MIDDLEBURY — Say goodbye to the Sims Oak Hills Golf Course north of Middlebury.
The course, owned by the city of Elkhart, closed a year ago due to budget constraints, and on Saturday, Oct. 19 — exactly a year after it shut its doors — the 215-acre facility sold at auction for $1,335,000.
That’s more than double the minimum asking price, $650,000, and Arvis Dawson, assistant to Elkhart Mayor Dick Moore, said he was pleased with the results. The buyers, he noted, appeared to be locals, not outside speculators who might change the face of the area.
Still, five groups bought individual chunks of the parcel, each with distinct plans, meaning the golf course — which Elkhart started operating in the mid-1960s — becomes a thing of the past.
“It’s sad,” said Karin Frey, superintendent of the Elkhart City Parks and Recreation Department and a spectator at Saturday’s auction. The city acquired the course from Ernie Sims in 1965 for a token $1 payment, and the fact that the 18-hole facility will fade away is “the one thing I do regret.”
Well over 100 people showed up for the two-hour auction, packing the old clubhouse of the golf course.
Only one bidder Saturday had plans to maintain the facility as a golf course, according to Brian Thomas, a member of the Elkhart City Council and another spectator. That bidder didn’t submit a high enough offer, but Thomas took the demise of the golf course in stride in light of mixed city efforts over the years to operate the place.
“We’ve proven time and time again — we have no business operating anything but the city,” he said. He noted the distance of the golf course from Elkhart, 15 miles to the east at the S.R. 120-S.R. 13 crossing, and the tricky logistics of managing something so far away.
The top bid for the plot as a unified parcel reached $875,000, but the cumulative total for individual parcels carved out of that easily exceeded the figure, by $460,000. The auction proceeds, less costs of the auction, will go into the Elkhart general fund, according to Dawson.
Elkhart leaders decided last year close Sims Oak Hills Golf Course as they wrestled to craft the 2013 budget plan. A bidder in July offered around $250,000 for the golf course, but city officials rejected it, paving the way for Saturday’s auction.
$6,197.77 PER ACRE
The plans among the winning bidders — who still have to formally close their deals — vary:
John Laughlin of Middlebury offered the winning $315,000 bid for a 39.7-acre chunk on the east side of the golf course. He doesn’t have any immediate plans.
“Just an investment,” he said. There’s some potentially good timber on the golf course land, he said, but in his view it’s of limited agricultural value.
Vernon and Daniel Bontrager, brothers from the Shipshewana area, offered the winning bid, $475,000, on the biggest parcel, an 80-acre plot on the west side of the old golf course. Daniel Bontrager, a factory worker, said he may build a home there, while his brother may house some cattle on the land.
Regardless, they don’t plan to alter the rural feel of the land, and Vernon Bontrager, a woodworker, said he may plant more trees, adding to the heavy woods already present.
Nathan Yoder of Shipshewana and Steven Lehman of Middlebury jointly submitted the winning $380,000 bid on the central 72.9-acre plot where the golf course parking lot and clubhouse sit. They each talk of building a home on the property eventually, maybe letting cattle roam the land.
Jason and Jennifer Schreiber made the winning $75,000 bid for an 11.6-acre plot in the southeastern corner of the course. Jennifer Schreiber said she and her family plan to build a home on the land and raise horses.
The final parcel, an 11.2-acre section south of the Schreiber plot, went for a bid of $90,000. The winning bidder asked to remain anonymous.
All told, the 215 or so acres sold fetched, on average, nearly $6,200 per acre.
A separate auction of the tractors and other golf course equipment is set for Nov. 9 starting at 10 a.m., also at the old golf course grounds. Like Saturday’s auction, it will be handled by Bartel & Co. Auctioneers.