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Golf club to remain open for 2012

The course at Hudson Golf Club is in as good of shape as it's ever been, according to owner Chris Hanson. "The only thing we lack is players," he said. Photo by Randy Hanson1 / 2
Two new maintenance buildings at the east end of Ward Avenue are among the more than $2 million in improvements he has made to the Hudson Golf Club, says owner Chris Hanson. Photo by Randy Hanson2 / 2

The Hudson Golf Club will remain open through the 2012 season, according to its owner.

But the prospects for its operation after that don't look good, unless there's a significant increase in business this summer.

"Really, if the people of Hudson want to keep this as a golf course, they should fill this place up," Chris Hanson said in an interview at the clubhouse Monday afternoon.

The office in which the interview was held had a desk and a chair for ­a guest, but was devoid of the décor you'd expect in one used regularly.

"I'm not going to continue to throw money into a business like our federal government throws money into businesses that don't work," Hanson said. "I'm a private citizen. I'd have to go out and borrow money or sell other things to keep feeding this, and I'm not going to do that."

The 73-year-old Hanson, founder of Douglas-Hanson Co. of Hammond, purchased the 141-acre golf club for a reported $3.6 million in the spring of 2010.

The membership of the then private golf club decided to sell the course after a decade or more of financial struggles.

Some point to the club's sale of property along Coulee and Carmichael roads for commercial development and the construction of a new 20,000-square-foot clubhouse in 1999 as the beginning of the trouble.

The clubhouse restaurant and banquet facility didn't generate the additional income club members hoped for, and by 2010 the club was having a hard time making loan payments and meeting expenses.

"Projections for the proceeds of the sale will allow HGC to repay the bank and pay off all its additional debts. After satisfying all outstanding debts, the corporation will be wound up and HGC will have a new, start-up organization," the board of the Hudson Golf Club said in a letter to shareholders dated March 8, 2010.

Later in the year, the shareholders organization dissolved.

Hanson Bros. Golf Holdings LLC took over with a promise to invest $1 million in improvements to the facilities, and to not develop the golf course for other uses for 10 years.

"Basically, our intent is to run it as a golf course. And we still have that intent," Hanson said Monday. "But the long run is that the golfing business itself is in dire need (because of) too many golf courses."

He said there are 20 golf courses within a 10-mile radius of Hudson, "and all of them are basically having issues of one kind or the other."

Hanson cited the amount of money he spent on improvements to the clubhouse and grounds as evidence of his intention to operate a golf course.

He said he put more than $2 million into remodeling the clubhouse, new maintenance buildings and other improvements.

The locker rooms have new wooden lockers, a larger bar and restaurant were created in the lower level, the pro shop was enlarged, outdoor patio seating was added, the banquet room was expanded to seat 300, two new maintenance buildings and a cart storage building were constructed.

"We tried a restaurant. That didn't work. We tried lots of different things. They didn't work. We tried two or three chefs. We've been criticized for most everything we've done," Hanson said.

After two seasons under the Hanson family's management, the golf club has continued to lose money.

As part of the purchase agreement, it continued to operate as a private club in 2010. Last summer, it was opened to the public during certain hours and days of the week.

This year, the Hansons decided not to sell memberships and have slashed green fees through the end of May, at least.

The fee for 18 holes and use of a motorized cart is $39. For nine holes and a cart, it's $25. Last year, the fee was $49 for 18 holes.

Hanson said he didn't want to sell memberships and have something happen midway through the season that would require him to reimburse the members.

He said the clubhouse and five acres of commercially zoned property along Carmichael Road are for sale.

But the golf course will continue to operate this summer if the clubhouse is sold, he said. The pro shop operations would move to the new cart storage building just north of the Culver's restaurant.

"Like most golf courses, unless you're a golfer, people won't look at this as a place to come and eat, or come and drink," he said. "Because they all have a perception that golf courses are for golfers - and members only."

Hanson is well aware that many or most of the former club members are unhappy with his family's management of the golf club. They've been "blackballed" by the old membership, he said.

People say they weren't friendly enough, he said, but that charge can go both ways.

His son Jon managed the Hudson Golf Club the past two seasons. His son Doug and daughter Debbie are also involved in the day-to-day operations of Hanson Bros. Golf Holdings, which includes running the more successful River Falls Golf Course.

Hanson said that this spring the Hudson course has been attracting players from the Twin Cities and people from the Hudson area who weren't able to play it when it was a private club.

Some members from previous to the club going private in 2001 also have returned, he said.

The course, he said, is in as good of shape as it's ever been. Long-time superintendent Troy Johnson is still overseeing the maintenance.

"The only thing we lack is players. If the people who have always golfed in Hudson choose not to play here, they're kind of shooting themselves in the foot, because that will just lead to us closing sooner," he said.

Hanson said there also are those in the community who are interested in the golf course land for commercial development and other purposes.

Last fall, Hanson created news with an offer to donate land for a new secondary school if the city of Hudson would allow the rest of the property to be developed for commercial use.

He has talked to city officials about the possibility of extending Ward Avenue through the southern part of the golf course, providing another connection to the busy Carmichael Road.

"This property is probably too valuable to be a golf course when you can go five miles from here and play," he said.

That's about the distance to the White Eagle Golf Club north of Hudson on County V.

Since the former golf club shareholders organization dissolved, the Hudson City Council is the body that could allow the Hansons to develop the golf course for other uses prior to the end of the 10-year agreement.

Randy Hanson

Randy Hanson has reported for the Star-Observer since 1997. He came to Hudson after 11 years with the Inter-County Leader at Frederic, and eight years of teaching social studies. He’s a graduate of UW-Eau Claire.

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