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Willowbrook will close without buyer

From hole six near the seventh tee, the Willowbrook Country Club clubhouse can be seen over greens, fairways, the creek and pond. The country club is for sale.

By DARRELL SMITH - dsmith@newsexaminer.com

Twelve years ago when the Connersville Country Club went up for sale, a local family bought it to keep it going.

Now, that family has put Willowbrook Country Club up for sale. If no one buys it, this will be the last year of operations. Yearly membership will be honored through the end of the year.

“This was a kind of hobby business for my mom (Sharon Mauger) but since she passed away, we have to concentrate on our main businesses and none of us have time for this anymore,” said Rob Fitzgerald.

The family has owned and operated Residential CRF for many years. That is not changing, he said.

“My sister Teresa Henderson and brother Chad Mauger and I have taken over the companies and we want to get back to concentrating on our main companies,” he explained.

The golf course came into being out of agriculture use in 1902. At that time, the course had nine holes. In the late 1950s, the course expanded by adding nine holes.

“This golf course has been here almost as long as vehicles,” he said. “You had all the wealthy people in town like Sammy (Regenstrief) who supported it. My mom has been that person for the last 12 years.”

The family purchased the course from the private group, the Connersville Country Club. Years ago it was a private club and they voted a person into membership. Fitzgerald said.

“When I was a kid, you had to put in your name and a committee looked at you,” he recalled. “Then it went to private but people could still come and then when we took over, it became public.”

As a boy, he wanted to play golf so his mother tried to join. The family could not be considered wealthy but eventually received membership, he said. He worked in the pro shop cleaning clubs as a boy. Many of his friends worked as caddies on the course, before golf carts.

The Fayette County Chamber of Commerce is one of several groups that utilizes the club for a golf tournament fundraisers.

“Certainly, the golf course is an important an important part of Fayette County and not just for the enjoyment of exercise and being outdoors on a beautiful golf course,” said Gertrud Whitaker, the chamber’s executive director. “A golf course is an important part of the quality of life in a community, as important as having quality schools and health care.”

She hoped a new buyer would continue the golf course. It is a hidden gem with all the hills, unlike many area courses.

Something must be done to save it, said Mayor Harold Gordon. An effort will be made to put together a group of buyers to save the course.

The golf club allows the golf teams from Connersville High School and the Middle Schoolto use the course at no expense to the school, Fitzgerald said. The teams have meets on the course and practice multiple times a week. During big meets, the course is closed to the public.

When the family bought the golf course, the large clubhouse still stood. The usage though could not match the expense, he lamented.

“We remodeled the clubhouse and spent a lot of money, but we had to tear it down,” he said.

The course has seen the addition of added tee boxes to make the course longer for the bigger hitters, he said. The greens have been expanded over the years. A building for members to store their carts has also been added.

“We’re steady as we’ve always been but with the economy in town, and the population has gone down,” Fitzgerald said. “This weekend Coach Kerry Brown has a tournament for basketball with I think 31 teams. We have the outings like this when it’s full but it’s your daily walk-ins and, like restaurants, you have your dead hours.

“Nobody ever closes down a money-making business.”

A major competition for golf courses like Willowbrook, especially with millennials, is the advent of companies like Topgolf where people can play inside, have a restaurant and bar nearby and watch television, he said.

A farmer has talked to him about putting it back into crops but he said that is not something he wants to do.

He did speak to a developer who wanted it for a future investment. He has looked to put houses in certain places with stunning views of the valley, creek and pond, Fitzgerald said.

“I don’t want to do that either, which is why I have approached some businessmen in town,” he said. “But, they may be in a position like us where they need to concentrate on their main business. We’re selling it, but it is not about making money.”