COURTLAND — Lawrence County native Jackie Hood said he first looked at the former golf course in Courtland about three months ago and viewed it as prime farmland. On Wednesday, the 52-year-old Hatton resident purchased the 229-acre site from the town of Courtland for $1.2 million.
“I never played golf there,” he said about the Valley Landing Golf Course that closed in August 2017. “I plan to level off those mounds pretty soon and grow corn and soybean out there.” He said he will plant corn there next spring.
For Courtland, the sale of the property is a huge relief, the town attorney said.
“Ever since the (International Paper) mill closed and the town stopped getting the in-lieu-of-ad-valorem tax money, the town has been in a bad financial situation,” said attorney Richard Thompson III. “Selling this property was like lifting an albatross off our neck. We’re excited we can now look to moving the town forward.”
Even though International Paper closed its plant in March 2014, Courtland officials were expecting an estimated $771,000 annual in-lieu-of-ad-valorem tax payment from the company to be trimmed to $570,000 in 2018 and then whittled more until 2023. Instead, the town received no money starting in 2017.
The resulting financial problems, exacerbated by ongoing payments on the golf course bond, led then-Mayor Clarence Logston to reduce his pay from $1,162 to $200 a month and all but one council member signed a waiver giving up their town pay of $150 per meeting to help the town pay its bills.
According to town records, Courtland has been paying nearly $12,000 per month to meet the municipal bond obligations connected to its purchase and development of the golf course.
In October 2017, the town held an auction and declined to sell the property when the high bid was $752,000. At the time, the town owed $1.4 million on the 18-hole golf course that opened in 2001 at a cost of slightly more than $3 million.
Thompson said the selling price “was over what we owed” but he didn’t have the amount of the outstanding debt Friday afternoon.
Covenants on the property near the Courtland Air Base do not allow the tract to be used for residential development or raising livestock, according to county records. The property has built-in irrigation and at least five ponds. Hood said he plans to fill in most of the ponds.
Hood said he has been farming row crops on his 2,000 acres and producing poultry in 13 chicken houses in Hatton.
“I’ve only considered growing row crops out there,” Hood said.
He said he is uncertain how to use the 5,000-square-foot former clubhouse and restaurant included in the deal. He said his children are urging him to convert it into a reception hall for weddings, receptions and parties.
Real estate agent Shane Odom, who handled the transaction, said he marketed the property about 60 days before finding a buyer.
“I had several people out of state look at the property,” he said. “The town of Courtland was good to work with on this deal. ... I know this eased some pressure on the town’s debt.”
Thompson said the money from Wednesday’s sale has been placed in an escrow account and an earlier payoff date could be agreed upon with the bondholders.