October 6, 2012 10:00:51 PM
Carmen K. Sisson - [email protected]
After months of turmoil, the Columbus Country Club was quietly sold Friday morning at the United States Bankruptcy Court in Aberdeen, fetching $1.6 million.
East Mississippi Community College, the sole bidder, will use the property to expand its course offerings and relocate programs, regaining much-needed space at its crowded Golden Triangle campus.
The Country Club has languished in a state of financial torpor since the economic downturn, which took a heavy toll on membership, testified Kirk Hardy, president of the club's board of directors.
Between October 2008 and April 2010, membership dropped by nearly a third, failing to recover when the country began to emerge from the recession. The club filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy on May 3, 2011.
Friday's sale will only satisfy debt to the first primary secured creditor, a five-bank consortium to which the Country Club owes $1.52 million.
The remaining primary secured creditors -- Cadence Bank and Columbus businessman David Shelton -- will not be repaid. The country club owed Cadence $212,762 and owed Shelton $375,438.50.
Shelton had attempted to purchase it for $1.3 million last October and again in April, intending to develop the back nine holes and lease the front nine holes and 20,000 square foot clubhouse to club shareholders.
Hardy said Shelton's offer was rejected because it was not in the best interest of either party.
Friday's ruling is subject to a 14-day waiting period before the sale is finalized.
Though the proceedings were swift, almost clinical in their formality, emotions were high on both sides of the courtroom.
'A good business
EMCC President Dr. Rick Young was brimming with ideas for his new 18-hole, full-service facility.
The college currently serves 5,000 students at two main campuses, Scooba and Mayhew, and four branch campuses.
But 4,000 of those students are at the Golden Triangle campus, and with enrollment increasing 212 percent between 1994 and 2000, the once-cozy campus has become overcrowded, stifling future progress.
Young said the country club was the perfect solution, because it saved the cost of building a new facility from the ground up, and valuable space will be regained when the culinary arts and hotel and restaurant management programs move to the country club in January. The two programs serve around 65 students.
It will also allow EMCC to begin offering a turf management program, as well as space for the existing golf team and a collegiate tennis program in the future.
"It's a good business decision that frees up some space," Young said. "This will relieve a little bit of the stress for the time being."
Though the name of the country club will change, many of its services will not, Young said. Instead, he believes the college will be able to offer even more to the community.
Civic organizations, like the Columbus Rotary and Exchange clubs, will still be able to hold meetings at the clubhouse, and the facilities will still be available for weddings and social functions, with one caveat -- though alcohol will be permitted, the college is prohibited by law from serving or selling it.
EMCC will also begin hosting leadership and corporate management training onsite.
Though Young is not yet sure how it will be implemented, he does intend to offer memberships and pay-per-play for area golfers.
The culinary arts and hotel and restaurant management students will provide food service.
The campus extension is expected to be self-supporting.
"Our plan is to get a lot going on," Young said.
But for some, the sale was bittersweet.
The club, which was founded in 1923, has been the center of many local residents' cherished memories, from summer afternoons on the green to weddings, dances and other special events.
"In light of the circumstances, this is a very good opportunity to keep the property intact and still offer most of the services we were offering," said Hardy, who has been a member since 1993 and board president for the past three years. But when he thinks back to the time he has spent there, he thinks of his children, swimming at the pool when they were younger.
Judge David Houston, who presided over the sale, said he was a caddie at the country club when he was 12, long before golf carts were a ubiquitous part of club life.
"The Columbus Country Club has had a long and rich tradition in this area," Houston said at the conclusion of the sale. "I'm personally pleased that EMCC is going to acquire this facility. What they intend to do with it is a very useful purpose. It will no longer be a country club, but perhaps it will serve a loftier purpose in the Columbus community."
Carmen K. Sisson is the former news editor at The Dispatch.