2015: MetroParks of Butler County announces its purchase of Weatherwax and plans to combine it with the adjacent Sebald Park to create the new Elk Creek MetroPark. The golf course will cease operations after the current lease expires, according to MetroParks. Officials with MetroParks said the Clean Ohio Fund is providing $2.3 million for the purchase and the federal Land/Water Conservation Fund is providing $90,000 for restoration work to return the property to its natural habitat. The MetroParks general fund will contribute $10,000 toward the acquisition, she said. 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.

Nov. 6: The lease expires between Kraft and Weatherwax Holdings LLC.

SOURCES: City of Middletown records; Journal-News archives

Local golfer Don Hartness described Weatherwax Golf Course as “more than 450 acres of heaven.”

Over the past 44 years, thousands of golfers from throughout the region and beyond have enjoyed playing golf on the 36-hole golf course in Madison Twp. that is slated to close at the end of this season.

Some final rounds have already been played. This year will be the first time in 40 years the Ohio High School Athletic Association’s Southwest District tournament will be played elsewhere.

“We have some high school teams playing here, but we lost the district tournament,” said Jim Kraft, Weatherwax’s general manager. “There’s a different feel this year.”

Kraft has leased the golf course from Weatherwax Holdings LLC, a group led by Hamilton auctioneer Myron Bowling. The group purchased the course from the city of Middletown for $1.6 million in September 2014. The course has seen an average of 50,000 rounds of golf played for the past two years.

The current lease expires Nov. 6 and the property is slated to be sold to the Trust for Public Land, a national land conservation nonprofit. After that, TPL will donate the land to MetroParks of Butler County. The park district plans to use the land for passive recreation and combine it with Sebald Park to create the new Elk Creek MetroPark. That deal was announced in September 2015.

Dave Vasarhelyi, a senior project manager of the Trust for Public Land’s Cleveland office, said Thursday, “We are basically proceeding in the same manner. Once the lease expires, we intend to purchase the property and donate it back to MetroParks of Butler County as Mr. Bowling has decided not to have golf continue.”

Vasarhelyi said the national nonprofit has a signed agreement that is contingent on the expiration of the lease.

“The reason we’re pursuing this is for the general public to be able to access the land,” he said. “It’s been a public asset since 1972…. We have every intention to have this land available to the residents of Butler County and beyond.”

Bowling could not be reached for comment for this story.

Since the announcement, Kraft said many of the longtime golfers who played the course have been “very upset.”

“Many of them are wondering where they’re going to go?” Kraft said. “I’ve tried to give them hope its not a done deal.”

Despite a very hot summer, business has remained good and Kraft remains hopeful that Bowling, the principal of Weatherwax Holdings LLC, might change his decision and continue the current lease.

“They (Weatherwax Holding) were weighing their options to sell it or keep it as an investment,” Kraft said. “I hope they look harder because I believe it’s doable.”

Kraft said Weatherwax, 5401 Mosiman Road, is a regional golf course that draws people from Cincinnati and Dayton. He said the strengths of Weatherwax is that it has four nine-hole golf courses that are quiet and have no homes or traffic surrounding them.

“It’s a beautiful course,” he said. “It could be packed but (its design) you’d feel that you were the only one here.

Hartness has worked at the golf course for the past six years and has played the course since it opened in 1972.

“It’s a crime what they did. The city doesn’t realize what it lost,” he said. “It was a reason for people to come to Middletown.”

He said the golf course could have helped the city’s image to have a top-ranked golf course as an asset.

Karl Heffner of Miamisburg, an Armco retiree, believes the course is going to close.

“I’ve been playing here since 1972,” he said. “It’s a fantastic course.”

Robbie McClain ran a golf tournament held at the course to raise money for breast cancer research. She said, “everyone loves this course…. it’s fabulous for the women golfers who come out.”

Golfing with McClain Thursday morning, Lori Lenos has played at Weatherwax for the past 35 years and has worked there for the past 16 years.

“It’s a great course and I’ll miss it when it closes,” she said. “When its in tip-top condition there’s no comparison (to other golf courses).”

Lenos and her husband live off the 8th hole, but she said they would go to other courses when it closes.

“Hopefully it will hang in there,” she said. “People are sad its closing — its going to be missed.”

Middletown native Robert Downey, a Chapel Hill, N.C. resident who is on a work assignment in Belgium, said he will be meeting his two brothers John and Tom - who live in Cincinnati and Chicago respectively - are planning to spend this weekend playing their final rounds of golf on the course with their father Jack. All three brothers were members of the Fenwick High School team.

“It’s a pity that its going to shut down,” Robery Downey said. “I think over the years, the challenge of Weatherwax was its location as it seemed so isolated and that the growth of the city went the other way to I-75.”

Downey said the Weatherwax course has a good walk-able flow and is routed very well from the first tee to the last green, to the practice range and putting green and to the pro shop.

“The design of the Weatherwax course is designed the way the game of golf should be played,” he said.

In Other News