Locust Valley Golf Club has been closing for 15 years. Some of its more dedicated players made hats and T-shirts saying “Last of Locust” that they’ve been wearing for a decade.
Now, the popular Upper Saucon Township golf course actually is preparing for its final goodbye. After years of ownership changes, stalled development plans and legal challenges, Locust Valley is scheduled to close in April 2020 and transform into a housing community.
Earlier this month, Upper Saucon Township’s board of supervisors approved Tradition of America’s plan to build an age-qualified community of 125 homes on the property. The company expects to break ground next spring.
Locust Valley owner Robert Ashford said that the course will be open, weather permitting, until at least April 1, giving golfers the chance to play their last rounds. Course maintenance will continue, and longtime Locust Valley assistant Curt Zellner said he will hand-shovel greens, if necessary, as he did last winter.
Billy Hallman, who has managed the course for five years, hopes for a mild winter that allows Locust Valley’s core players to say farewell.
Locust Valley, which opened in 1954, has a rich history in the Lehigh Valley. Once a private nine-hole club, it became a public course in 1985 under new ownership.
Arnold Palmer occasionally practiced at Locust Valley, as his first wife, the former Winnie Walzer of Coopersburg, lived nearby. In 1986, Locust Valley hosted a tournament that featured baseball legends Joe DiMaggio, Bob Feller, Brooks Robinson and Bobby Thomson and Pro Football Hall of Famer Chuck Bednarik.
or its devoted players, Locust Valley’s combination of playability and community kept them returning. Hallman has felt that demonstrated often in his five years at the course.
But before interviewing for the job, even Hallman thought the course was closing. It has been that way since 2004, when Locust Valley’s then owners agreed to a developer’s plan to convert the course into an age-qualified community.
That touched off disputes with Upper Saucon Township over sewage regulations, leading to two lawsuits that a federal judge dismissed in 2008. In 2012, Ashford, who had bought the previous owners’ bank notes, foreclosed on the facility and took over operations.
Ashford originally intended to continue operating Locust Valley as a golf course, planning upgrades that included a restaurant and driving range. In 2014 he sought $2.25 million from Upper Saucon for development rights, and the township offered $1.2 million. The parties did not agree on development rights, leading Ashford to make a deal with Traditions of America .
“Everybody comes in here asking, ‘When’s the last day? Are you sure this is it? Are you guys going to be open?’” Hallman said. “But every spring we get ready to go. So next spring, we’re going to get ready to go.”
Hallman said he wants people to know that “we’re still open, and we have a gameplan.” Course conditions are maintained normally under superintendent Mark Johnson, whom Hallman said has done an “amazing job” considering the weather and circumstances of the past few seasons.
“We’re going to stay open, as long as the weather allows us, until that last day,” said Hallman, who also manages the Ashford-owned Sheperd Hills. “We’re not changing anything.”
Hallman calls Zellner indispensable to Locust Valley, which Zellner tends to daily. During winters, he has hand-shoveled snow from greens that couldn’t be reached with equipment. If a stray cart is on the course at 8 p.m., he returns to the course to move it. Every night before going to bed, Zellner checks footage from the course’s security cameras.
Like Hallman, Zellner wants Locust Valley to have a proper send-off.
“I know I’m really going to miss the place,” Zellner said.