These are nervous days for members at Waubeeka Golf Links.
As most golfers in the Berkshires know, owner Jim Goff and his wife, Judy, have had the 18-hole course up for sale for several years. It’s been a tough sell in a bad golf economy, especially at his original asking price of $7 million.
Now Jim Goff, a Berkshires native who lives in Denver, Colo., is considering what would be a worst-case scenario for the 250 or so members at the Williamstown club and others who play the course -- he says it could be sold to be converted to other uses, including housing, if nobody steps forward to purchase it by the end of this golf season.
"The members are worried," said Thomas DeGray, the club’s Allied representative. "Many of us have been here for more than 25 years and we are like a close-knit family."
I don’t know Goff myself, but everything I have heard about him is that he bought the course out of a love for golf, Waubeeka and Williamstown. He proved that by starting a three-step renovation (regretably, only the first two steps were completed) that included a redesign of the back nine that produced spectacular results.
"Jim has done a tremendous job with the golf course," DeGray said.
I have to believe that anyone willing to pour that kind of money into a project after spending $4.2 million to acquire the course has to love golf, so I’m certain he doesn’t want to see it vanish. Given what Goff’s put into it, his initial asking price was understandable. But, he’s a businessman and the harsh reality of the current golf economy has set in at a time when he and his wife are anxious to sell.
Before the panic meter reaches 10, Goff’s statements make it clear that keeping Waubeeka as a golf course remains his desire. He has cut his asking price to $3.5 million to try to make that happen.
"We had it for sale earlier but a previous deal to sell the property has fallen through, so we are putting it back on the market and at a reduced price," Goff said in his statement. "It is our hope to find a buyer at this reduced price that will continue to operate Waubeeka as a golf course."
Alden Marden, of Alton & Westall Real Estate, engaged by the Goffs to sell the 190-acre property, said keeping the Waubeeka a golf course is his "first priority," but added in a statement that "this is a challenging environment for the golf world so we must look for all possibilities for appropiate utilization of this spectacular acreage."
Marden’s language is hardly comforting, but most of those I have spoken with over the past few days have voiced cautious optimism that there’s golf in Waubeeka’s future.
As someone who loves the game and admittedly has a rose-colored view of its virtues, I believe its loss would be a devastating blow to the members, the Berkshires golfing community at large, Williams College and Williamstown.
In my opinion, Waubeeka is the county’s best 18-hole bargain for those who can’t afford to belong to high-end clubs like nearby Taconic Golf Club. Superintendent Greg Tudor keeps the course in spectacular condition and the layout is fun and challenging. It’s no secret that most of the members, and others who play it, can’t afford to belong to Taconic, meaning they will be facing long drives to find an 18-hole option.
"It’s a blue-collar golf course with a fun atmosphere," DeGray said. "We’ll all be traveling to play if it is gone."
"Waubeeka is by far one of the best courses around," said Williams College women’s golf coach Erika DeSanty, who gives lessons there in the summer. "It’s such a great place for average people. They need an 18-hole course they can play."
Waubeeka also happens to have a trememdous practice facility that would be missed by its members and the Williams College golf teams. DeSanty’s women’s team practices at the course several times a week and Josh Hillman’s men’s team also uses the practice range at times.
The college also uses the course for its huge annual alumni tournament and Taconic members play at Waubeeka when there are tournaments at their course.
One course that perhaps would gain some play from Waubeeka members would be Jim Kelly’s nine-hole Donnybrook Country Club on Route 7. But Kelly and his son, general manager Matt Kelly, aren’t rooting for Waubeeka’s demise.
"We would hate to see any major course go down," said Matt. "We’d be sorry to see that happen."
My belief, shared by most, is that Goff went public with his worst-case scenario hoping that some of those who have been sitting on the sidelines will step forward and come up with a plan to save a course that should be saved.
That could be one millionaire, a group that bands together, the town itself or Williams College. Only time will tell, but I still can’t wrap my head around driving past that beautiful course in its postcard setting and seeing a housing development instead of the 18th fairway.
To contact Richard Lord:
or (413) 496-6236