Co-owner of The sanctuary Golf Club responds to outcry over impending closure of Plain Township golf course.
“We understand the concern and being upset,” Bill Lemmon said. “If I were a golfer, I’d probably be very upset too.”
It’s been a month since Lemmon and Sanctuary co-owner Bob DeHoff informed a small circle, including North Canton and Plain Township officials, that the golf course will close permanently. Lemmon and DeHoff soon issued a statement saying the last day will be October 15.
Shock waves among golfers included calls for reconsideration.
The closing date of October 15 holds.
An auction of Sanctuary’s golf supplies and equipment has been contracted with the Kiko agency at the end of November. Lemmon said that will include lawn mowers, clubhouse supplies, patio furniture and more, but not golf carts, which are leased.
In an Aug. 1 statement explaining the closing, Lemmon said, “The economics of running a golf course have changed dramatically over the past several years. While we did our best to make it work, it wasn’t longer sustainable.”
In an interview Wednesday, Lemmon stood by the statement, adding, “We’ve been losing money for 21 years.”
In general, golf course operators say a national economic downturn in 2008 led to tough years. Family-owned courses in Stark County began to wonder if the end was near.
The game increased greatly in 2020 as people sought out activities amid COVID-19 shutdowns. Checks with area rates suggest that business has remained robust into the summer of 2023.
A midday drive past the Sanctuary last Sunday revealed a parking lot crammed beyond capacity, with several golfers visible on holes within sight of Applegrove Street.
“It’s been a pretty decent year,” Lemmon said.
He said courses like his, which pay an entire management/worker group, are different from family-owned operations.
“If you have a family and can get some people to help you, you’re going to make money,” Lemmon said. “But if you hire everyone … people don’t come cheap. It affects the bottom line.”
Meanwhile, this isn’t the first time Lemmon and DeHoff converted a golf course into something else.
In 2002, First Christian Church funded a project to purchase the 105-acre Edgewood Golf Course on North Market Avenue. Lemmon and DeHoff were the sellers.
First Christian moved from its home on the eastern edge of Malone University to the Edgewood property, building on top of the original nine holes and keeping nine holes open for a while. First Christian could not follow with installments on mortgage loans and reorganized his situation.
“The church is doing very well now,” Lemmon said.
The area around the church is mostly residential now.
About the time the First Christian project began, the Bob-O-Link golf course, two miles away, was closed by the new owners, Lemmon and DeHoff.
Bob-O-Link’s original 18 holes on the south side of Applegrove closed and are now covered with houses.
Bob-O-Link’s newer nine, on the north side of Applegrove, was reworked while nine new holes were built. Lemmon came up with the name “Sanctuary” for the cobblestone 18-hole course that opened in 2004.
Annexation from Plain Township to North Canton factored into the house built on Bob-O-Link’s original 18 holes. That could come into play at Sanctuary, which is located in Plain Township on the North Canton city limits.
Lemmon won’t quite confirm a widespread belief that Sanctuary will become residential. He implies that it will.
“We have a lot of different things to look at,” Lemmon said, “but look and see what’s around it.”
It is surrounded by homes, some of which have been there for a while. The parents of North Canton icon Dick Snyder lived in the neighborhood decades ago when Dick played for Cleveland Cavaliers.
Lemmon and DeHoff consider the front nine at Sanctuary to be “developable”.
“A lot of the back nine can’t be developed because of the high water table, wetlands and flooding issues,” Lemmon said. “We have had initial discussions about what the open space could be.
“We haven’t gotten to the point of putting anything out on the developable portion. The east course on the back nine will be open space forever. It can be used much more than it would as a golf course. Walking trails are already there.”
He talked about golf cart paths.
Golf course insider Steve DiPietro, who sold Skyland Pines, owns Prestwick in Green and manages Arrowhead in North Canton, was asked if he thinks Sanctuary will become residential.
“I could imagine,” he said. “Bob DeHoff and Bill Lemmon are pretty successful developers. The best use is not necessarily a golf course. There’s a housing crisis. A lot of these golf courses are in municipal areas where they need housing.”
In an interview a few months before Sanctuary announced it would close, North Canton City Administrator Patrick DeOrio touched on the housing issue.
“There is so much demand from people who want to live in North Canton,” he said. “We don’t have enough housing to meet the demand.”
DeOrio said city planners have talked about housing problems likely to emerge in the next 50 years.
DeHoff announced the sanctuary’s closure during a interview in April.
“The golf course business is a tough business … and I’m a golfer,” he said. “We are real estate developers. We don’t have any specific plans with the golf course, but as someone said, developers don’t own golf courses, they own land.”
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This article originally appeared on The Repository: Reaction to The Sanctuary golf course closing in North Canton