As another one bites the dust, Don Nist leads the local golf crowd in wondering who’s next.
“It’s getting scary, isn’t it?” he said.
Owners of The Sanctuary Golf Club, which sits just north of the city of Canton and less than an hour south of Cleveland, say they will close the golf course “permanently” in October.
Elsewhere on Stark County’s public-course scene, bombshell closings of Tam O’Shanter, Skyland Pines and Seven Hills unfolded from 2018-22; Edgewood, Rolling Green and Lake View all vanished within the last 10 years.
Nist has witnessed local golf since the 1940s, caddying at Brookside, playing for Ohio State, winning three Ohio Public Links championships, and knowing most Stark County courses like the back of his hand. He circled back to membership at his longtime haunt, The Elms, after Tam O’Shanter closed.
Rumors of more closings make him nervous.
“These days,” he said, “you never know.”
Sanctuary’s recent sayonara got Steve DiPietro’s attention, of course.
“I completely understand,” he said.
His family sold Skyland to Amazon at about the time it purchased Prestwick Country Club. Sanctuary’s nearest golf course neighbor, Arrowhead, is managed by a DiPietro group.
What does DiPietro foresee as to other possible course closings?
“It will continue to happen,” he said.
Sable Creek’s Ray Headley was “surprised but not totally” to learn Sanctuary is bowing out.
“The surprise is more they decided to do it now,” said Headley, part of the family that owns Sable Creek. “It seemed like things were just on the uptick in the golf business, after we’d all been struggling for a number of years.
“I give the them credit for at least putting it out there, not like what Seven Hills did to their clientele, just kind of shuttering up with people on the tee sheets, and leaving a pro hanging.”
Sable Creek is 10 miles north of Sanctuary and three miles east of Seven Hills.
Headley reports business is booming at Sable Creek, where 35 leagues combine with regular golfers to keep three nines rolling at near capacity.
“Some nights our parking lot is full and people park in the grass,” Headley said. “It’s a good problem to have.
“We have no plans of going anywhere.”
Sable Creek is one of six area courses in business along State Route 619, north of Sanctuary. One of them, Mayfair, closed 18 of its 36 holes in 2001.
“Sanctuary closing? Two words − income statement,” said Mayfair owner David Springer, who bought the course in 1988. “Golfers get emotional when a course closes, but a golf course is a business, and when it doesn’t make a profit and loses money, it closes.”
Is Mayfair staying open?
“Our 2023 golf season is going great, our best yet,” Springer said. “We plan to keep the golf course open for the foreseeable future.”
Turkeyfoot, dissected by Route 619 five miles west of Mayfair, was sold in January. Buyer Timothy Adkins owns The Upper Deck restaurant/bar, across the street from the 27-hole golf course.
Adkins said last winter that he plans to close the “water nine” and keep the other 18 holes open.
When exactly will the “water nine” retire?
“It may be open next year,” said Mike Thirion, general manager at the course. “It will probably be closed. If it’s not closed next year, it will be the following year.”
The “water nine” is prime real estate that will be developed, although, as with Sanctuary, in ways ownership is not making public.
How long will the rest of Turkeyfoot be open as an 18-hole hole course?
“At this time, I would say indefinitely,” Thirion said. “I don’t see anything changing in the near future. It looks like we’re going to be here to stay.”
Volume of play at Turkeyfoot shot up in 2020 when people sought things to do amid COVID-19 shutdowns. The crowd increased in 2021 and again in 2022.
What about 2023?
“It’s going great,” Thirion said. “We’re ahead of last year. There’s a lot of days we don’t have any available tee times.”
His reaction to The Sanctuary news?
“I was surprised,” he said. “I didn’t see it coming.”
In March, shortly after he was hired as general manager of The Sanctuary, Angelo Tsangeos didn’t see that coming.
At the time, The Repository was pursuing reactions to the closing of Seven Hills.
“One of the bigger issues, even in my own mind, was who knows how long (Sanctuary) will be open before they develop it?” Tsangeos said in March. “I was given full assurance from the ownership group that we are alive and we are staying a golf course, at least in the immediate future.”
Tsangeos, a former GlenOak and Mount Union golfer who worked at Skyland Pines for 12 years, could not be reached for an updated comment.
The Sanctuary is on a busy four-lane street, Applegrove. The course looks busy to passersby and has been busy, according to course employees, but owners Bob DeHoff and Bill Lemmon both hinted in the spring the days were numbered.
They have not specified what they plan for The Sanctuary’s land, but the consensus is that it will become housing.
North Canton Director of Administration Patrick DeOrio is an interested part of that consensus, insofar as the city owns nearby Arrowhead, and The Sanctuary, though in Plain Township, is a near neighbor.
“Housing was probably the end purpose when McKinley Development (co-owned by DeHoff and Lemmon) acquired the property, that someday they would put residential on it,” DeOrio said. “They owned Edgewood and ended up doing that.
“That’s kind of the fate of golf courses. As the developers’ inventory diminishes as to land available to build on, the golf course comes into play. As Mr. Dehoff and Mr. Lemmon said, it didn’t help the golf course’s cause that they were finding it difficult to make any money there.
“I would expect there’s going to be housing there.”
Calls to assorted area courses reveal strong numbers of golfers in 2023 and no other imminent demises.
“I’m a little surprised Sanctuary is closing,” said Rick Snode, part of the ownership family at Tannenhauf in Lexington Township. “This last month has been crazy for us. Our slowest day has always been Wednesday.
“Last Wednesday, I was at Windmill Lakes for a tournament. When I came back to Tannehauf, cars were parked halfway up the grass. I said, what’s going on? It was just people coming to play.
“We used to only get half the carts out and didn’t have to worry about the other half. Those days are gone. We get every cart out almost every day, and sometimes the carts go out two times.
“Herb Page at Windmill asked me, have you ever seen it like this?”
Snode said plans are to keep Tannenhauf open as a golf course “as long as we have family that is interested.”
“Seven Hills kind of closed at the last minute,” Snode said. “I was a little surprised by Sanctuary. It’s sad to see courses close. I go by Tam O’Shanter and I can’t even look. If ever our course was gone and grown over, it would be hard to drive by.”
Phil Barr knows the feeling.
“It’s sad, the number of golf holes we’ve lost the last 10 years in Stark County,” said Barr, owner of the Meadowlake course three miles northeast of downtown Canton and four miles southeast of Sanctuary. “It has increased our business, of course. It has increased everybody’s business.
“Golf traffic has increased, and it’s going to increase more now that Sanctuary is closing.”
As Meadowlake celebrates its 60th anniversary, Barr concludes golf is sustainable.
“We are a shorter course, so you can get nine or 18 done rather quickly,” he said. “Our location is good. I plan on turning it over to my kids at some point in time. I’m not going anywhere. I intend to stay here as long as the good Lord will let me.”
Was the Sanctuary news a surprise to North Canton?
“Yes it was,” Mayor Stephan Wilder said. “I wasn’t aware of anything coming down the pike.
“It’s probably one of those things where the owners had to make a business decision that unfortunately involved the golf course. It might increase golf at Arrowhead.
“We’re very fortunate now that Arrowhead Golf and Events Center is doing well. I stop there off and on to see how golfers like the course. We’ve had good reviews. We have people coming from other counties and use Arrowhead as part of their circuit.”
Wilder said adding pickleball courts to the complex has been “a big hit.”
“It could be a sign of the times,” he said.
In 2019, North Canton gave Steve DiPietro’s group a five-year contract to manage Arrowhead. The contract expires on Oct. 1, 2024.
“We’re in preliminary discussions with the DiPIetros, looking at extending the contract another five years,” DeOrio said. “Business is going fairly well. The golf has steadily picked up.
“Courses closing invariably leads other people our way. We have a lot more leagues than we used to have. That’s the kind of business we want, steady and predictable.”
Long-term planning includes the possibility Arrowhead could someday be residences. DeOrio said 70 of the golf course’s 100 acres are deemed suitable for housing.
Sanctuary is sandwiched by two municipally owned golf courses, Arrowhead and the City of Green’s Raintree. Indigo Golf Partners manages Raintree for Green. A recent contract extension binds them through 2026.
Green Mayor Gerard Neugebauer said Raintree is so busy with golfers that Sanctuary’s closing won’t have much impact.
“I didn’t think what happened at Sanctuary was imminent,” Neugebauer said. “At the same time, it doesn’t surprise me, given the attractiveness of land in this area for other purposes. It’s part of the ongoing trend with golf.
“We had 39,000 rounds played at Raintree last year. This year it’s just as strong. As long as we have a nice sunny day, we’re going to fill that course.
“We’ve had more rain this year. If there’s a weakness, it would be weather-related, not demand-related, because demand is very strong.”
Bryan Sweitzer, whose family owns Spring Valley in Pike Township, said the stream of closings has done less for demand than he hoped it would.
“People seem to think we’re out of the way, and we’re not,” Sweitzer said. “I live in North Canton, close to Arrowhead. It takes me 13 minutes to get down here from my house.
“People find out about us and play, and then they come back. But for the number of courses that have closed, the number of people discovering us is slow.
“Maybe that will change. I tell people, give us a look.”
Presumably, with Sanctuary closing, more people will be looking.
Reach Steve at email@example.com On Twitter: @sdoerschukREP