Expressions of disappointment by city officials over the closing of the Hudson Golf Club have drawn a scathing response from one of the owners of the golf course.
Last Friday, Jon Hanson of Hanson Bros. Golf Holdings sent an email to Hudson City Council members.
Hanson, who served as president and general manager of the Golf Club after his family purchased it in April 2010, opened his message by asking alderpersons how many of their constituents were members of the club in the past 15 years.
“If the number isn’t zero, it’s in the single digits,” Hanson answered for them. “Over 75 percent of the members of HGC over the last 15 years didn’t even live in the city of Hudson.”
He charged that the club has lost money since 1998, “when a prominent family from Hudson profited off the sale (of) the golf course I-94 frontage land.”
The course had been a club for community members, Hanson asserted, but after the land sale and construction of the clubhouse on Carmichael Road it became a place for “special people.”
“The problem is that there weren’t enough special people to support the club,” Hanson wrote. “The club lost money, and it went into debt with a local bank. The world had a financial crisis and the value of many things fell dramatically — including the Hudson Golf Club. In early 2010 the Hudson Golf Club was out of money.”
According to Hanson, when the club’s board of directors decided that spring to sell the course, they didn’t have enough money to lease carts for the coming season.
He said the reason his family was interested in buying the golf course was land, and maintains they were up front about it to the club shareholders.
“The Hudson Golf Club was located in the center of the city, and was the most valuable piece of real estate in St. Croix County,” Hanson wrote. “We took a risk that at some point in the future the economy would recover. That someday the land would become valuable to the city of Hudson, and it could be used as an asset to build upon for the community.”
But he also said his family planned to hold onto the Golf Club for a long time. They invested $2 million in upgrading the facilities, he said, in hopes of reversing two decades of financial losses at the course.
“We tried many ideas — just as so many people had before to make it a viable business. The reality is that with a dozen courses located and losing money within 15 minutes of the city of Hudson, golf is a deteriorating business,” Hanson wrote.
“The bottom line is today’s golfer will not pay the appropriate green fee in order to support the operation of HGC,” he added.
Hanson said it is time for the golf course to be used in another way to benefit the residents of Hudson.
“It seems that all government bodies today are dysfunctional, influenced by a vocal minority who view only their self-interests,” he said.
He recounted how his great-grandfather immigrated to Wisconsin in the 1860s and lived with a Hudson family before settling in Hammond.
Both his grandfather and father (Chris Hanson of Hanson Bros. Golf Holdings) operated successful businesses in St. Croix County over the past century, he said.
Chris Hanson was the founder of Douglas-Hanson Co. of Hammond, which the family sold to Loparex USA in June 2006.
The company made silicone-coated release paper used on the back of adhesive labels and other products. Jon Hanson was the president of Douglas-Hanson Co. at the time of the sale.
In the message to Hudson City Council members, Jon Hanson said his father has donated considerable money to the University of Wisconsin and other causes over the past decade.
“Yet my family has been attacked by a vocal few in Hudson,” he wrote.
“The city is so poisoned with hatred that they can’t even build a needed high school for the children of the district. The infrastructure of the city is in disrepair, and the division within the community is disgusting. The folks in Hudson need to do some soul searching, and solve the issues of the moment. Common sense, leadership, intelligence — are (t)here any of these still alive in Hudson?”
Hudson City Council President Rich Vanselow disputes some of Hanson’s assertions.
Vanselow was a member of the Hudson Golf Club board when it recommended the sale of the golf course to the Hansons. Vanselow didn’t get an email message from Jon Hanson, but Alderperson Mary Yacoub forwarded hers to him.
Vanselow said finding a buyer who would continue to operate the golf course was a priority for the Golf Club board.
“The board members questioned them a lot about what their intent was for the club,” he said. “…We didn’t want to sell it to somebody for land development. We wanted to have somebody who was truly interested in keeping it a golf course.”
Vanselow said he doesn’t recall any of the Hansons ever saying they wanted the course as a development investment.
“They represented the fact that they wanted to get into the recreational business, and they wanted to keep this course and pass it down to their grandchildren. That was the statement made to me,” Vanselow said.
He said the Golf Club was forced into selling the clubhouse and course because Associated Bank foreclosed on the club’s $2.6 million loan.
And the bank foreclosed, he said, because stricter banking regulations adopted in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis required it to carry more assets to cover what was considered a high-risk loan.
Vanselow said Jon Hanson and his brother, Doug, were always pleasant to him and his wife, but some club members didn’t have the same experience with them.
He said that when club members would suggest something, they were sometimes told that their money wasn’t needed and they could go elsewhere if they didn’t like things.
Vanselow said he overheard one such incident.
Many of the club members left when the Hansons decided to make the club a public course, he said.
“So it has turned into a really unfortunate situation, because I really believe the golf course is a good thing for the city,” Vanselow commented.
Alderperson Yacoub considered Hanson’s email insulting. She didn’t like his use of the term “special people,” and what she interpreted as his implication that there aren’t enough wealthy people in Hudson to support a golf course.
Yacoub said it is her understanding that the Hansons told the former Golf Club shareholders that they had every intention of keeping the course open, and making it the premier course in St. Croix County.
“I do feel they duped the planning commission, the council and the city as a whole,” Yacoub said.
She disputed Jon Hanson’s insinuation that the Golf Club can’t be made profitable.
“There are many golf courses in this area that are surviving,” she said. “I think it’s sad, really. I think it is a loss for the community.”
“I’m really passionate about this right now. It’s really frustrating for me,” Yacoub added.
Alderperson Randy Morrissette II said of Hanson’s email, “If he’s trying to make friends, he’s sure going about it the wrong way.”
Morrissette said that as a life-long Hudson resident he was “pretty disturbed” by some of the things Hanson said in the email.
But Morrissette indicated that he hasn’t closed the door to redevelopment of the golf course. There’s so much at stake, he said.