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Northfielders eye golf course

NORTHFIELD — When she saw that the local nine-hole golf course had come up for sale, one resident had an idea.

What if a group of locals could raise the $1.25 million the Northfield Mount Hermon School is asking for the property?

“It’s a lot of money, but if a bunch of us shared the expense, we could probably pull it off,” said Annie Chappell. “We could get it before a developer does, and then decide what to do with it.”

If 100 people got together and each invested $12,500, said Chappell, they could buy the course, and each have a role in its future.

“There’s a lot of potential for the golf course,” she said. In addition to the nine-hole course, the 154-acre property also includes an outdoor pool and pool house, a small clubhouse, and four homes.

Chappell said she’s contacted NMH and real estate agent D. William Pratt, to let them know that the community is interested in the property.

“In talking with the course’s neighbors, I’ve found they fear that it could be turned into a bunch of McMansions,” said Chappell. The property listing notes that it “has potential for an excellent residential subdivision and further development.”

Many would prefer to see it remain open, recreational space, and a golf course fits that bill.

“It would be a very positive thing for the town to have (the course and pool) run by people in town or by the town itself,” said resident Edwin Finch.

Back in the 1950s, when Finch ran the nearby Northfield Inn, he said there was talk of expanding the golf course to a full 18 holes. At the time, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst conducted a study of the property, and found room for another nine holes, he said.

“It has been said by many who come here that know golf courses that it would make a perfect 18-hole setup,” said Finch. “That would be tremendous for the town.”

While costly, he said, an 18-hole course could be just the attraction Northfield needs.

“There’s a big 18-hole course (at Crumpin-Fox Golf Club) in Bernardston, and they’ve made quite a lot of that,” he said. “It’s attracted a lot of the people who used to play in Northfield.”

Many residents and town officials agree that Northfield needs something to make it a destination town.

“Everyone travels through town on the state highway, but people don’t see things that catch their eyes and make them want to stop,” said Finch.

Whatever the fate of the golf course and its surroundings, it’s got people talking.

Chappell pitched her idea to an online town discussion board, and it was met with an outpouring of positive replies.

“I felt like someone had to round up the interested parties, and I’m happy to do it,” said Chappell. “It’s all just getting rolling.”

Some have suggested reaching out to the summer residents of Rustic Ridge, who have long enjoyed access to the golf course and swimming pool.

“The golf course is something that’s very much loved by many on the ridge,” said Margaret Conner, of Chicago, Ill.

She said that, years ago, ridge residents banded together and pooled donations to keep the course’s pool in business, when NMH was unsure if it could continue its operation.

“I think there are people on the ridge who would be interested (in preserving the golf course),” she said. “I’m anxious, in a good way, to see what happens.”

Now that the ideas are flowing, Chappell wants to set up a sit-down.

“I want to get a meeting together of people that would like to get ahold of the course, so we can figure out the best route to take,” said Chappell. “Everyone’s wish-list will come up, I’m sure.”

Ideas she’s heard include adding a mini-golf course for kids, a hotel reminiscent of the Northfield Inn, and a pub where people could gather.

“There are so many possibilities, and our town needs a park and public recreation land,” said resident Ruth Potee. A pond on the property could be flooded in the winter for a skating rink, she said, and there might be room on the land to host a community or senior center.

Chappell feels a private group would have an easier time buying the property than the town would. With little more than a month to go before the May annual town meeting, there’s no time to put together a proposal by then. Even if there were, a $1.25 million purchase could be a hard sell for the cash-strapped town.

Potee, who serves on the Community Preservation Committee, pointed out that, though it may be hard for the town to appropriate money for such a purchase, it could put community preservation funds toward the project.

Community preservation money comes from a 0.5 percent surcharge on property tax bills, and is matched 100 percent by the state.

If you’d like to get involved in the possible group purchase of the golf course, or share your ideas, email Annie Chappell at chappell56@verizon.net.

David Rainville can be reached at:
drainville@recorder.com
or 413-772-0261, ext. 279

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