City officials tour Watertown golf club

Oct. 24—WATERTOWN — City officials toured the Watertown Golf Club on Friday to get a handle on its amenities and determine how the golf course would make Thompson Park better.

The tour was prompted by the city's pending purchase of nine holes of the golf club from owner Michael E. Lundy.

City Manager Kenneth A. Mix, City Attorney Robert J. Slye and parks superintendent Scott D. Weller met with Mr. Lundy and his attorney, Michael Young, to talk about what exactly the city will be getting from what would be a purchase of the club's assets.

Last Monday night, council members Lisa A. Ruggiero, Cliff G. Olney III and Patrick J. Hickey informally agreed to purchase the golf club for $3.4 million.

As for the deal with the city, the club owns holes one through six and 16 to 18 of the course, while the city owns the others, with the club leasing the land on which the remaining holes sit.

The deal has come up in conversation that it's a good idea to take control of Mr. Lundy's property to protect it from development, but Mr. Mix hasn't had any direct discussions about the controversial price to obtain it, he said.

Mr. Mix said the city will need to get the club ready next spring for when it reopens next May for the golf season.

The city's Parks and Recreation Department will run the club as a municipal golf course.

"We've got about five months before we're up and running," Mr. Mix said.

The city is already putting together an operating budget for the club and determining how many city staff will be needed to run it, Mr. Mix said.

He thinks it will take maybe a month for Mr. Slye and Mr. Young to work up a contract. Mr. Young will have to put together a list of all the club's equipment, including golf carts, lawn mowers and other items, before the contract can be approved by City Council, Mr. Slye said.

The possibility of acquiring the golf club is coming up at the same time the city is putting together a Thompson Park master plan, so the city will look how that will impact its future, Mr. Mix said.

Mr. Lundy offered to sell the club for $3.75 million and complete some improvements, such as demolishing the club house. But Mr. Mix said it was better for the city to keep the clubhouse.

Mr. Lundy has just been using the clubhouse for its kitchen and restrooms and not a dining facility. He put up an outdoor party tent for dining.

But Mr. Mix envisions using the clubhouse to springboard more outdoor winter activities, like snowshoeing and cross-country skiing until another structure could be built.

He also sees the ability of adding hiking trails that are on the golf club's nine holes that wouldn't interfere with golfers.

Mr. Weller has indicated that his department is capable of running it. His building and ground crews would be helping to maintain the facility, although they would need to learn how to take care of the greens, Mr. Mix said.

Mr. Lundy has agreed that his sister, Colleen Lundy, will assist the city with the takeover of the club and help with organizing golf tournaments.

The city would operate the golf club as Watertown's only 18-hole course.

Critics were surprised that the deal was happening so quickly to acquire the nine holes of the golf club that Mr. Lundy owns.

But Councilwoman Ruggiero expected to go into executive session to discuss the deal further last Monday night. She blamed Mayor Jeffrey M. Smith for forcing the informal vote that night.

The mayor said Sunday that there was no reason to do that since the purchase price was made public earlier in the day, making it illegal to go into executive session that night.

She also criticized the mayor for bashing the deal on Jeffrey E. Graham's Hotline radio show on Thursday, accusing the three council members of not doing enough research on its impact.

In defending the deal, now that the three council members have come out in favor of it, city staff can start working on it, she said. Staff was unable to do that without getting direction from a majority council. Now they can complete that due diligence that the mayor said was lacking, she added.

However, it was that kind of information that needed to have been done before agreeing on a price, the mayor said, stressing that it's like "backing into the deal."

The mayor thinks that north country golf courses cannot make money and city residents will end up subsidizing it. He called it a bailout for Mr. Lundy and P.J. Simao, who owns Ives Hill Country Club on Flower Avenue East.

Mr. Lundy has provided city officials with financial information showing the club made $78,000 last year, she said. In response, Mayor Smith said the three council members should have had access to Mr. Lundy's tax returns to know the golf course's real finances.

Councilman Ruggiero believes it was also interesting to find out that operators of Partridge Run Golf Course in Canton had a successful 2022 season, in which gross revenues at $370,176 were up 6% while green fee revenues at $161,765 were up 24% over 2021 but food revenues decreased.

It proves golf courses in the north country can be profitable, she said.

Mayor Smith he doesn't have enough information about the finances of the Canton golf course to know if it made money.

While Mr. Lundy has discussed developing the land in the past, Councilwoman Ruggiero said she heard he was in talks to sell the property to Mr. Simao, who planned to build single-family homes on the property.

The zoning change would kill that deal, so Mr. Lundy asked for a meeting with city officials under the guise that he wanted to talk about a way to end litigation involving the golf club, she said. For years, the golf club has been source of legal action by both Mr. Lundy and Mr. Simao.

The deal would end any litigation against the city by either Mr. Lundy or Mr. Simao, she said.

Under the proposed deal, Mr. Simao would operate Ives Hill as a nine-hole golf course and reopen his clubhouse restaurant. Mr. Simao would receive an unspecified amount of money from Mr. Lundy for turning his 18-hole golf course into nine holes.

It also would open up the other nine holes for possible development, although Mr. Simao has said he hasn't made up his mind what he plans to do with the back nine at Ives Hill.