So, do you want to buy (or sell) a golf course? In a golf auction

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The Patriots Glen Golf Course in Elkton, Md., Went on sale last week.

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ELKTON, Maryland – The Plain-Jane golf course here, Patriots Glen, in a dense residential complex surrounded by forest, was up for auction. In early Friday afternoon, the auctioneer, like a referee before a title fight, explained the ground rules. The course owner, a pro golfer but not a club pro, was in an office at the back of the Patriots Glen pro shop. He had signed the reserve price: $ 500,000. That is, the minimum acceptable offer. If he didn’t reach that, the owner didn’t sell. A par-72, 6,700 yards all stretched, on 215 acres? It hadn’t been a cash cow, but it didn’t sell for less than half a million.

Auctioneer Sherman Hostetter explained the terms of the auction to the Small Gathering. Bidders would bid on the course, which included its driving range and maintenance buildings. The land could not be developed. The clubhouse was not part of the deal, but the bar and restaurant lease was. The liquor license was another matter – the new owner would have to get one from Cecil County. The seller, Hugo Mazzalupi, did not own the clubhouse furniture, except for the bar stools, and he included them in the sale. Yes, the bar stools. Mazzalupi knows the game culture. He has played it all his life.

Sherman Hostetter followed his father into the auction business.

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Elkton is the seat of Cecil County, and the County Courthouse, on Main Street, is about two miles from the course. Downtown Elkton is like a thousand other small town downtowns in the United States, struggling to hold up. There is no shortage of cafes, there is a great hardware store, as well as a men’s store on Main Street with a sporty collection of Stacy Adams shoes. Drive 15 miles out of town and you are in rural Maryland. I-95 – the main drag in the Northeast Corridor – is a 10 minute drive away. Patriots Glen is in the middle of nowhere and practically within earshot of millions of people. You can argue, if that’s what you’re trying to do, that owning Patriots Glen is a no-brainer, if you’re going to buy a golf course. You know how it is, when you want something.

As the auction began, the assembled half-dozen men stood at the back of a banquet hall, like worshipers seeking the safety of the back benches. They wore baseball caps, windbreakers and long-sleeved T-shirts. They looked like farmer golfers or farmer golfers.

Also in the banquet hall was a tall, tall man with a crew cut named Larry Hirsh. Your gym teacher, circa 1975. He had sunglasses on his head, running shoes on and a loose gray sweatshirt around his chest. Hirsh is in the business of golf course valuation and sale. He manages the sale of Patriots Glen. It was Hirsh who brought in the auctioneer, Sherm Hostetter, with his impressive goatee and resounding, chesty voice.

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Hostetter, too, looks great. He grew up in the auction business under the direction of his auctioneer father and cut his teeth selling cattle and cars, as auctioneers in western Pennsylvania often do. He’ll tell you that he can’t get a person to buy something they don’t want, “but I can make them spend more than they expected.” It is a skill with wide application. It’s the eye contact, the momentary pause, the torrent of words and the way you draw the immortal sentence that begins with Go once. Each auctioneer closes the deal with this. The hammer falls.

No one confused the Patriots Glen auction with the Modern Impressionist sale at Sotheby’s, and no one confused the Patriots Glen course with the Pebble Beach Golf Links. When you’re trying to sell a high-end course, Hirsh told me, you’ll reach out to your contacts, take temperatures, work on the phone, press chair, offer private tours, and forensic accounting. In a career that spans decades, he can count on one hand the times he has sold a course at auction. But this time, he thought, it made sense. The interest would probably come from the proximity. Patriots Glen is a course that does not require corporate ownership. Its sale would not require the intervention of qualified bankers, in the plural. A mortgage, yes. But no bankers. Certainly not investment bankers.

Mazzalupi’s main point, for potential buyers, and Hirsh was doubling down, was that the course could be profitable to own and fun to operate, for an owner-operator who lived there in or near the Patriots Glen development. It could be a perfect operation for moms and dads, and if you were trying to raise kids in the game, even better.

Patriots Glen could be a perfect operation for moms and dads, and if you were trying to raise kids in the game, even better.

Mazzalupi readily recognized that he was not that kind of operator. He lives an hour’s drive from Patriots Glen, a suburb of Philadelphia. He owns a restaurant and a few other businesses. He travels. He plays in tournaments. He never relied on the Glen Patriots for a living. Patriots Glen, as they described to me, seemed in need of an owner who would treat their 215 acres like a family farm.

He was standing with Hirsh and Hostetter in the minutes leading up to the auction. They all seemed comfortable with each other. Hirsh and Mazzalupi are both members of the Philadelphia Cricket Club. (Also your pen pal.) Hostetter and Hirsh played golf together at Penn State in the mid-1970s. You know what golf is: everything is connected. Before the sale, Mazzalupi was showing photos of what the course looked like when he bought it eight years ago. It looked like a field, not a golf course. They all knew his story.

I haven’t played on the course but from what I have seen it is a nice, simple and unpretentious housing development course with wide fairways and slow sloping greens and shallow bunkers. There are dense woods lining both sides of most of the holes. Photographs of it are not likely to land in an annual golf calendar. It’s a place to play and have a beer when you’re done. The clubhouse internet password is ENJOY THE GOLF.

The door to the men’s room takes a step back. Alcoholic drinks outside, jeans and tank tops are all prohibited, according to a green and white sign near the clubhouse. You can play all the golf you want there, while walking, for around $ 200 a year, but most golfers are likely to use a cart. That kind of place. Do you want to come in?

Each auctioneer has their own song, the hypnotic beat that makes auctions sing, and Hostetter’s is a classic.

“Five hundred thousand five hundred thousand, who will give me seven hundred and fifty thousand?”

And, later: “Five. Six? Who will give me $ 600,000? Six hundred six hundred?

Each auctioneer has their own song, the hypnotic beat that makes auctions sing, and Hostetter’s is a classic.

More than once he glanced at a large empty screen with two young people sitting in front of it, watching the simultaneous online auctions, if there had been any.

The auction did not last long. Hostetter asked for a break. No one entered at the reserve price. The three men – the auctioneer, appraiser and owner – met in the office of the pro-shop. Hirsh met a young man who among those gathered showed the most interest, although he was hesitant. In the pro shop, several regulars expressed their surprise that the course did not sell, given the amount of game he had received, his reasonable fees (4 chili dogs, $ 56 in green fees) and the great improvement in his condition.

A silver-haired couple wandered around the pro’s shop, looking to play. A young woman working at the auction told them, “Do you want to buy a golf course? “

The man with the silver hair said: “Everyone is interested in buying a golf course.”

Interest is one thing. Want to is another. Larry Hirsh said he would go back to the drawing board.

Michael Bamberger welcomes your comments at [email protected].

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Michel bamberger

Golf.com contributor

Michael Bamberger writes for GOLF Magazine and GOLF.com. Before that he spent almost 23 years as senior editor for Illustrated sports. After college he worked as a journalist in a newspaper, first for the (that of Marthe) Vineyard Gazette, later for The Philadelphia Investigator. He wrote a variety of books on golf and other topics, the most recent of which is Tiger Woods’ second life. His magazine work has been featured in several editions of The best American sports writing. He holds a US patent on The club, a utility golf club. In 2016, he received the Donald Ross Award from the American Society of Golf Course Architects, the organization’s highest honor.


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