ORRINGTON, Maine — Local businesswoman Erlene Morgan said she was driving past Rocky Knoll Country Club on Tuesday when she noticed the foreclosure auction sign for the 18-hole golf course. She decided to take a look.
“I turned around,” said Morgan, who goes by the nickname Stella. “Maybe I shouldn’t have.”
Two hours later, Morgan owned the country club, having submitted the only bid of $350,001, for the par-72 course located at 94 River Road.
Veteran golfers from the area lined the clubhouse during the auction, which started at 11 a.m. and concluded after 1 p.m., and congratulated Morgan after the bidding ended. Those who shook her hand asked if she played golf and what she planned to do with the course. They were clearly disappointed with her responses.
“I do not golf,” she said to one man. “It’s too hard on the body.”
“I don’t know,” was Morgan’s response to several questions about her plans for the 156.53-acre property. “I think I just stepped into it. I was just driving by and saw the auction sign.”
The grumbling was clearly audible.
“She don’t know. Great,” one man said after hearing her response.
Many of those who attended, including Allen Staples and Stephen Newcomb, both of Bucksport, showed up because they wanted to know if they were going to have a golf course to play on and if paid memberships would be honored.
“I just want to see if somebody is going to take care of it,” Jerry Goss, a Brewer City Council member and golfer, said before the auction.
The assessed value of the property and equipment is approximately $629,000. The auction sale included everything — real estate, personal property, food service equipment, mowing equipment, golf carts, tractor, grounds maintenance equipment, golf simulators and golf rental equipment.
The course was designed by Bob Phillips and consists of two adjoining land parcels with a revenue-producing cellphone tower lease on one. The back nine consists of 91.5 acres and was owned by the bank, while the front nine, consisting of more than 65 acres, is on leased land owned by the Henry Wiswell trust.
Representatives of the Wiswells were in attendance. The 20-year lease has 14 years remaining and two 5-year renewals, and the family may be interested in selling at some point, auctioneer Stef Keenan said at the beginning of the auction.
Morgan will be responsible for $6,091 in back taxes owed to the town, as part of the sale, the auctioneer said.
Morgan described herself as a “self-made businesswoman” but declined to say what type of business. She owns some apartment buildings in town and the region, Town Manager Paul White said of Morgan.
“She’s bought property in Orrington and resells it,” White said. “She’s into that quite a bit. I would not be surprised if she was looking to develop something, but I do not know.”
Dan Grover, one of the local people who owned the financially troubled golf course, said he was disappointed that he would no longer be a part of the club. Barbara Bagley was the major owner and Phillips, Louis Daigle and Grover were minor owners.
After the sale, Morgan handed out beers to those who stuck around, including Grover.
“She got a good deal — about half price,” Grover said. “I’m sad to see it go. With my health the way it is, it’s hard to be active keeping it going.”
He was referring to injuries suffered in a 2009 motorcycle accident.
Former operations manager Tom Bryant, who is married to Bagley and was an investor, gave Morgan and her partner, Hollie Arsenault, the keys.
By then, Morgan, who said she is a Maine native originally from Portland, had made a few tentative decisions.
“We hope to open the golf course,” she said.
The former manager suggested she act quickly to get things started, and then asked if Morgan would honor the 2016 memberships that were pre-sold last year.
“I have about 40 people who paid through the year,” Bryant told her.
“I will honor it, if we continue the course,” Morgan answered.