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October 2019

Neighborhood Visionary Rescues, Resurrects Skybrook

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By Steve Eubanks

It’s the same old story, one that in hindsight seems so easy to spot. What were developers thinking? Why build so many championship-caliber golf courses, especially with debt service that could never be maintained? Now, they languish, sagging and grim like sad and disheveled faces on once tall and proud men.

When Skybrook Golf Club originally was built in Huntersville, North Carolina, a suburb of Charlotte, the plan was one repeated many times: Use a beautiful golf property to sell 1,153 homes. Once the real estate sold out and the riches of the development were extracted, the golf…well, that would be someone else’s problem.

As time passed, Skybrook Golf Club’s prospects grew bleaker. Despite the best efforts of a management team that did more with less than anyone expected, the course was still a sad shell of its once stately self and the clubhouse showed more than a little age.
 
Then came the inevitable: The owner attempted to sell the course and made it known that if there were no buyers, he would divide the land into eight parcels and sell it for future development.

This is a scenario facing operators throughout the country. Residential developers are, with few exceptions, not golf managers. Their expertise is largely limited to golf’s value in driving lot prices. Once the last lot sells, most developers can’t wait to dump the course, even if that means selling the land for some other use. But in the case of Skybrook, one local resident refused to let his community golf club go away.

Craig Sandhaus, who was president of the homeowners association, said, “When I saw that packet, I knew I couldn’t let this happen to our community. Developing some of the golf course property and letting the rest go brown would be disastrous. So, I reached out to my ‘Dream Team’ and asked them if they could help.”

He reached a couple of developers, D.R. Bryan and John Coley of Bryan Properties, as well as a couple of golf experts, Kim Worley and David Taylor, who have decades of experience in the industry. With that team in place, Sandhaus formed Skybrook LLC. After months of negotiations, a sale price was agreed upon and Sandhaus’s group bought the golf course.

But that wasn’t the hard part. What makes the Skybrook story unique and an inspiration for clubs in similar distress was what happened next. After a decade of deferred capital improvements, the course needed more than a little TLC. In order to boost interest and get a membership drive going, Sandhaus needed capital. And he needed buy-in from the residents.

He brought a proposal to the homeowner board for an assessment that would total $150,000 annually for 10 years. It was only $130 a year, less than the cost of residential trash pickup in Charlotte, but approval would require a vote of 75 percent of the 1,153 homeowners. Unfortunately, the covenants stated that 865 votes was a hard target. Anyone who abstained from voting was counted as a “No.”

Sandhaus put together a get-out-the-vote effort unlike any other. He assigned neighborhood monitors to go door-to-door in different sectors and talk residents through the proposal. Those monitors explained to residents who did not care about golf why keeping Skybrook was important.

Incredibly, in one month, Sandhaus collected 923 “Yes” votes, 80 percent of the total residents.

Susan Rouanzion, a property manager in the area who helps with the Skybrook HOA said, “I have never seen anything like what just happened at Skybrook. This entire community literally came together overnight to support the golf course.”

With funding in place, the team began replanting the greens and revamping the clubhouse. The newly renovated Skybrook Golf Club opened on August 31 with a comeback story that should resonate throughout the industry. 

Sometimes it requires having your back against the wall. Often it requires selling a vision. But almost always, rescuing a golf course requires a leader who can pull a community together. At Skybrook, Craig Sandhaus, a guy in the neighborhood, turned out to be just that. 

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