By Bill Doyle
Telegram & Gazette Staff
Posted Jan 27, 2018 at 5:01 PMUpdated Jan 27, 2018 at 7:16 PM
When Bill Gustus and Donnie Lyons met with Westminster Country Club’s members a few days before purchasing the club this month, they received a warm welcome because some of the members knew of their improvements to Settlers Crossing after they bought that Lunenburg golf course five years ago.
“One of the Westminster members lives four doors down,” Gustus said, “from Settlers Crossing and goes by it every day. He’s excited about it. He said, ‘If you do up at Westminster what you did in Lunenburg, I’m telling you we’re going to have a good time.’”
Within the next week, about a dozen memberships were sold.
Gustus, his wife Laura Caron-Gustus, and Lyons purchased the 18-hole Westminster CC, including its function hall and restaurant, from Don Leblanc and his sister-in-law Sharon Leblanc on Jan. 11 for what Lyons said was $1.8 million. The threesome bought the nine-hole Maplewood Golf Course in Lunenburg for $1.4 million in November 2012, and renamed it Settlers Crossing Golf Course.
“It was a very similar situation to what we ran into at Settlers,” Gustus said. “Revenue had been declining over the last few years, but the fixes seemed pretty easy to us and the price was right as a result of what is happening in the golf industry over the last 10 years or so.”
The number of members at Westminster CC, a par-71, 6,521-yard layout, plummeted from nearly 300 in the early 1990s to about 100 last year, but the new owners hope to boost that number and attract more daily greens fee play. Gustus said the new owners also plan to increase the number and size of leagues and outings.
“I was looking at their marketing budget last year,” Gustus said, “and they spent like $358 all year on marketing efforts. That’s an ad in the local paper these days. You really need to market the facility if you want to do well, but you also have to improve conditions.”
Gustus rated the condition of the golf course as good, but his ownership group plans to make it even better.
“We’re going to make that initial investment,” said Gustus, the retired town manager in Lynnfield and the former chief administrative town officer in his hometown of Lunenburg, “to show people that we mean business, we want to improve the business, we want people to have a good time, and we’re committed to making that happen.”
“A lot of places go out of business,” Lyons said, “or their business goes south because they don’t control their overhead. We’re very good at controlling our overhead. You can’t control your income because you can’t control the weather, but you can control your costs, and a lot places don’t, and that’s what kills them. Or if you buy a place and you pay too much, you’re never going to make it.”
Gustus said the new owners will keep the cost of greens fees and memberships this year the same as last year. Standard greens fees for 18 holes will be $27 for weekdays and $34 for weekends. Carts will be $16 per person. Memberships will be $750 for weekdays and $1,300 for weekends. Juniors under 18 will pay $275.
“My philosophy is, ‘Don’t ask for a raise until you earn it,’ ” Gustus said.
The golf shop, restaurant and function hall had been run separately, but the new owners plan to operate all three together under the guidance of Gustus.
The 100-seat restaurant will be named, “The Albatross,” and Lyons said it will be open seven days a week. The function hall seats 225.
Laura Caron-Gustus and her daughter, Tanya Eberlin, will continue to oversee Settlers Crossing. Dan Anderson is in his third season as superintendent at Settlers Crossing.
Lyons lives in Danvers and runs two municipal courses in Lynnfield, Reedy Meadow GC and King Rail Reserve GC, but he’ll spend Thursdays at Settlers Crossing and Sundays at Westminster. Lyons said the new owners want to water Westminster less to make it faster and firmer.
Albert Leblanc opened Westminster CC in 1957, and upon his death in 1998, he left 60 percent of the business to his son Don and 40 percent to his son Robert, Sharon’s husband. Robert died in 2003.
Sharon Leblanc’s sons will continue to work at the course. Mike Leblanc has been head pro since 2002 after serving as an assistant pro for seven years.
“They’re good people,” Leblanc said of the new owners. “Donnie and Bill have good business sense, and they’ll put some changes into motion, and I see good things coming out of there.”
Bob Leblanc will remain as superintendent, and Tom Leblanc will continue as equipment manager. The new owners plan to upgrade the equipment, build some new forward tees and improve other tees and drainage.
“They were pretty much miracle workers given the resources that they were given to do their jobs,” Gustus said.
At Settlers Crossing, the Gustuses and Lyons improved the course conditions, renovated the clubhouse, reopened the pro shop that had been closed for several years and made the course more youth-friendly.
—Contact Bill Doyle at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @BillDoyle15.