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The Private Willow Ridge Country Club Will Become a Public Course

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View from Willow Ridge clubhouse.
Photo courtesy of Willow Ridge

The Town of Harrison reaches an agreement to acquire the foundering country club and golf course in Westchester County.

The nasty battle between the members of Willow Ridge Country Club and the Town of Harrison has come to an end—of sorts—with the club accepting an offer from the town. The two reached an “advance payment agreement” in which the town pays $13.65 million for the club and takes over immediately, but the club members retain the right to challenge the price in court.

The members have three years to decide whether to press the matter. Should the court decide the property is worth more, the town will have to pony up the difference. Estimates of the value of the 121-acre property, which is zoned for one-acre single family homes, range as high as $52 million, although Elmwood Country Club’s 120 acres were sold to a developer in 2017 for $13 million.

The town is still working on details of how the club will be operated, although it is leaning toward a semi-private model where town residents will be allowed to join, giving them preferred access not only to the golf course but also to swimming and tennis, while daily fee play by both residents and non-residents will be allowed as well. Residents will have preferential rates—and probably tee times—for daily fee play. Greens fees will be roughly double those of nearby Saxon Woods and Maple Moor. Memberships are expected to be priced around $5,000 and will be offered initially only to residents of the Town of Harrison, which includes West Harrison and Purchase.

Also still in the planning stages are capital improvements to the golf course and other club facilities. Extensive work is needed on the irrigation system, drainage, cart paths, parking lot, and many amenities, with estimates starting at nearly $4 million. There is also a pace-of-play-killing crossover routing on holes six and seven that needs to be addressed if the golf course is going to support the 25,000-35,000 annual rounds it is projected to draw. Correcting that problem will require additional capital expenditures sooner rather than later.

Town officials have repeatedly said they have no intention of operating the club with town employees, but will instead turn it over to a golf management company. Troon Golf, which manages nearby Westchester Hills Country Club among its roster of several hundred courses around the country, is expected to bid on the management contract. Troon advised the town on the acquisition.

Over 1,000 Harrison residents signed an online petition in support of the acquisition, but taxpayers remain curious as to how the acquisition will affect their tax bills. The acquisition and capital improvements can be paid for by issuance of bonds, or from the town’s cash reserves, or some combination. While the repayment and interest on those bonds will apply to the town’s tax cap, the impact is not expected to require a vote to exceed the state-mandated limit. The consultants projected that the first year would result in an operating loss as well, though, which the town will need to cover. Going forward, the town hopes it will operate as successfully as Rye Golf Club, which had positive cash flow eight out of the last 10 years.