Potential golf course closure could impact varsity teams

by Evan Morgan | 9/18/17 2:15am

Dartmouth officials confirmed earlier this month that the college is “evaluating” the operations of the Hanover Country Club. Shuttering the golf course could directly affect the Big Green golf teams, according to former team members, whose players would lose an easily accessible practice facility and an important selling point for recruits.

Built in 1899, the 123-acre country club has its clubhouse at the far end of Occom Pond. Its greens front Hanover-owned Pine Park on the west and extend as far as Lyme Road on the east.

While popular with walkers, joggers and sightseers, not to mention it serves as the site of Dartmouth’s annual cross country invitational, the Hanover Country Club is particularly important to the College’s golf teams. Easily accessible from campus, the golf course serves as the men’s and women’s golf teams’ primary practice facility.

“It’s a great course,” former golf team member Tara Simmons ’17 said. “It has its challenges ­— some small greens, some blind shots — but the staff at Hanover does a really good job keeping the course in good shape.”

When Kenan Yount ’06 was a member of the men’s golf team, he and his teammates would strap their golf bags to their bikes after class and head down to the course.

“The beauty of Dartmouth’s course is that it’s walkable for almost any student to get there, a five-minute walk down Rope Ferry Road,” Yount said. “Almost no college has that proximity to the campus.”

While other members of the Ivy League have indoor training facilities, the closeness of Dartmouth’s course to the College is unique among the Ivies. Princeton University and Cornell University are the only other members of the Ancient Eight that have golf courses relatively close to campus. Columbia University practices at the St. Andrew’s Golf Club, a 20-minute drive away. Brown University does not have a set course, instead rotating through several golf clubs in the Providence area.

“As a resource itself, [the golf course] was instrumental in our development as a team,” Simmons said. “Just having that option to go and practice as a freshman, even if I didn’t have a car, was huge.”

Dartmouth’s golf teams already face a competitive disadvantage due to winter snows which can stay on the ground until late spring. Simmons recalled seasons in which the golf course did not open until after the Ivy League Championship in late April. But according to Simmons, the accessibility of the course, with its private driving range and practice holes, can partly compensate for the weather.

“On Monday on my day off, I could go hit balls if I wanted to,” Simmons said. “If suddenly the course goes private and they don’t allow Dartmouth golfers to do that anymore, you’ve lost a whole day of practice for players who would want to go hit balls.”

The course is also a selling point when recruiting high school golfers.

“I can’t imagine what we’d tell a recruit [if the club is shut down],” Yount said. “They’re in the middle of nowhere in New Hampshire and you have to drive 30 minutes to the nearest golf course — I don’t think that’s a bargain you could sell any potential recruits. You can practice on a driving range all you want, but at some point you’ve got to play.”

A letter to the Valley News penned by Yount and Elizabeth Wegener ’08 and signed by more than 50 golf team alumni argued that the course is an asset whose value can be salvaged.

“There remains unrealized opportunity for improvement to [Hanover Country Club] that would increase its value to the campus and the community,” the letter said. “Selling the [country club] now would also mean sacrificing forever 123 acres of open air real estate … foreclosing Dartmouth’s long-term options for growth and development.”

Golf team alumni had not been informed about the potential changes to the golf course until news surfaced in mid-August. Some alumni initially thought the news was not serious, according to Yount, but their outlook changed when athletic director Harry Sheehy confirmed the story to Yount and others in an email.

Sheehy stressed that “changes related to the facility are only a possibility at this time,” and the club is still accepting memberships for 2018. However, the tone of his message spurred alumni to action.

Yount said he and other alumni would like to see Dartmouth improving its facilities rather than closing them. He was concerned when College representatives were unable to refer him to a specific person who was in charge of decisions regarding the golf course.

“We have about 50 or 100 folks who want to donate their time, donate their resources, their ideas to help fix the situation, and they didn’t even have an idea of who to contact,” Yount said.

At the moment, the fate of the golf course remains up in the air. College President Phil Hanlon, not the Board of Trustees, will have the final word on its future.

What would the golf program look like without the Hanover Country Club? It might resemble the University of Pennsylvania program, whose teams practice at the Philadelphia Cricket Club, nearly 20 miles away from their campus.

A 2016 story in the Daily Pennsylvanian detailed the challenges of practicing so far from campus. Because each practice requires nearly an hour of travel, Quaker golfers have to use their time as efficiently as possible.

With the Hanover Country Club gone, the Big Green golf teams would be in a similar situation. Likely candidates for a new practice facility are the Montcalm Golf Club, 12 miles away in Enfield, and the Highland Golf Course, nearly 15 miles away in Hartford. And the teams would still have to cope with NCAA regulations which prohibit them from practicing more than four hours per day. With the links so far from campus, informal practice ­— walking over to the course and hitting balls on the practice holes, as Simmons described — would be much more difficult.

“We improved every year I was at Dartmouth, slowly improving our rank in the country and among the other Ivies,” Simmons said. In 2017, the women’s golf team tied for fifth in the Ivy League, the program’s highest finish in the past 13 seasons.

“To lose the one asset that we have would be detrimental,” she added.

According to Yount, most golf team alumni agree.

“We’ve had some of our greatest memories at the course and so have a number of non-golfers,” he said. “It’s devastating for the team if we lose the course.”

Representatives for the Friends of Dartmouth Golf, the Hanover Country Club and athletics administration were not available for comment.