A co-owner of The Sanctuary Golf Club is responding to the uproar over the imminent closing of the Plain Township golf course.
“We understand the concern and being upset,” said Bill Lemmon. “If I were a golfer, I’d be very upset, too, probably.”
It has been a month since Lemmon and Sanctuary co-owner Bob DeHoff informed a small circle, including officials from North Canton and Plain Township, that the golf course will close permanently. Lemmon and DeHoff soon issued a statement saying the last day will be Oct. 15.
Shock waves among golfers included pleas to reconsider.
The Oct. 15 closing date holds.
An auction of the Sanctuary’s golf supplies and equipment is contracted with the Kiko agency for late November. Lemmon said it will include mowing machinery, 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 changed dramatically over these last several years. Although we tried our best to make it work, it was no longer sustainable.”
In a conversation on Wednesday, Lemmon stood by the statement and added, “We’ve lost money for 21 years.”
Across the board, area golf course operators say a national economic downturn in 2008 led to rough years. Family-owned courses in Stark County began asking themselves if the end was near.
Play went way up in 2020, when people sought activities amid COVID-19 shutdowns. Checks with area courses suggest business has stayed robust into the summer of 2023.
A noon drive past Sanctuary this past Sunday revealed a parking lot crammed past capacity, with numerous golfers visible on holes within eyeshot of Applegrove Street.
“It has been a pretty decent year,” Lemmon said.
He said courses such as his, which pay an entire management/worker group, are different than family-owned operations.
“If you have a family and can get some people who can help you, you are going to make money,” Lemmon said. “But if you hire everybody … people don’t come cheap. That 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 financed a project to buy 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 couldn’t keep up with mortgage payments and reorganized its situation.
“The church is doing very well now,” Lemmon said.
The acreage around the church is mostly housing now.
At about the time the First Christian project began, Bob-O-Link golf course, two miles away, was being 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 housing.
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 “Sanctuary” name for the cobbled-together 18-hole course that opened in 2004.
Annexation from Plain Township to North Canton factored into the housing built on Bob-O-Link’s original 18 holes. It could come into play at Sanctuary, which is in Plain Township on the North Canton city limits.
Lemmon won’t completely verify a widespread belief that the Sanctuary will become housing. He does hint that it will.
“We’ve got a lot of different things to look at,” Lemmon said, “but look and see what’s around it.”
It is surrounded by housing, some of which has been there a while. The parents of North Canton icon Dick Snyder lived in the neighborhood decades ago when Dick played for the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Lemmon and DeHoff consider the front nine at Sanctuary to be “developable.”
“Much of the back nine is not developable because of high water table, wetlands and flood plain issues,” Lemmon said. “We’ve had prelimimary discussions about what that open space might be.
“We haven’t gotten to the point of laying anything out on the part that can be developed. The eastern space on the back nine will be open space forever. It may get a lot more use than it would as a golf course. The walking paths are already there.”
He was talking 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 housing.
“I would imagine,” he said. “Bob DeHoff and Bill Lemmon are pretty successful developers. The best use isn’t necessarily a golf course. There’s a housing crunch. A lot of these golf courses are in municipal areas where they need housing.”
In an interview a few months before the Sanctuary announced it would close, North Canton City administrator Patrick DeOrio touched on the housing issue.
“There’s such a huge demand from people who want to live in North Canton,” he said. “We don’t have enough housing to accommodate the demand.”
DeOrio said city planners have talked over housing issues likely to emerge across the next 50 years.
DeHoff foreshadowed the Sanctuary closing during an interview in April.
“The golf course business is a tough business … and I’m a golfer,” he said. “We’re 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