Select Board proposes buying Little Harbor Country Club for $2.3 million

Jan 12, 2022

The Select Board announced a partial plan on Tuesday night to purchase the Little Harbor Country Club for $2.3 million and hire a management company to continue to operate the golf course.

Board Chair Judith Whiteside opened the discussion by reading a written statement. She explained that the board had held a number of discussions of the club in executive session, and nominated Whiteside along with Town Administrator Derek Sullivan and Town Counsel Richard Bowen to lead negotiations with the property owners about buying the land and equipment.

She said that on Jan. 4, the owners gave officials a written offer that the board voted to accept.

That purchase needs to be approved at a Special Town Meeting, now scheduled for Feb. 22. 

“The deal is not done until Town Meeting approves it,” Whiteside said.

She said there were some elements of the plan that have not yet been finalized, including financing and finding a management property to operate the club.

Officials will bring the plan before the Community Preservation Committee on Jan. 13 to discuss funding the purchase, although Whiteside said that’s not the only option the town has as it could also borrow funds.

She added that the town will hold at least one informational meeting about the proposal.

Last year, Mass Audubon had tried to buy the club, but the deal fell through in part due to criticism from officials and strong support for maintaining the property as a golf course.

In April 2021, Mass Audubon and the Wareham Land Trust requested support from the town to apply for a grant that would support the restoration of the golf course to its natural state of salt marsh and forest. The planned restoration was designed to help make the coastline more resilient against climate change and rising sea levels.

The Select Board voted against partnering with the organizations in part due to concerns that the involvement of state funds would mean that the town could no longer restrict access to Little Harbor beach to Wareham residents only.

In July, the Mass Audubon Society approached the Community Preservation Committee to apply for funds to help with the project. Once again, the project was met with skepticism from officials in attendance — although the committee approved allowing the request to go forward for voter approval.

In August, however, those plans came to a halt as the organization withdrew from the deal. 

“When we began the purchase discussions, it was against a backdrop of research suggesting that golf as a sport was on the decline and had been for some time,” Mass Audubon said in a statement. “Mass Audubon prides itself in practicing conservation at the local level — implementing projects that yield a broad array of timely and well-received benefits to the host community. Due to the stronger-than-realized support for continued golf on this site — including by those in town government — our conservation vision came into question, and even became the target of unfounded public criticism from some quarters.”

Before the discussions with Mass Audubon, the owners of the Little Harbor Country Club tried unsuccessfully to find a buyer who wanted to maintain the operation of the club. 

According to the Wareham Assessor’s Database, the land is classified under the state’s Chapter 61B — meaning that it is restricted to recreational uses in exchange for tax benefits. If the usage of the land changes to something non-recreational, the owner would be responsible for some amount of back taxes.

Editor’s Note: A public relations document explaining the Select Board’s position on the issue is attached to this story. Click the link under the photo to view the document.