BREWER, Maine — There was a concern by the members at Pine Hill Golf Club that when it was recently sold, the golf course would be shut down within a couple of years.
That may no longer be the case.
“We’re looking at a plan where maybe if we make minor modifications we can keep this [golf course] in operation and maintain the privacy my wife and I like,” said Jim Gero, who with his wife Cathy completed the purchase of the club and its additional acreage last month.
Gero’s original plan was to put up a home, turn the golf course into a wildlife sanctuary and enjoy providing a habitat for — and watching — the deer, foxes, birds and more that already inhabit or use the property and other animals that might take advantage of the space.
He was expecting to lease it for at least two years to the previous owners (Pam Foss, her sister Candice Morrill and brother Robert “J.R.” Little Jr.), maybe a little longer before completing the transition to a wildlife refuge.
However, the other users of the property, the golfers, also made quite an impression on the Rockwall, Texas, residents.
“My biggest surprise was how much the members like this golf course,” said Gero. “When you have one person tell you a story, that’s OK. When 20 to 30 people tell you stories — one member talked about meeting his wife out here — then you find a way to keep the course, and I think we have.”
Dick Reed of Beech Hill, who has been playing regularly at Pine Hill since 1972, likes the sound of that.
“It’ll be great if he does that,” said Reed. “I’m sure all the members will be happy they don’t have to look for another course.”
As have many of the regulars, Reed has met the new owner.
“I must have talked with him for an hour,” said Reed. “He seemed like a very nice gentleman.”
“He’s played with many of the members [already],” said Foss.
The new home, which will be a part-time residence, not their primary one, was originally expected to be built on some part of the golf course, but now the Geros are looking into building near the pond behind the fifth green.
Gero grew up in the area and still has a lot of family here, so he was familiar with the golf course, just not the extent of the entire package.
“I didn’t realize there was another 50 acres besides the golf course,” he said.
That gives him and his wife more options as to where to build. He said they’re not planning to sell off the non-golf land for home sites, either.
“It’s about the wildlife, always,” he said, quietly but firmly.
The reason he was so interested in Pine Hill, which opened in 1962, was its location, on the Mill Road in South Brewer, a short drive from South Main Street and bordering the Brewer Airport.
“It’s rare to find a piece of open property this large so close to everything,” said Gero, who had already looked into purchasing it once.
“I always liked this property,” he said. “When it became available four or five years ago, I asked if they would sell it as property.
“They said no, they wanted to sell it as a golf course.”
The Geros continued to look into other large pieces of land in the area, but nothing was working out. As the other opportunities fell through, Pine Hill became available again. And it didn’t have to remain a golf course.
The two parties started talking in October, and the sale was completed in May.
Gero wasn’t concerned about how long it took.
“There were survey issues,” he said. “But when you have a willing seller and a willing buyer, it’ll work out.”
Gero, 64, is himself a golfer. He started playing in the 1950s and continued into the ’60s before quitting for about 30 years.
“I started again about five years ago,” he said. “It’s wonderfully frustrating but a nice way to spend the day.”
Cathy Gero is taking up the game now, too, including taking lessons.
Gero has already started leaving his mark on the golf course, which was originally designed by Penobscot Valley Country Club pro Charlie Emery for Bob Little, the father of Pam, Candice and J.R. He had more than 100 trees put in late last week and Monday, white and Norway spruces and white pines. There will be more.
“Eventually, I’ll add some deciduous trees,” he said.
Cathy is pushing for water of some sort, which may turn out to be a pond between the sixth and eighth fairways.
“They’re good for storm control and fire control,” Gero pointed out, in addition to being good wildlife habitat.
Gero is ready to see how it all turns out.
“[Golf courses] are beautiful places to spend time,” he said.