Owner says unrelated to Shakespeare move
Chris Davis, the owner of The Garrison, said on Friday (April 2) that he plans to close its 18-hole golf course after the 2021 season because of significant financial losses but will ensure conservation easements prevent commercial development of the land.
Davis said the decision was independent of a plan by the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival to move its longtime home at Boscobel to 52 acres Davis donated at The Garrison site. The plan had been to reduce the course from 18 to nine holes to make room.
The other businesses operated by The Garrison — a wedding and catering venue, a small inn and The Valley Restaurant — will remain in operation, Davis said in a statement.
The golf course will begin its final season on Monday (April 5).
The statement cited “many years of significant losses from golf operations and the failure to achieve any significant synergy between golf and its core wedding, catering and restaurant businesses.”
“We’ve invested heavily in golf for two decades,” said Chip Allemann, general manager of The Garrison, in the statement. “Like so many commercial golf courses around the country, we simply failed to become economically sustainable in light of declining play and the increased number of courses” in the region.
Allemann said the decision to close the course had been postponed by the COVID-19 shutdown when golf became one of relatively few recreational activities allowed by New York State. “However, with the end of the pandemic in sight and faced with a number of deferred maintenance items, we have decided to focus our resources on our core hospitality businesses which employ more people and, we believe, have a brighter future,” he said.
The course will close regardless of whether the Town of Philipstown approves the Shakespeare festival move to the property, Allemann said. The plan to downsize to nine holes was dropped because it would require a redesign and other costs that “would not be justified,” he said. Davis also runs the Highlands Country Club on Route 9D in Garrison, which has a nine-hole course that he said will remain open. The land there is owned by the Open Space Institute.
[This week, the Highlands Country Club said that it would open for tennis and golf by the end of April and that it had applied for a permit to open the pool on weekends for up to 25 people at a time, although there is a shortage of lifeguards. It also said that, beginning in 2022, the club will be run by a committee of longtime members, with 2021 being “a transitional year” that includes “a wind-down of management and final weddings by The Garrison team.”]
After a building boom that ended with the housing crash of 2007, the number of golf courses in the U.S. has been on a steady decline, according to the National Golf Foundation, with more than 800 closing in the past decade. Davis cited that figure in the statement, attributing it to “drastic declines in the number of golfers, particularly among millennials.”
In addition, Davis said, he has grown concerned with the ecological impacts of maintaining the course. “Each year we use over 1 million gallons of water for irrigation and apply fertilizers and pesticides,” he said. “One way or another I’m determined to see all that land returned to a more natural, ecologically healthy state.”
Davis noted that when golf courses fail, development often follows.
“I completely understand the questions we’ve gotten from the community about our long-term plans for the lands surrounding our core hospitality operations and the future Shakespeare site,” he said in the statement. “These concerns, together with the decision to close the course, have caused us to accelerate our thinking.”
He said the land “will be permanently protected, through a combination of conservation easements, land donations, and/or deed restrictions.”
Davis “bought this land to save it and to prevent it from the type of development that the town didn’t want then or now,” Allemann said in the statement. “With today’s decisions, he’s realized his vision, and done so in a way that will allow our core wedding, beverage and hospitality businesses, boosted by our co-location with Hudson Valley Shakespeare, to prosper.”
The Garrison property is 299.3 acres. After the course closes, Davis said he would offer easements and/or ownership of about 155 acres to a land trust that will develop a conservation plan with community input.
The remaining 145 acres will include his hospitality businesses, the acreage given to HVSF and a parcel for a single-family home, all of which he said will be protected through deed restrictions and/or conservation easements. With the course closing, HVSF will receive more acreage than planned to provide more flexibility for its site design in response to the town’s ongoing review, Davis said.
“We’re not planning anything additional” with the new acreage, said Davis McCallum, HVSF’s artistic director, on Wednesday (April 7). “We’re only considering the possibility of relocating some things to make the project even more minimal in terms of its impact on traffic and noise.”
When HVSF announced Davis’ gift in August, it said he planned to divide the 155 acres into four parcels: 52 acres for HVSF; 95 acres for a nine-hole course; 28 acres for Davis’ residence; and 27 acres along Route 9 that might eventually also be given to HVSF.
HVSF said it also would be given the catering business, inn and restaurant to run as for-profit ventures, with profits returning to the festival. That plan remains in place, Allemann said, pending approval of the HVSF project by the town.
“Our restaurant, bar, terrace dining, picnic and inn operations all will benefit” from HVSF audiences, Allemann said in the statement, “and we are already planning hospitality services that will delight the Shakespeare audiences while maintaining the highest standards of service to our wedding and other guests.”
Davis is a member of the board of the Hudson Highlands Land Trust, which he chaired for more than 15 years, and the chair of the group planning the Hudson Highlands Fjord Trail between Cold Spring and Beacon. He also is a vice chair of the American Museum of Natural History, a former director of Scenic Hudson and a financial supporter of HVSF.
“Chris Davis has, I think, for several decades been looking for a community-minded, sustainable, adaptable reuse” for The Garrison property, McCallum said in August. “I think he saw in the Shakespeare Festival a local organization that could be the next steward of the land.”