WESTBROOK – Most golf courses are quiet places this time of year, but the snow-covered golf carts at Sunset Ridge signify something deeper.
For decades, Ron Edgecomb has poured everything into the course at Westerly Winds, a sports entertainment complex on Cumberland Street in Westbrook, located just south of the Windham town line, where the street becomes River Road.
Now, he is in danger of losing it all. His creditor, Savings Bank of Maine, is threatening to foreclose on the course and Edgecomb’s home next door.
A multitude of misfortune brought him to this point. The economic downturn hasn’t been kind to independent businesses, but it goes beyond that. A couple of rainy summers devastated income. To make matters worse, just as Edgecomb was working on a back 9 to complete his 18-hole course, a fire destroyed the clubhouse in the fall of 2007.
The old 1700s farmhouse went up in flames after someone flicked a cigarette butt over the railing, Edgecomb said. It landed in a pile of mulch and smoldered away until an easterly wind swept through and sent the flames shooting up all three floors.
“It was a tough time because we were still finishing up our back 9,” he said.
The first floor of a new clubhouse is now open, while the second and third floors are still under construction. The course has never recovered from that fire.
Edgecomb, 76, moved here in 1966 with his wife Jacqueline and their three sons. He taught physics and chemistry at Windham High School and in the summer farmed his property.
In 1985, what was then called the Ponderosa went up for sale. It was a small par 3 course with a driving range, batting cages and mini golf. Edgecomb bought it, and, to pay the mortgage, started running it.
“As my wife says, my little projects become big ones,” he said, explaining that, over the years, he added tennis courts, a swimming pool and other attractions. He added the front 9 in 2000 and through the past few years constructed a back 9 to complete a full 18-hole golf course.
The costs ran up to more than $1 million. Things were fine until recent years, when he fell behind on his monthly, $20,000 mortgage payments. His house, which was originally paid off, was used as collateral to help maintain the course, he said.
“This is my baby. I’ve worked here 25 years,” he said. “Everything that we did make went back in.”
The bills have piled up and Edgecomb is under a mountain of debt, owing money to both the bank and the city for unpaid taxes. As recently as Monday, he was worried the bank would foreclose this week. However, on Wednesday morning, he said his attorney spoke with the bank, which is giving him 30-60 days to explore his options.
A representative with Savings Bank of Maine did not return a call seeking comment.
According to the city’s assessing department, there are liens on his 2009 and 2010 taxes, and his 2011 taxes are due. Records show he owes more than $101,000 to the city.
City Administrator Jerre Bryant said the city’s practice is to work with delinquent taxpayers and would be making arrangements with Edgecomb.
“We always try to work with the property owner to, over time, handle the delinquency,” he said.
Bryant said the situation Edgecomb faces is unfortunate, noting, “He’s put in a lot of work up there. He’s trying to make a go of the business and it’s a tough time.”
On a positive note, Bryant said, Edgecomb’s three parcels of land are worth a significant amount. According to public assessing records, one 57-acre parcel is worth $913,400; a 63.6-acre parcel is worth $760,000; and another 92.5 acres is worth $329,000.
Edgecomb hopes to find a partner or investor to help him out. When he looks around the course, he still sees a lot of potential. From the clubhouse, he can look out on the snow-covered course through the windows. In the summer, its natural rolling hills, wetlands, white birch clusters and apple orchard are a sight to behold, he said.
Local resident Bill Holmes, the director of the Cumberland County Regional Communications Center, said he frequented the course for a couple of years and “its greens were as good as any I’ve seen around.”
Holmes said Edgecomb was always friendly toward him and, “for the price of the golf I think it’s a really good deal. I’d like to see him succeed, I really would.”
Edgecomb has brought in some income this winter thanks to an amicable relationship with the Westbrook Trail Blazes snowmobile club. Riders come through the property and on several occasions have held meetings at the clubhouse, he said.
“Before, we didn’t have anything in the winter,” he said.
He said he has had contact with potential business partners, but nothing has been solidified yet.
“If we could get over the hump, this would be something,” he said. “A partner would help tremendously.”
Edgecomb said he is “in the dark” about the foreclosure process. His lawyer has told him it takes about a year. In the interim, he does not know whether he would still manage Sunset Ridge, or if the bank would insert someone to run it.
Yet, Edgecomb remains an amicable, upbeat and optimistic person in the face of adversity. He still talks about what he wants to accomplish – a function hall on the second floor of the clubhouse, a pro shop in the basement. But time may be running out.
“It’s been a great experience, whether we leave it or not,” he said. “I’ll never cry about something physical again. If I lose this place, I’ll walk out with a smile.”