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No more golf at Hillmoor?

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Kayla Bunge
June 28, 2009
— The end of golf at the historic Hillmoor Golf Course seems near.

The Lake Geneva City Council on Monday voted to terminate its lease with the current and future owners of the golf course, which fell into financial and legal limbo last summer.


At least one person believes the city has dealt the final blow to a golf course that has been a community gathering place since the 1920s.


“I’m disappointed with the idea of ending that lease,” Mayor Bill Chesen said. “I think that’ll be the end of golf.”


But Chesen understands the city had to do what it could to make the troubled situation better.


“The biggest gain from this is that we have the right to go in and maintain our property to our standards,” he said.


The city owns eight holes on the course and had leased them to Illinois developer George Wight, who owned the rest of the course and planned to build a golf community. But foreclosure of his $23.2 million loan has put the golf course into the hands of Kennedy Funding of New Jersey.


The city and the lender had been trying to work out an agreement so the course could be open for golfing this summer, but negotiations came to a stand still, Chesen said.


Kennedy Funding believed it had satisfied the terms of the lease by making the overdue lease payment of $15,000 to the city.


But the city believed the lender had not satisfied the terms of the lease, which include maintaining and operating the property as a golf course.


That hasn’t happened, and now the greens are dried out, the fairways are rough and the sand traps are overgrown with weeds, Chesen said.


“It’s not been maintained properly as vacant land, let alone as a golf course,” he said.


Although the city now will lose out on annual lease payments, it also now assumes responsibility for maintaining the 34 acres it owns, Chesen said.


The city has not yet decided what it will do with the property, Chesen said.


Hank Sibbing, a longtime golfer at Hillmoor and chairman of the Committee to Preserve Hillmoor, told the city council on Monday the city is well positioned to acquire the property and operate it as a municipal golf course.


A report prepared by the committee 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.


“The question that’s never asked is if the city buys it, how is the city going to pay for it,” Chesen said.


Nancy Johnson, the attorney representing Kennedy Funding, declined to comment on the termination of the lease. She said a sheriff’s sale of the property July 21 will dictate if golf ever will be played there again.


In the meantime, golfers have returned to Hillmoor since the driving range opened in mid-March.


Business has been fine, said Jim Gaugert, the former golf professional who oversaw the course for almost 20 years and since has been hired to manage the course.


“People are enthused that the property is being maintained a little bit,” he said.


But even he is skeptical about when—or if—golfers might be able to play 18 holes at the course.


“This summer would probably be a little bit of a stretch but possibly later in the fall,” Gaugert said. “It’s just been tough. We’re waiting for some more funds from the bank to go back to work to get it looking nice.”



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