High Mountain Golf Club in Franklin Lakes will close on Sunday, December 7, making way for housing in the Bergen County community.
High Mountain, a semi-private course which opened in 1966, is following a nationwide trend of course closures. Apple Ridge Country Club, a private club in Mahwah and Upper Saddle River, may soon be following High Mountain into the history books. That course, which also opened in 1966, was sold in June and it most likely will be turned into a housing project within several years.
High Mountain, which was sold to Pennsylvania-based Toll Brothers developers, had been owned by the McBride (30 acres) and Galenkamp families (100 acres). The plans call for the 131-acre property to be turned into 275 homes.
The breakdown of homes include 55 affordable-housing units to meet Mount Laurel ruling, 60 single-family homes on half-acre lots and a maximum of 160 town homes or carriage lots.
The project is expected to be approved shortly by the Franklin Lakes planning board.
Apple Ridge, which was owned by the Carlough family, is now being managed by KemperSports, which oversees and builds courses throughout the country. The applications for development include 34 single-family homes in Mahwah and 353 town homes in Upper Saddle River.
In 2013, the National Golf Foundation reported that 157 courses, most of them of the public-access variety, were closed and only 14 new courses were opened.
A Bergen Record report stated: “There are many explanations for the nationwide decline in golf participation in recent years: The recession reduced discretionary spending; corporate memberships have been trimmed significantly; post 9/11, families are spending more time together; and since Tiger Woods came on the scene, there hasn’t been another young American star to draw young people to the game.”
“People are working harder and making less and they don’t have the time,” said Pat Lawler, High Mountain’s head pro who has worked at the club for 45 years. “Being in my position, I don’t know anybody who has quit golf. They’re not playing as much as they were, and it comes down to their job, the economy and the cost of golf.
“When you see how beautiful it is, it’s hard to describe. It’s really the last piece of property in Franklin Lakes that is open acreage. It’s amazing that no one has come along to make it open space,” Lawlor said.
Despite the fact that memberships could be had at High Mountain for the reasonable price of $5,000 annually, it is the first Bergen County course to close in more than 25 years.
With the announcement of the impending closing of the course over the past several years, membership dropped from a high of 440 to 140 this past year, with most of them men above the age of 50. Former members have been wooed to join other local clubs such as North Jersey Country Club and Preakness Hills Country Club, both in Wayne, Ramsey Country Club, Ridgewood Country Club and Apple Ridge.
“Everybody went through a downturn the last five years or so, but we felt the ownership had time before that where they could have done a better job of maintaining High Mountain as a golf course for ever and ever,” said Dr. Al Kuchler, an NJSGA Tournament Committee chairman and a member of High Mountain for 30 years. He has also been the chairman of the golf committee at the club for six years.
“Under the circumstances, we felt they let it slip,” he said.
“I live in Wyckoff, an adjoining town, and I can’t see why they have to sell it for more housing. They should keep as a golf course, for people to enjoy,” said Dr. Anthony Pallotta, who was a 20-year member at High Mountain until two years ago.
“We really felt fortunate we were able to keep it going as long as we have. We think it was great for Franklin Lakes to have a golf course that was open to the community,” said David McBride, president of High Mountain and CEO of McBride Enterprises, a real estate group.
“The town did look into Greenacres, but there is no money available. It’s sad because my father, Nevins McBride, built the course with his three brothers. We ran it since 1967. We had a peak of 440 members around 2000, 2002. The course included 35 of our acres ad 100 of the Galenkamp, who originally had a dairy farm there.
“We put the two pieces together and had a lease for 40 years and extended it another 10. We said as long as it wasn’t losing money, we would keep it going. We made a big commitment 12 years ago. We built nice tees, bunkers, a double-lined sprinkler system and upgraded the course. Reality started setting in over the last 10 years when people started to realize the course wouldn’t be there forever. I’m paying the Galenkamps a lot lower than what the property is worth.
“We knew we couldn’t afford to get an extension with rent going up every year. A number of members are upset about the whole thing. I don’t blame them. We’re losing a jewel. It really was a wonderful place. It is what it is. Time moves on.”
High Mountain was also home to a number of long-time employees.
“The main thing I feel really bad about are the people who worked there. The general manager started there as a bus boy 25 years ago. I’ve known him that long and a lot of the staff. There’s been very little turnover. We’ve gotten to know them quite well. It was always nice to go back home to High Mountain. It’s all about the people. The staff would come first in my mind, the golfers second and playing golf the last thing. Unfortunately, those things are being eliminated. Those things are tough to grasp. With me being 62, I’m not going to get that type of enjoyment anywhere for the next 30 years,” Kuchler said.
McBride said a priority was placing the staffers in new jobs.
“The people working there at High Mountain made it special and that has a lot of people upset that we’re leaving,” said McBride said. “The general manager, greenkeeper, head pro, chief financial officer … they’ve all been there 20 years. Membership will miss them. We are working to get them all new jobs. It’s our highest priority. We’ve got two placed so far, and hoping to get the rest jobs.”