Chestnut Ridge golf resort near Blairsville going up for auction

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A former U.S. Steel executive is selling a 345-acre golf course and resort just across the Westmoreland County line near Blairsville.

The online auction for Chestnut Ridge Golf Resort & Conference Center, planned for noon Saturday, has attracted local and national attention.

“We are seeing quite a bit of interest and are getting a lot of phone calls, from California and all over from investors,” said Matt Hostetter, an auctioneer with Hostetter Auctioneers of Beaver Falls.

The owner of the Indiana County golf resort and conference center, Thomas J. Usher, 77, of Oakmont, wants to simplify his investments and put the course under new ownership that can grow the property “through aggressive marketing and more ‘hands-on’ management,” he said in a statement.

Usher, who was CEO of U.S. Steel from 2001 to 2004, has owned the property since 2008. It includes a 36-hole golf course, 48,000-square-foot clubhouse, restaurant and banquet facility and is located just south of the intersection of routes 22 and 119 in Burrell Township.

Total revenue in 2019 was $2.75 million, including $1.8 million from food and beverage sales and $709,000 in golf revenue, according to auction materials. Golfers played more than 23,000 rounds, and the property hosted 132 conferences and 35 weddings.

”It’s just an awesome opportunity for someone … an entrepreneur with marketing and management skills. Someone’s going to get a great deal,” said Sherman Hostetter, owner of Hostetter Auctioneers.

Chestnut Ridge appears to be a bit unique in that its business model is heavily reliant on events, meetings and conferences beyond simply golf playing from the local market, said Erik Matuszewski, editorial director for the National Golf Foundation in Jupiter, Fla.

George Thomas, general manager of Chestnut Ridge Golf Resort, said the resort has about 100 employees and is an economic generator in southern Indiana County.

Usher owns the property through his company, Chestnut Ridge Golf LP. He obtained a $6.1 million mortgage from his company in October 2014, then received a partial release of the mortgage in May 2019, according to documents filed with the Indiana County Recorder of Deeds. Chestnut Ridge Golf Club bought the former farmland in 1963 for $100,000.

A number of golf courses in Southwestern Pennsylvania have closed or been sold in recent years.

Valley Green Golf & Country Club in Hempfield closed Dec. 31 after operating for 54 years. Items at the property were auctioned in December and January.

Other courses that have closed or sold in the region include Scenic Links of Westmoreland, Churchill Valley Country Club, Brackenridge Heights Golf Course in Harrison and Oak Lake Golf Course in Lower Burrell, which also auctioned off items after closing last October after failing to sell at a closed-bid auction in 2018.

Those sales, Matuszewski said, are the byproduct of a 20-year boom in golf construction, during which more than more than 4,000 new courses were built from 1986 to 2005, raising the number of places to play by 44%. Closures first began outweighing new openings nationally in 2006 and there has been a net 10% drop in the total number of courses, he added.

The pandemic has not caused “any noticeable increase” in the number of golf courses for sale or being put up for auction, Matuszewski said. But some owners are selling as an exit strategy and taking advantage of the high demand for real estate is a part of that, he said.

Golf Property Analysts of Conshohocken, which Usher hired to market the property, expects Chestnut Ridge will sell at auction. Online bids have been accepted and the auction will go live at the resort Saturday, when in-person and online bids will be taken. Thomas said he expects that Usher will attend.

“The seller is motivated and realistic. He wants to sell,” said Larry Hirsh, president of Golf Property Analysts.

Marketing a golf property, at any time, is challenge, Hirsh said, let alone during a pandemic.

The advantage of operating a golf course at this time is that the sport is one people can enjoy and maintain social distancing, Hirsh said.

“Coronavirus is the next Tiger Woods” for golfing, Hirsh quipped, noting how Woods’ popularity helped boost the popularity of golf.

Joe Napsha is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Joe at 724-836-5252, jnapsha@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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