Holmes Harbor Golf Course back on the market

Seattle resident Matt Dawson sinks a putt at Holmes Harbor Golf Course on Monday. Behind him is the make-do pro shop that resulted from a dispute with the owner of the clubhouse. The course and the clubhouse are for sale

For the third time in less than five years, the Holmes Harbor Golf Course is for sale.

The fairways, the clubhouse, the waterfront property, the dock, all of it is up for grabs for anyone with a spare $2 million. At least that’s the sum of the two property owners independent listings: the Holmes Harbor Sewer District’s rock-bottom price for about 50 acres of fairways is $450,000, and Holmes Harbor, LLC, which owns just about everything else, is asking $1.6 million.

The two entities have been partners at odds since 2013 when the district bought the fairways from LLC owners Kevin Hanchett and Mike Hooper for $200,000. It’s been a challenging relationship, one that’s resulted in at least one lawsuit concerning property rights.

While a settlement has been reached concerning the latest squabble over parking at the clubhouse, both parties agree that selling the entire facility to a single owner would not only solve the problem of two owners continually butting heads over competing interests but also negate the need for the settlement and the associated legal fees to formalize it.

“It would just go away on its own,” Hanchett said.

Commissioner Stan Walker, president of the sewer district’s board, said he agrees but made it clear that the decisions were made independently. There was no consensus or discussion to sell to one owner, he said.

“I think it would be to the benefit of the golf course and all the parties involved,” he said, but that they can’t “collude with someone to make that happen.”

The district has other reasons to sell. Primarily, owning the fairways has been a tricky business as the district exists to provide sewer service, not operate commercial or money-making enterprises. Walker said they are the only sewer district in the state to own a golf course.

“We’ve always been dealing with new territory here,” he said.

That conflict of purpose is why the district decided to hire an independent contractor to run and operate the golf course, Walker said.

The board only agreed to buy the fairways because they are an essential part of the district’s wastewater system — they act as the drain fields for the community’s treated effluent. Whether they are used as a golf course or not, the fairways must be regularly maintained and cannot be developed.

Anyone who buys the district’s property, which consists of the fairways, irrigation system, retention ponds, infrastructure and related equipment, will be required by covenants and easements to maintain all of the above. That’s largely why the asking price is so low — about $9,000 per acre.

“It’s the deal of the century but it’s a deal with strings attached,” Walker said.

How the sale of private and public properties to a single owner will unfold is a bit unclear. On the private side, it will be as simple as any other property deal, but the publicly-owned fairways will go through a bidding process. The order in which an interested party would move on the individual listings and what guarantee they would have to secure both is unknown.

The district is accepting bids until Sept. 9.

Another unknown is who, if anyone, might be interested in buying the golf course. According to Walker, the commissioners have only been approached once and that was late last year. He said he has no idea whether the district will receive even a single bid.

But Hanchett claims to have had more bites and suspects a buyer will come forward.

“I’ve already been contacted by several who are really interested,” he said.

Doug Coutts, director of South Whidbey Parks and Recreation, wasn’t aware the properties were for sale until questioned by a reporter. Parks commissioners considered buying the fairways in the past but they were instead purchased by the sewer district. Whether such interest remains Coutts couldn’t say, but he plans to bring the issue before the board at its next regular meeting.

If a buyer doesn’t materialize, Hanchett said he will consider buying the fairways back from the sewer district. Other options include selling the waterfront portion of the property to a prospective homeowner, filling empty clubhouse space with a new restaurant or even leasing the pro shop space in the clubhouse to the golf course operator.

“Everything is on the table so we’re pretty flexible,” he said.

The restaurant space is currently occupied by the Roaming Radish but they are in the process of relocating to the Langley area, Hanchett said. As for the pro shop, it seems unlikely that the current golf course operator, Craig Moore, could be enticed to move back into the pro shop under the current owners.

“As long as Hanchett owns that building, I’ll never step foot in it again,” Moore said. “Offer me $10 million and I wouldn’t do it.”

Relations between Moore and the LLC soured when his lease was not renewed in 2014. Moore has since operated out of a small trailer next to the parking lot.

As long as it’s not Hanchett and Hooper, Moore said he believes the golf course and South Whidbey would both benefit from a single owner. He’s unsure what that will mean for his business, but he says it will likely be a better situation for everyone involved.

“I’m happy the sewer district is looking for somebody and wish I had the money to buy it myself,” Moore said.