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May 12. 2012 11:06PM

Mike Cullity's NH Golf: Balsams golf courses remain closed for now


 

As golf season commences in the North Country, the region's premier golf destination won't be opening as usual.

With renovation of The Balsams Grand Resort Hotel on hold in the wake of the Colebrook Planning Board's May 1 decision to reject a property subdivision plan, the resort has opted not to open its two golf courses for play, a spokesman said last week.

“The long-term plan is certainly to open the courses when the resort reopens,” said Scott Tranchemontagne, a Balsams View LLC spokesman. “There is staff on board now and through the season that will be maintaining the courses, whether we are able to reopen them or not this season.”

That means golfers who relished summer trips to the Dixville Notch resort and local players won't have access to the 18-hole Panorama and 9-hole Coashaukee courses for an indefinite period. And that's unfortunate, especially for devotees of the Panorama layout, a scenic jewel designed by legendary course architect Donald Ross and opened in 1915. What's more, a May 3 news release from The Balsams declaring that the resort's future is in jeopardy following the Planning Board's action heightens cause for concern about the courses' fate.

Although the owners had previously planned to open the courses while renovating the resort's venerable hotel, Tranchemontagne said, it stands to reason that not opening them probably makes more business sense given that most of The Balsams' play came from hotel guests. Still, speculation over whether or not the courses would open this season has been brewing among local players since Balsams View LLC owners Daniel Hebert Jr. and Daniel Dagesse bought the resort for $2.3 million last December and announced plans to renovate it.

“We've heard rumors all winter and spring,” said Tom Caron, a Balsams member for the last eight years. “You'd hear from one person that they're going to try to open it on a limited basis during the week, and then you'd hear from somebody else that, no, they're closing and it's going to stay closed this summer.”

The Panorama course's historic flavor and beauty make it particularly appealing, added Caron, a 42-year-old Vermont resident who along with family members operates the Tall Timber Lodge in Pittsburg.

“I really enjoyed the challenge of the Balsams,” he said. “When you played it, it really felt special, just knowing that the course hadn't changed that much over the years.” Ranked among New Hampshire's best courses by Golf Digest and Golfweek magazines, the Panorama layout has played host to three State Amateurs (1935, 1940, 1977). In recent years, however, fewer golfers have graced its fairways.

“The last few years, the course probably hasn't gotten as much play as it normally does because the hotel was kind of struggling,” Caron said.

An increase in the cost of annual membership last year also contributed to less play. The price of a membership nearly doubled in 2011 to about $900, said Caron, who estimated there were only about 30 local members last year.

“That (increase) caused some consternation with some of the locals who were members, and some of them didn't come back,” he said.

The Balsams' closure leaves the nine-hole Colebrook Country Club as the only golf option in the immediate vicinity.

Although The Balsams' owners have pledged to maintain the courses while they're closed, Caron is concerned about the level of care they'll receive.

“They're probably going to have to do more than just a little maintenance to keep them in some kind of shape,” he said. “If they don't take all the steps that they really need to for maintenance, what kind of condition are they going to be in when they do hopefully open next year? That's the big question.”

With The Balsams' future in doubt, it would be a shame if the courses fell into disrepair, so here's hoping the new owners live up to their promise.

- - - - - -



THROUGH THE GREEN: Hanover's Peter Williamson, the Dartmouth golfer who late last month was medalist at Ivy League Championship for the third time (NH Golf, May 6), will compete as an individual in an NCAA Division I Men's Golf Championship regional at the University of Michigan Golf Course starting Thursday. To qualify for the national championship at Riviera Country Club outside Los Angeles, Williamson must finish as the low individual who's not a member of a team that qualifies. ... Another New Hampshire player, Joe Toland, is a member of the UNC Charlotte team that will compete in an NCAA regional at Greensboro, N.C. Toland, who spent his formative years playing Hanover Country Club, competed in about half the squad's tournaments as a sophomore and was to be among those vying for a spot in Charlotte's five-man regional lineup, he said last week. ... Hoodkroft's Rich Berberian Jr. (65) was low pro at the New England PGA pro-am at Portsmouth last Monday. ... Tickets to the PGA Tour's Deutsche Bank Championship went on sale last Wednesday. The Labor Day weekend tournament at TPC Boston marks its 10th anniversary this year. To purchase tickets, visit dbchampionship.com or call 877-849-4322.

Mike Cullity's column on New Hampshire golf appears weekly during the golf season in the New Hampshire Sunday News. E-mail him at mcullity@unionleader.com.


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