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Historic Timber Creek Golf Course facing closure after failing to secure county funds

Daily Gazette - 9/24/2022

Sep. 23—DIXON — The historic Timber Creek Golf Course is facing closure after failing to secure a $250,000 donation from the Lee County Board.

Kreider Services, which serves more than 600 people with developmental disabilities each year, has been working on a public/private partnership in the hope of taking over Timber Creek, raising $1 million for needed irrigation repairs to better maintain the green, and employing 40 to 50 people with disabilities at the facility, Kreider Executive Director Jeff Stauter said Thursday to the board.

Kreider would become the new owner of Timber Creek after purchasing it for $1, basically making it a donation, and they would need around $1 million to replace the irrigation system and pump house as well as dredge the pond.

Plans also included setting up a large outdoor tent to host events up to 500 people.

[ Kreider Services looks to take over Timber Creek Golf Course ]

The agency, which partnered with investors including Jim and Ryan Marshall, raised about $200,000 in private donations and received a $300,000 grant from the state. They are seeking $400,000 from the Dixon City Council and $250,000 from the County Board.

The board voted down the request in August in a 10-11 vote, Kreider officials and supporters approached the county's finance and executive committees about reconsidering the request last week, and the board rejected the request to reconsider in a 11-12 vote Thursday.

"This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for us," Stauter said prior to the vote. "If we don't get this done, there probably isn't going to be a golf course in Dixon anymore...that's just the reality of the situation."

Stauter said a similar model was used at a golf course in upstate New York, and the project would be a neat, inclusive, one-of-a-kind facility for the Midwest.

Though they have other funds lined up, Stauter said the county is key to their project, and he doesn't think they'd be able to make their goal without county support.

Timber Creek owner Ron Keith spoke about the course's historical value as the land was originally donated by Charles Walgreen, and former President Ronald Reagan was a caddy.

Supporter Bob Venier said Timber Creek is more than a golf course; it's also a place for business deals, partnerships and gatherings.

He also mentioned how it's the only original course left in the Lincoln Highway Tournament, which celebrated its 100th anniversary this year, and it gives a place for Dixon High School golfers to practice.

The motion to reconsider the funding request needed to be made by an original "no" vote. It was made by board member Jack Skrogstad, who said he didn't think it was something to be supported with taxpayer dollars, at first, but then thought it would be a good community project for the county to be involved with.

Board member Tim Bivins said he originally voted "no" on the project but changed his mind after more details were presented.

"This is an economic engine that can be used," he said. "I think it's a worthwhile project and helps the disabled."

The course and event venue would provide a long-lasting form of revenue for Kreider, and that's needed as state funding for organizations like Kreider has been stagnant for years, Kreider board member Don Vock said.

There's also a critical need for more employment opportunities for people with disabilities. Area manufacturers are hiring fewer and fewer people with disabilities, Stauter said.

There are a variety of low-skill jobs that would be available for people with disabilities including maintaining the grounds, he said.

The current irrigation system is more than 50 years old and breaks down regularly. It also plugs up, leaks and doesn't deliver adequate water to maintain the course. Cost estimates to fix the system and make other improvements are at least $700,000 to $840,000.

The Dixon City Council hasn't voted on a donation amount and hadn't discussed it publicly until Councilwoman Mary Oros joined project supporters at the county finance committee last week saying they were committed to giving $400,000.

The council would have to vote publicly at a council meeting to spend the funds but can meet behind closed doors if there aren't more than two council members in a meeting.

The council is facing some community criticism for not having a public discussion for the donation. Mayor Li Arellano Jr. said during Monday's council meeting that they don't have an official position as a city yet, and they need a public discussion on the dollar amount.

He later said he's not against the project, but in general, large expenses need to go through a more open process at the council level.

[ Dixon Mayor: Large expenses require as much transparency as possible ]

After being closed down for a year, Timber Creek reopened in 2019 after owners Ron Keith and his son, Brett, signed a lease agreement with Rick and Brenda Humphrey to help revive the facility after failing to find someone to buy it and keep it as a golf course.

[ Timber Creek revival underway, owners sign lease with Humphreys ]

Timber Creek includes the 18-hole golf course, a banquet center, Bogey's Bar and Grill, an outdoor swimming pool and tennis courts.

The Keiths bought the former Dixon Country Club as it was going out of business on Feb. 1, 2007, for $1.1 million. At the time, membership had dwindled to less than 100.

They renamed it and changed it from a private to a semi-private club, opening it to the public for the first time since its inception in 1915.

They operated the course at a financial loss for years wanting to preserve it in the community and competed with the area's municipal-run courses that can be subsidized by taxpayer dollars.


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