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Milbank’s Golf Course Sold to Community Non-profit Group (2018-02-05)
Written by: – Holli Seehafer

Pine Hills Golf Course in rural Milbank is under new ownership with a non-profit corporation purchasing the property from Randy and Robin Patnoe. The course, which is located two and one-half miles north of Milbank has been renamed Whetstone Creek Golf Course by the group.
The newly created corporation, also named Whetstone Creek Golf Course, made the acquisition Friday, April 5, after several months of preparations.
A 501C4 community non-profit, the corporation is managed by a seven-person board including Tom Schuneman, president; Kevin Kouba, vice president; Mike Misterek, treasurer, and Jodi Hoffmann, Chris Batchelor, Nathan Bass and Eric Strobl. There are no individual owners or members of the corporation.
In late 2015, another group of local golf enthusiasts attempted to raise enough money to purchase the approximately 140-acre golf course by gathering enough investors to buy and operate the course, and over time, they would have earned back their investments. That attempt failed, but the Patnoes continued to offer the course for sale.
In August of 2018, another round of brainstorming for ways to purchase the golf course began again, but with one significant difference: this group would form a non-profit entity to purchase and run the golf course. “This was completely different,” Schuneman said. “There are zero investors. This is 100 percent community donations.”
The biggest donation came in the form of a $500,000 grant from the Leo P. Flynn Estate. The idea was presented to the two administrators to see if the estate would contribute toward the purchase of the 18-hole golf course. After a period of deliberation, the group was informed that the Flynn Estate would provide the requested amount on the condition that the group could raise an additional $250,000 to match the grant. “It was through the generosity of the Flynn Estate, coupled with the community support, that we were able to purchase the golf course,” Kouba said.
When presented with the challenge to raise $250,000, the corporation board members and supporters were grateful to have the opportunity to purchase what they refer to as a valued community asset. “It was important to continue the golf course at Milbank because golf is a great lifetime sport, and it’s a great family sport,” Schuneman said. He also noted that the Patnoes had owned the golf course since 1995 and had done a lot to maintain it over that time. They also made a number of improvements while they had it, including the addition of the back nine holes in 1997.
With the opportunity laid out by the Flynn Estate, the group set about fundraising. However, instead of the challenge amount of $250,000, they set their own goal of more than twice that: $508,500. While the agreed upon purchase price for the golf course was substantially below the total fundraising goal, the group’s board knew they would need an operating margin for a solid startup and that some costly improvements are necessary. Among them are irrigation upgrades, equipment upgrades, capital expense, and course improvements.
A pass-through fund was established within the Milbank Community Foundation (MCF) to hold the contributions when the fundraising efforts began. The MCF fund was needed as a conduit until the new non-profit was formed. “For all practical purposes, the foundation’s involvement is done now,” Schuneman said.
Remarkably, the group received contributions beyond the $250,000 challenge required by the Flynn Estate in about one month. “Quite frankly, raising that kind of money in that short amount of time was staggering,” Kouba said.
Schuneman agreed and added, “It is a testament to how great a community Milbank is, but we couldn’t have done it without the support of the Flynn Estate.” The community-raised donations came from a variety of donors, from individuals and families to businesses; some donors are from in town and some from out of the area. The fundraising process to achieve the higher goal will continue.
With the purchase of the property, the WCGC board is moving forward with short-term goals to get the golf course open, staffing in place, subcommittees and volunteers organized and the public out on the course to have some fun. “Our mission is golf,” Schuneman said. While the opening date of the course for this season is weather-dependent, it is also dependent upon getting the needed staff in place. The board will be hiring a clubhouse manager and staff as well as a course/grounds crew for the season.
Subcommittees will be established in three areas: tournaments and events, clubhouse and course/ grounds. A board member will serve on each subcommittee and will reach out to people in the community to help. “One of the things that'’s positive about this is that volunteer and community involvement in projects will be needed,” Schuneman said.
The board members have been busy planning ways to increase the number of people who use the golf course. “We want to get a lot of people out playing golf,” Kouba said. “Courses work and become better based on the amount of play, so we need the tee sheet to be full.”
“This is a beautifully laid out golf course. First and foremost, we want to get more people playing golf including kids – young kids, junior high and high school,” Schuneman said. He added that in the past, it had been the site for regional and state golf tournaments, and the group plans to work toward being able to host that type of events again.
Youth who participate in golf learn life skills, according to the two. “The game really teaches more than just how to swing a golf club,” Kouba said. “It instills things like courtesy and course etiquette, too.”
One of the things the board plans to do to improve playability is add more tee boxes and other avenues to make golfing at the course easier and friendlier for women, youth, beginners and seniors. “It encourages people to play and not get frustrated with the game and quit,” Kouba explained. However, he then added, those who want the challenging play will still be able to play from the current tee boxes.
The WCGC includes the course, driving range, cart storage sheds maintenance shed and clubhouse. The group’s short-term plan is to operate the clubhouse as it has been recently. It will have a full-service bar, concessions and limited inventory of basic golf supplies such as balls, tees and gloves. Cart rentals will be available either daily or for the season.
The public is welcome at the season tee off event Thursday, April 25, at 5 p.m. at the clubhouse. It will be the official opening of the clubhouse and information will be available about men’s, women’s and couples leagues, annual season passes and other available play options. The tee off event is also an excellent opportunity to talk with board members about booking the clubhouse for family, group or business events.
For more information, to offer suggestions or ask questions, email or look for Whetstone Creek Golf Course on Facebook. See the ad elsewhere in this issue for the listing of rates. ~Holli Seehafer

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