New Hampshire's newest golf course fulfills the builder's dream

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Many golfers fancy themselves golf course designers, but very few have the financial resources to do more than talk about their vision.

Bernard Chiu, a Massachusetts-based entrepreneur, is one of those rare golfers who has a vision and plenty of his own money to finance his dream. The result is Lake Winnipesaukee Golf Club, the recently opened private course that sits on 700 acres of rural splendor in New Durham, a place that Chiu insists will mature into "one of the best, if not the best, golf courses in the Northeast."

This is no minor ambition considering the number of first-rate historical courses in northern New England, much less the Northeast. When Chiu hears the roll call of such layouts as Sugarloaf in Maine or The Country Club in Brookline, Mass., he is undaunted.

"They are great, no doubt, but Lake Winnipesaukee will be the best," Chiu says of the former Perry Hollow Golf Course property he purchased out of bankruptcy a few years ago.

The reason, he explains, is that Lake Winnipesaukee will not grow into a resort destination, nor does he plan to sell expensive lots of land surrounding the course for housing development. It will be nothing less than a golfing cathedral, with rolling terrain, dramatic elevation drops, forests and wetlands aplenty, along with lake and presidential mountain range vistas and a virtual wildlife zoo for the local animal inhabitants.

"This is a gem in the making," says head professional John Brown, who has more than 23 years of experience working at resort and private courses. Chiu recruited Brown from a private club in Pennsylvania to oversee operations at Lake Winnipesaukee.

No expense spared

Chiu, 46, was bitten by the golf bug five years ago, when he retired in 1998, a few years after the sale of Duracraft Corp., a home comfort appliance manufacturing and marketing company he started in 1989, to Honeywell.

Based in Southborough, Mass., Duracraft distributed through mass merchant, department, home center, hardware and drug store channels. Chiu is a Hong Kong native who moved to America in 1982, and his success story arose from the opportunity that "I was a high-tech in a low-tech business ready for change."

Chiu - who has homes in Wellesley, Mass., Nantucket and Palm Springs, Calif. - discovered golf when he decided to slow down and enjoy his success after "working very hard for many years."

As much as he enjoyed the game, he says, he was drawn to owning and even designing courses that could provide championship challenges for advanced golfers but be playable and enjoyable for golfers of all skill levels. (Chiu's idea of retirement is flexible - he is currently chairman of the board of First Act Inc., which produces musical programs and products for the mass merchant, toy and club markets.)

For a few years, Chiu explains, he traveled a lot and played courses around the country, looking for the just the right course to invest in. He became co-owner of The Ranch Club in Southwick, Mass., which was recently named by Golf magazine as the best new upscale public course in Massachusetts. In the fall of 2000, he took one look at the Perry Hollow property and fell in love.

"I knew right away. It was beautiful. The old layout was quite all right, but the execution wasn't very good. What I saw immediately were so many opportunities to enhance the beauty of the land by making a whole new course out of it," says Chiu, who has overseen the expensive creation of an entirely new course.

He admits to sparing no expense (final estimated costs were not disclosed, but the cost for a new course of this type ranges in the $2 million-to-$5 million range) nor overlooking any details.

Chiu and his European course architect Clive Clark - a former touring professional from Great Britain best known in America for designing Belgrade Lakes in Maine - worked together first with a threedimensional model and then tweaked and tweaked the design until work began on the first 12 holes two years ago (the final six holes were completed last year).

Aesthetic intangibles

The many acts of devotion Chiu bestowed to Lake Winnipesaukee Golf Club include:

* Imported white bunker sand (actually ground marble) from Virginia.

* Tough Kentucky bluegrass for the rough, along with varying forms of bent grass for all the tees, fairways and greens.

* Eight holes with elevation drops of more than 100 feet.

* A 1,400 sprinkler-head, computer-controlled irrigation system - more than twice the typical allocation for private courses.

* A four-acre nursery section for growing grasses and for training course workers before they take mowers onto the course.

* An estimated $9 million clubhouse renovation for the threestory, 18,000-square-foot facility designed by the nationally renown firm of William Zmistowski Associates.

* A fully modem training facility, including digital video taping and club fitting.

"This is a course for players like myself who really love golf and love playing in an unforgettable setting," says Chiu while offering a tour of the course.

John Brown says he has never played a course quite like it, "with 18 distinct, super strong holes that golfers will remember for a while."

What is also clear is that Chiu won't ever get a return on this investment. The club will top out at 295 members, with initiation fees now running about $50,000 (along with $5,000 annual dues).

Perhaps the aesthetic intangibles will be the ultimate return. Steve Hale, a veteran golf course superintendent and native of the area, says Lake Winnipesaukee Golf Club is "unique in the state for the detail of the conditioning." It's also a painting come to life. "Every morning and evening," Hale says, "the skyline tells a different story."

New Hampshire companies involved in the development of the Lake Winnipesaukee Golf Course included: RJM Electrical Construction; Brookside Plumbing; FHAntonucci; Lindon Design Associates; N.H. Soil Consultants Inc.; A.J. Cameron Sod Farms; Rex Bunnell Carpentry; GeoSphere Environmental Management; Clearwater Well Drilling; Scott Lehner Construction; Farmhouse Landscaping; Bradley's Hardware; Wolfeboro Oil; Eastern Propane; Shamrock Landscaping; Laison's Turf Products; Leslie E. Roberts LLC; Dow Sand and Gravel; CLO Paving; MB Tractor; R.C. Hazeltine; Simplot; Gorham Tractor; Manchester Sand and Gravel; Aqua Specialities; and Peerless Golf Construction.

Source: New Hampshire Business Review