It is a well-known fact the Ellis Country Club Golf Course has struggled financially for years, and the ECC had an outstanding debt with Ellis State Bank, later acquired by Equity Bank. However, I have never received a concrete answer as to how all this debt was actually accrued, and why it was allowed to blossom to such a monstrous amount. As a member of five years, I never saw any kind of financial or membership information about the status of the course. I didn't want a detailed ledger, just the number of members from year to year, and the starting and ending year balances of the ECC would have been great.
With far too many obligations to meet and after all avenues to pursue positive financial success were exhausted, the ECC board saw no clear end in sight, the interest on such a substantial loan coupled with the day-to-day operations of the clubhouse and course were simply too great to recover from, therefore in July 2010, the Ellis Country Club was surrendered to Equity Bank, the local president at the time was Michael Downing and the balance owed the bank on May 5, 2010, was $473,649.48. Even with this transition, the remainder of 2010 and 2011 were uneventful. The clubhouse and course remained open, the course was beautifully maintained by course superintendent Neil DeWerff and crew, the scheduled tournaments were played as usual, members continued to pay membership dues and trail fees were collected as usual from non-members. Life in the golf world seemingly went on ...
In mid-December, an email from an employee at Equity Bank went to some members stating the golf course was to close effective Jan. 1, however, a brief meeting was to take place to discuss some options and possible hope for the course. On Dec. 21, we all went to the meeting conducted by Dewerff, he informed the members present he had been contacted by "corporate" Equity Bank officials in Wichita, and they conveyed they were not interested in managing and running a clubhouse and golf course anymore. He indicated the loan was somewhere around $600,000 but with a "trust" of $400,000 left to the ECC, the balance was somewhere around $200,000 to 250,000. The most viable option presented was the membership could buy "group shares" and have a shareholder vote on the new board, the membership was asked to commit to an amount of $200,000 by Jan. 1 to present to the bank. Since that was only 10 days away, Neil said he would try to get an extension to Feb. 1. Many members were actually interested and in agreement with this option, and I was informed these funds were secured and an offer was presented to the bank and they declined. (This is the last known member meeting; I had taken minutes of the meeting and forwarded them to an Equity Bank employee, however these minutes were never sent to the members.) I also personally know of a group of investors who were interested, however, they were unable to get financial reports from Equity Bank and therefore declined to make an offer. In the last few months, it is said the Irwin Family Group had purchased the course and it would be open soon, however they also wanted additional local investors and again I was told these investors were secured. Last week, the investors were given their money back and told the Irwin Group had backed out.
Members who paid the entire year of dues in June 2011 have not been refunded from January to June; members whose dues were being automatically withdrawn have paid no dues since January 2012. Since the weather has warmed, members as well as non members have been golfing and just paying trail fees, the Ellis High School golf team has been practicing daily, the maintenance staff has been maintaining the course, which looks beautiful. My son golfed Wednesday morning, and Wednesday evening it is said there was a large 4-by-6 piece of plywood propped up against No. 1 tee box railing with the words "Course closed to everyone" spray-painted in red.
The Ellis High School golf team was to have a large tournament, starting at 9 a.m. on Thursday, with 12 teams playing an 18-hole tournament alternating between Ellis and WaKeeney golf courses. Plans had been made with other schools, buses, food and beverages were prepared, the courses had been maintained and prepared in both towns. However, after lunch on Wednesday, a representative from Equity Bank, under the new western Kansas bank President Timothy Waite, stated the course was officially closed and no tournament could be held. Seriously, Mr. Waite?
Equity Bank has been in receivership of the Ellis Country Club since July 2010, however one day prior to a huge tournament was the day Equity Bank (Mr. Waite) decides to shut down the course? I realize you inherited this albatross from your predecessor, but really it could not have waited three more weeks? We have a golf team here, sir, where do you propose they practice at? As a past Ellis USD 388 board member, I know the district pays money to the golf course every year for the students to practice on the course, I believe the whole high school golf season is included in that funding.
As an adult, I would not have been surprised to receive notice from Equity with a date stating we would have to remove our carts and the course would be shut down, however, the timing of this decision after 20 months is an absolute slap in the face to the community, the schools involved and the youth on the teams.
I am also curious to know why the members who paid their yearly golf dues in June 2011 have not been refunded from January to June 2012. The members whose dues were being withdrawn monthly have not paid dues since January, furthermore, where is this money, as well as the USD 388 dollars going to? In a recent email, a member inquired about the refunding of dues and was told if the course was not sold by June and if the member had not been golfing, the bank would consider refunding the money. Why should these members who paid in full have their dues held hostage by the bank pending a potential sale?
Also please do not offer me an explanation of it "was a corporate decision." I got news for you, that is an insult to my intelligence, I am tired of executives of any large corporation hiding behind the unknown, invisible, corporate ninja and unseen corporate walls, that house the lame excuse of "it was a corporate decision." Guess what? We can see you. You live here, among the customers, communities and future youth who support your local business. You are the face of your corporation in both good times and bad.
By the way Mr. Waite, I hear the Texas Rangers are playing in town, maybe you and your fellow executives in Wichita can go to a game and take a fly ball from a crying 4-year-old, but until you can get there, I guess you will have to settle for taking the golf clubs from the hands of high school student athletes.