Sleepy Hollow club to be sold to city, but what's the price?
'Everyman's' place for golf closing; courts likely to settle amount
11:11 AM CST on Saturday, November 29, 2003
By MICHAEL E. YOUNG / The Dallas Morning News
For 47 years, the Sleepy Hollow Golf and Country Club snuggled in an elbow of the Trinity River, whose waters served as capricious threat in flood times and nurturing sustenance through the hot Texas summers.
But since the late '90s, the river's embrace has been a death hold, and now Sleepy Hollow's end has come.
The club will close Sunday, owner Remy Tabor said, and on Jan. 1, the city of Dallas will take possession of all 265 acres, two 18-hole golf courses, the clubhouse, pro shop, driving range and all the rest and use the property in its Trinity River plan.
The question of money, though, will take a lot longer to sort out.
"The issue of adequate compensation will be in the courts for a while," Mr. Tabor said. "There will be a trial. This thing is not settled. We're way too far apart."
Mr. Tabor declined to provide specifics, except to say, "They're way, way, way off in their amount, but it's pointless for me to argue that in the newspaper and for them to counter-argue it."
So the final selling price probably will be up to the courts, and Mr. Tabor, a lawyer by training, seems almost eager to see how the judge will sort all this out.
"Condemnation proceedings are dominated by appraisals, but this is a peculiar case," he said. "Normally you have a lot of 'comparables' to use. But this isn't a three-bedroom house in DeSoto, where there are a lot of other three-bedroom houses.
"In this case, there is no comparable, because as far as we know, there's never been a sale of a 36-hole golf operation like this."
Greg Ajemian, senior program manager for the Trinity River Corridor Project, agreed that determining a value for the country club was complicated.
"The city, for developing an appraisal, got an appraiser whose expertise is golf courses," Mr. Ajemian said. "So that's what gave us our baseline. It's based on all the income, the earnings, what the business is pulling in year in and year out."
Based on that appraisal, the city set fair market value at $2.7 million, Mr. Ajemian said, and total compensation at $3 million.
Mr. Tabor doesn't think things can be computed so simply. Sleepy Hollow is a different sort of golf course, he said, and has been since it debuted as a semiprivate club – but open to the public – along the city's southern edge in 1956.
"We're not a rich man's country club," Mr. Tabor said. "It's always been an everyman's golf course. The dues and fees are under everyone in town. We have a very diverse membership and always have since the day it opened.
"So the popular notion that a country club is a bunch of rich, white people isn't so."
Sleepy Hollow's membership includes former Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk – "He's been a member, to my recollection, since 1991," Mr. Tabor said – but also includes police officers, teachers, school principals and pastors.
Some of the city's upscale clubs charge many thousands of dollars in initiation fees. Sleepy Hollow's were never more than $500, Mr. Tabor said, and most members paid considerably less than that.
"With this plan hanging over our head for the last seven years, we've had no initiation fee," he said. "It's an awkward thing to be under that black cloud."
Monthly dues for a family membership, including unlimited golf, ran $125. And for retirees who didn't like the weekend crowds, a Monday-Friday package cost $80.
"But we've lost about half the members we had over the last three months, and the others are just sick about the sale," Mr. Tabor said. "We have members who have been coming here for years. We still have some of the original members" – old-timers like Nat Pinkston.
He joined in 1956 and has been playing the course twice a week for the last 30 years. Seeing the club shut down, he said, is like losing a member of the family.
"I'm unhappy about it," said Mr. Pinkston, 88, of Dallas. "It means I'm going to have to go somewhere else to play golf. I don't know where I'm going to go play."
Just as the club has been around for a long time, so too have plans for controlling flooding along the Trinity. And Mr. Tabor doesn't dispute that Sleepy Hollow stretches across one side of the Trinity's flood plain. The plain, he said, is perfect for golf courses.
"That's the highest and best use for flood plain property, because you can flood it and it doesn't really do any damage," he said.
When Mr. Tabor bought Sleepy Hollow 23 years ago, the city had a plan for flood control that mostly spared the golf course.
"All we would have lost was one green, and that's on a long hole and we could have changed that with no problem," he said.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' plan was even less painful.
"They planned to leave us alone and do everything they needed to do on the east side of the river," Mr. Tabor said. "That's all unimproved over there, one owner with 1,300 acres."
But the city drew a new plan, one that meant the end for Sleepy Hollow.
The reason, Mr. Tabor said, is "it's politically awkward for the city to cut a tree."
Dallas allows developers to remove trees, he said, as long as they're replaced with trees from a list of acceptable hardwoods.
"The corps' plan [for the east bank of the river] recognized that," Mr. Tabor said. "They planned to take out some trash trees, some hackberries and cottonwoods, save the hardwoods and trim them up, and do some dirt work on some old gravel pits.
"But the city decided it would be easier to buy the club and not deal with groups like the Sierra Club."
The city's flood control plans left Sleepy Hollow untouched until it was revised beginning in 1994, Mr. Ajemian said.
"That's when the Trinity River Corridor Citizens Committee was formed to come up with a local preferred approach to flood control, and the corps worked closely with them," he said.
The corps' proposed plan followed the western bank of the Trinity through much of Dallas to roughly Interstate 45, then shifted its series of swales to the eastern side, avoiding the golf course, Mr. Ajemian said.
But the citizens committee, with its large contingent of environmentalists, worried about the impact of the corps' work on the Great Trinity Forest. The committee preferred keeping flood control improvements on the western bank, including the Sleepy Hollow property.
A revitalized forest would provide various sorts of recreation possibilities, including hike-and-bike trails.
But Mr. Tabor said he doubted it would match Sleepy Hollow's use.
"We're playing 50,000 rounds of golf here a year," he said. "Will they be building something that gives that much recreation to that many people?"
Mr. Ajemian said he understands Mr. Tabor's frustration.
"My father was a greens superintendent for 40 years. I grew up on a golf course," he said. "But we do have attributes in the Trinity forest that we placed at a high priority. It has the highest ecological value you can pull. It's just a different kind of recreation."
In any large civic project, someone is bound to be disappointed, Mr. Ajemian said.
"You have a whole bunch of stakeholders involved, and one way or another you have some winners and some losers. But you try to formulate these plans as a whole.
"And in the end, we come out way ahead."