By: Rob Harris
Perhaps my chickens are coming home to roost. Having written this blog for 5+ years, I find myself an unwitting participant in an emerging golf dispute that threatens my golf playing equilibrium.
I have been fortunate to play at the Yale golf course for many years. Yale, a product of Charles Blair MacDonald and Seth Raynor, is viewed by many as one of the best classic courses in America. Carved from a 750 acre land grant to the university almost 100 years ago, its rolling topography, large greens, massive bunkers, provide a four hour experience with no houses or cars to be seen. Democratic with a small “d”, a chairman of an academic department and a dispatcher in the facilities group can expect to be treated the same.
A couple of miles from Yale lies the former Woodbridge Country Club, renamed as the Country Club of Woodbridge after the town was effectively required to acquire the course seven years ago when the privately owned club went bankrupt. Even with outsourced management, the town has struggled with an unprofitable facility, and has explored the various options clubs around the country have considered, e.g. real estate developing, recreation lands, keeping 9 holes of the course.
Enter Roland Betts, college buddy of George W. Bush, developer of New York’s Chelsea Piers andformer Senior Fellow of the Yale Corporation.
Betts has put forth a proposal that would dramatically alter the Yale golf experience. He seeks to lease the Yale course, acquire the Country Club of Woodbridge, and build a hotel, turning the area into a golf destination. Plans call for Gil Hanse to take on the Woodbridge facility to “transform existing course, parking and clubhouse areas to create a new design.” Hanse would also”restore and renovate [Yale] to its full potential.”
The anxiety-of-the-unknown already is taking hold. Public disclosures and surrounding rumors have Yale being taken from its current membership, student and faculty constituencies and turned over to outside destination visitors willing to pay big bucks to play the course. Loyal and long serving pro shop and grounds staff worry about the loss of their jobs.
Betts still needs to jump through hoops–approval by Woodbridge, by the Yale corporation, and potential legal challenges. He will face issues surrounding the right of access to the course by university students, faculty members, and members who paid initiation fees. The unions to whom Yale employees belong will have a voice.
This emerging dispute will provide a fertile vehicle for dialogue and potentially more formal mediation.
My personal interests aside, it will be interesting to watch it unfold.