The Fianna Hills Country Club in Fort Smith has announced it will close at the end of the month.
In an email to club members, sent Tuesday (Dec. 18), management said, “it is with great sorrow and regret that I inform you that effective Dec. 31, 2018, that we will be closing Fianna Hills Country Club permanently. If you have events scheduled in 2019, you may call Amber to assist you in relocating them. All functions between now and then will still be honored.
“Thank you for some of the best memories of mine and my family’s life.”
This is not the first time the club has teetered on closing. The club’s future looked uncertain in early 2014. After months of speculation, club officials announced it would stay open in May 2014.
In a letter to club members at that time, the country club’s co-owner David Mille said efforts in 2013 to sell the club to businessman Lance Beaty’s Fort Smith-based FSM Redevelopment Partners was not the right move.
“Jim (Shields) and I thought we were doing the best thing for our families and the right thing for Fianna with introduction of the Lance Beaty group and a potential sale of the club,” he wrote. “We learned we were wrong. I want to sincerely apologize for the angst, uncertainty and confusion that occurred as a result.”
Beaty’s plan had called for building a $20 million structure on the former club’s footprint that would have included guest suites, a medical concierge service, as well as other amenities.
As the Beaty proposal snaked its way through its initial unveiling to club members, neighborhood residents and eventually to the Fort Smith Planning Commission, a petition began circulating through the neighborhood opposing aspects of the club to be included in a planned zoning district approved by the commission. Beaty eventually pulled out of the project before a zoning change was to go before a full vote of the Fort Smith Board of Directors.
In his letter to club members at that time, Mille said it was time “to stand up, shake off the dust, and move forward toward making Fianna the best club on the border and in the River Valley.”
Many club members were stunned by the announcement of the closing, but not all were surprised.
“It’s been a shock. We knew there was a big possibility last year, but we thought things were OK,” said Catherine Young, president of the Fianna Hills Women’s Golf Association. “We understand they are not running in the black, that it is losing money every month. Young people don’t golf anymore. They are taking their kids to all the things they have to do, there isn’t time for golf.”
But the club was a part of life for Young and her friends who meet at the club two or three times a week and played golf on the championship course three to four times a week.
The 18-hole course was designed by James Holmes and opened in 1973. In 2004, the course was renovated by Cater Morrish and Associates, providing new green complexes, bunkering and tee complexes, the club’s website states.
Young said some of the problem with keeping the course going stemmed from the cost of utilities.
“The city would not give us a break on water. We had to pay residential water rates. Hardscrabble (Country Club) has its own water source with the ponds. It’s expensive to run a golf course. We got no help from the city,” Young said. “They just didn’t have the money to take care of it like it should have been. There are hundreds of acres to be groomed. The manpower, chemicals, water, it’s all very expensive. They tried as hard as they could to keep it up.”
The ladies golf association, which had 38 members, disbanded Wednesday (Dec. 19), after deciding what to do with plaques, trophies and scrap books they had on display in the clubhouse.
“Thousands of ladies have played this course with our association over the years,” Young said. “It’s the end of an era. Many of us are afraid our property values are going to go down. What will happen to the land now?”
Active membership for the country club is $360 a month. Memberships go up and down from the basic with the least being Social Member at $150 a month. All memberships have a $50 food minimum on top of dues plus tax, according to the website.
The country club has approximately 50 employees and around 250 members, a club employee said.
General Manager Gary Cormack did not return repeated phone calls from Talk Business & Politics on Wednesday.