Golf Course Owners Continue to Look for Ways to Maximize Revenues at Hudson Valley Properties

John Jordan | February 2020

West Hills Country Club Golf Course

TOWN OF WALLKILL—The golf course industry nationwide and in the New York metro region continues to struggle with declining memberships and revenues. A host of facilities in the Hudson Valley have turned to either outright sale or multifamily development on their course properties to increase revenues.

These deals in some cases are geared to maintaining golf on their properties, while others have involved the elimination of golf course operations and the sale to a new owner that plans an entirely different use.

The latest example of this emerging trend is the West Hills Country Club in the Town of Wallkill in Orange County. The ownership, West Hills Enterprises, LLC, an affiliate of the Bonura Hospitality Group, has filed for a series of zoning variances with the Town of Wallkill Zoning Board of Appeals in connection with a $37-million plan to build a 156-unit rental multifamily project on a 2.6-acre parcel where the practice green and first hole tee-box is currently located off Golf Links Road and across the street from the golf course clubhouse and catering facilities at 121 Golf Links Road.

The project is in its early stages and will require three variances to allow for increased building height and length and an increase from two stories to four stories. All of the variances would require significant increases in current permitted uses from a permitted 35 feet to 66.5 feet in height; an increase from a maximum of two-stories to four stories (not including two stories of underground parking) in height and an increase in building length from 160 feet to 585.5 feet.

The project will not only require ZBA approval, but will also necessitate site plan approval from the Town Board in order to proceed if it is allowed to move forward as proposed by the ZBA. The putting green and tee box would be relocated nearby.

Bonura principal Joseph Bonura Jr. appeared at a ZBA meeting in January to make the case for the 156-unit luxury project that would involve one elevatored building that would be four stories above grade and two stories of underground parking. The units would be mainly one- and two-bedroom units with a few three-bedroom units.

Bonura said after the Jan. 13th session that if the project secures approvals, he would expect construction to begin sometime in 2021 and take approximately two years to complete.

Bonura Hospitality, which owns and operates Anthony’s Pier 9 in Newburgh, The Grand View and the Poughkeepsie Grand Hotel, as well as a number of popular dining venues including Blue Pointe and Shadows on the Hudson in Newburgh, acquired the former Orange County Golf Club that borders the Wallkill River in 2012 for more than $1 million in a deed in lieu of foreclosure proceeding.

Bonura said that since the purchase, Bonura Hospitality has spent approximately $9 million to upgrade the golf course and expand catering facilities at the property. Since then, the catering operations have been profitable, but the golf club has lost membership and is being supported by the catering business at the property.

In a Dec. 2, 2019 filing with the Town of Wallkill ZBA requesting the variances submitted by law firm Dickover, Donnelly & Donovan, stated, “After operating the facility for nearly seven years, the stark economic reality is that the event venue performs well, while the golf club does not. Forecasting this long-term it is clear that the event facility will not be able to continue to underwrite the losses of the golf club. Accordingly, the Bonura family now proposes to construct the above described project to ensure their investment in the property remains viable.”

West Hills Country Club Wedding Cottage

Bonura explained at the ZBA hearing that the firm wants to maintain the golf course operations at West Hills, which began on April 26, 1899 when 37 prominent citizens from Goshen and Middletown established Orange County Golf Club.

He noted that current zoning would allow Bonura to build more than 250 units on the property in multiple buildings, but that would require the cessation of the 18-hole golf course, which was not an option the firm wished to pursue, he noted.

Bonura said that while West Hills could operate as is for some time, “It is just not fun to lose money on 187 acres (the golf course) and only make money on three (acres).”

Bonura Hospitality has already built the Water Club luxury apartment development in Poughkeepsie and is looking to develop “The Kingstonian, a $58-million mixed-use development in Kingston. The project will feature 144 rental apartments, a 32-room hotel, 8,000 square feet of retail space and a parking garage. That project is currently in the approval process.

When asked what the Bonura firm would do if the West Hills project does not secure the necessary approvals to proceed, Bonura stated to Real Estate In-Depth, “We are going to keep the golf course going as long as we can and at some point when it is no longer fun to do that, we will sell to the highest bidder.”

The West Hills Golf Club is just one of a number of Hudson Valley golf clubs that have made headlines of late.

The former Ridgeway Golf Club in White Plains was sold to the French American School, which then embarked on a very controversial plan to build new facilities at the golf course, which was subsequently closed. At present, no construction has begun on the new school facilities.

The former Canyon Club now rebranded as the Brynwood Golf & Country Club in Armonk is slated to have 88 luxury condos built on a portion of the golf course.

New York City-based Corigin acquired the Canyon Club in December 2009. Prior to the opening of the new golf season in April 2010, the property was fully renovated and rebranded as Brynwood Golf & Country Club. The repositioning encompassed the renovation of a 65,000-square foot clubhouse, as well as significant enhancements to the existing 18-hole golf course, pool and nine Har-Tru tennis courts. In October 2012, the North Castle Town Board voted to accept Brynwood’s zoning petition to create 88 luxury condominium residences, designed and targeted to the active adult market. The approval of this proposal will result in a signature Rees Jones designed golf course and a world-class clubhouse and residential community designed by the renowned architects Hart Howerton.

Golf course operations ceased recently and Corigin has undertaken some site and demolition work but has yet to file an application for site plan approval for its residential project. It is expected that the golf course will resume operations at some point.

The former Elmwood Country Club in Mamaroneck is being proposed to be converted to a nine-hole course to make way for a development of 175 age-restricted townhomes. That project has been controversial and is the subject of litigation between the developer and the Town of Mamaroneck over the environmental review of the project, according to a published report.

According to the National Golf Foundation’s 2019 Golf Facilities Report released in May 2019, the number of course closures has outweighed new openings for 13 consecutive years during what the NGF termed the ongoing balancing of supply and demand.

Since 2006, the cumulative reduction in the number of U.S. golf courses is 8%. By comparison, there was a 44% increase in the number of courses from 1986 through 2005. The NGF noted that period of nearly two decades was an unprecedented period of growth that coincided with a robust economy, a surge of interest driven in part by the play (and popularity) of Tiger Woods, and the desire to build golf courses to help sell homes.

Now, the demand for land to develop residential and commercial real estate is influencing the supply correction in golf.

Closures tend to be more value oriented, public facilities in the best-supplied areas. Florida, Texas, Ohio, California and New York had the most closures in 2018 and all rank among the top six states with the most golf courses, according to the NGF.

John Jordan
Editor, Real Estate In-Depth