Opening soon? Owner of Hillmoor faces foreclosure
For the first summer since the early 1920s, the historic golf course on Highway 50 has been closed and plans for a golf community have come to a screeching halt.
George Wight, president of Wight Realty Group and owner of the golf course, is mired by financial trouble.
Kennedy Funding, the New Jersey lender through which he had a $23.2 million loan, filed a foreclosure action against him Aug. 4 in Walworth County Court.
According to the lawsuit, Wight owed $19.4 million in principal and interest as of July 31, and interest is accruing at a rate of $12,000 per day.
The city also has notified Wight that he is past due on his $15,000 annual lease payment to the city. The payment was due Aug. 1. The notice gives Wight 30 days to pay before the lease is terminated.
Wight’s financial and legal entanglements include the foreclosure of land slated for an ethanol plant west of Rockford, Ill.; commercial land in Crystal Lake, Ill., and his home in Barrington, Ill.
“It doesn’t take a legal expert to know when that happens, there’s no prospect of that course being developed,” said Henry Sibbing, a longtime golfer at Hillmoor and chairman of the Committee to Preserve Hillmoor.
Wight Realty Group of Schaumburg, Ill., in May 2005 proposed its Wight Canyon development of 275 multiple- and single-family homes on 226 acres, including the golf course. The plan included redesigning the golf course from a 72-par professional course to a smaller 64-par course, a new clubhouse, a banquet hall and a 100-room hotel with a retail center.
The development was approved by the city council in February 2006, but nothing has happened since.
Hillmoor Golf Course closed Oct. 21, and the sign at the entrance reads: “Opening soon.”
The barren fairways have residents upset.
“It is an eyesore,” said Wes Toton, who worked at Hillmoor for more than 10 years. “It’s just unfortunate.
“It seems to me he’s not going to open. No matter how many times (Wight) says he’s opening soon, it’s not going to happen. I know he’s just making this stuff up.”
Wight previously told The Janesville Gazette that he planned to restore the golf course and again meet with the city to discuss an updated proposal.
“We’ve had to be exceptionally patient, and we hope the city and the people can be patient as well,” he said.
The Gazette was not able to reach Wight over the past several days for comment.
Some residents have urged the city to consider operating a municipal golf course. A report prepared by the Committee to Preserve Hillmoor showed a municipal course could break even if the city purchased the land for $4 million and the course saw an annual profit of $800,000.
City officials have been reluctant to seriously consider the idea, Sibbing said, but with the financial thorn of foreclosure now pricking Wight, they should be taking a closer look at it.
“If we lose that, I believe the city leadership is irresponsible,” he said. “We’ve tragically lost a wonderful recreational and aesthetically beautiful piece of property, and we must do everything in our power to restore it.”
City officials recognize Hillmoor Golf Course is a concern among residents. City Attorney Dan Draper has been instructed to keep an eye on the situation at the course, including the city-owned seven holes, he said.
But residents are sad they can’t golf at the neighborhood course.
Jim Gaugert, the former golf professional at Hillmoor who oversaw the course for almost 20 years, said he feels betrayed by Wight.
“When this group made an offer to buy the course in 2004, I was so exited,” he said. “It was tired, it was old, and it needed a change.
“Everyone believed in this guy … and then it turned out there was nothing to believe in.”