November 17, 2010
SUTTON - John Magill belonged to Pleasant Valley Country Club for 20 years before he built and opened Highfields Golf and Country Club in Grafton in 2002. Yesterday, Magill returned to PV and purchased the private golf course from Bank of New England for $5 million at a foreclosure auction.
Magill sat nearby when his son, John Jr., submitted the highest bid to auctioneer Justin Manning. Seven bidders registered for the auction, which was held in the clubhouse lounge while golfers could be seen through the window playing the first hole.
The younger Magill spoke on behalf of his father and admitted he was surprised their bid was the highest.
"I thought it was going to go over $6 million," he said. "My father says he was going to go to $8 million, but I was pretty sure we weren't going to let him do that. I think we were pretty much right at our limit."
Bank of New England, based in Salem, N.H., foreclosed on Pleasant Valley after owner Edward J. "Ted" Mingolla could not repay a loan of nearly $6 million. Magill was not among the eight or nine parties who offered Mingolla between $3.8 million and $4.5 million in recent months when he attempted to sell the club.
The Magill family also owns Magill Associates, a home building firm in Grafton. The father and son live in two of the homes they built adjacent to Highfields.
"I think the (PV) members will be relieved to hear that someone that's very financially secure is going to be taking over," Magill said.
Mingolla spoke of the importance of local ownership.
"I'm pleased the club will be in the hands of local owners and former members who can relate to our membership and the operation of the club, Mingolla said.
Mingolla has worked at PV since his father, Cosmo E. "Cuz" Mingolla, opened the club in 1961. Mingolla took over as owner and operator after his father's death in 1979.
Mingolla hopes to sell the 119 acres he owns surrounding PV to pay off the close to $1 million that he still owes Bank of New England after the auction.
"It's a very difficult day for all the members to see the club turn over and to see Mr. Mingolla and the Mingolla family not be able to make a go of it," said Jim Paulhus, president of Unibank and a PV member for 20 years.
Pleasant Valley CC became nationally known for hosting 33 PGA Tour events and 14 LPGA Tour events. Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Phil Mickelson and Kathy Whitworth played here, but PV hasn't hosted either tour since 1999.
Magill's wife, Rachel, said she recognized several faces among the PV members who attended the auction.
"They know us," she said. "I think they are very happy. I think they were scared. Some of them have been here longer than we were."
"I think there's a core group of members," Paulhus said, "who really want to stay as long as there isn't meaningful change, as long as the new ownership is intending on making the necessary improvements both to the course and to the facilities."
Highfields is open to the public, but Magill said his family is leaning toward keeping PV private.
"I think so," Magill said. "It's something to discuss, but at this time, yeah."
Membership totals have fallen off at PV and Magill said they must be high enough for PV to remain private.
"If the members aren't there for a private course," Magill said, "sometimes it's not sustainable. You need a certain amount of members to keep it a private club or it's going to wind up just like it is today."
The Magills built Highfields' clubhouse and plan to upgrade PV's.
"The clubhouse is dated," Magill said. "We're definitely going to do something with the clubhouse. How soon, we don't know. A lot of people say it's great inside, but it doesn't look so great on the outside."
Magill said the family has talked about razing the old clubhouse and building a new one.
"If that was something that was going to happen," he said, "I wouldn't say that would be any time soon."
Magill said his family would take at least two weeks of the 45 days they have to close the sale.
Magill said his family was considering allowing Highfields season pass holders and PV members to have reciprocal agreements, and that his family would like to keep some PV staff in place.
"As far as any definite plans," Magill said, "we don't have any just yet."
Rachel Magill said the family would honor deposits for wedding receptions and other functions already booked at PV.
The recession hurt the golfing industry hard. Earlier this year, JJ Manning Auctioneers auctioned Sterling National Golf Club for $4.2 million.
About 100 people, including many owners, general managers and golf pros of local courses, attended the auction. Among them was Don Hoenig, PV's architect and first club pro and current owner of Raceway Golf Course in Thompson, Conn.