After decades as golf course, Groton land returns to farming

Groton — After operating as a golf course for decades, the 34 acres on High Rock Road and Thomas Road are getting turned into farmland.

Golfers last teed up on Aug. 31 at The Pines Golf Course & Driving Range, formerly known as Birch Plain Golf Course. The course also previously was known as Trumbull Golf Course.

Mark Vinchesi, who purchased the course in the spring of 2016, attributed the closure to financial difficulties incurred when the company he hired to treat the greens spilled chemicals, destroying the greens. Some of the repair was done internally, and Vinchesi said he also hired a couple companies to perform work.

He didn't have enough money to fix all 18 greens, so he turned The Pines from a par 3 course into a nine-hole executive course, including holes that are par 4 and par 5. The issues also resulted in loss of members and scheduled tournaments, he said.

Vinchesi told the owners of the land that he wouldn't be returning to run the course next year because he couldn't afford to, and the owners decided to turn the golf course into farmland.

"We're very sad to see it's not operating as a golf course," Vinchesi said. "We thought the new nine-hole layout would do very well. Unfortunately, nine-hole courses take a lot of money to run."

Under the name Windward Golf Management Inc., Vinchesi is in litigation with SavATree, the company he had hired to treat the greens. In the complaint, Windward alleges that SavATree's sprayer malfunctioned during application of plant protectant, leaving the greens with streaks of dead turf.

The complaint also states that chemicals were applied in an incorrect pattern, causing excess chemical distribution that resulted in turf loss on all 18 greens. Windward had paid SavATree $8,365.83 for the project.

The plaintiff listed an amount in demand of more than $15,000, exclusive of attorneys' fees.

In its response to the complaint, filed in Superior Court on Aug. 3 of this year, SavATree denied the allegations. The response also lists several special defenses, such as the claims that any injuries or damages alleged "were proximately caused by the contributory negligence" of Windward, and that SavATree was not allowed to mitigate damages or complete the contract.

Aside from repairs related to the alleged spills, another change made under Vinchesi's ownership was redoing the grass tee areas for the driving range. With The Pines closed, Vinchesi will be putting more energy into his other business, Great Brook Sports, which recently added a restaurant.

The golf course land has long been in the Ackley family. The development of the course was the focus of brothers John and Theodore Ackley after they gave up potato farming in the 1950s. Designed by Armando Baldelli, the course opened in the 1960s.

Marion Lamb, one of John Ackley’s daughters, said the decision to discontinue using the land as a golf course came because the taxes are too high. Under Public Act 490, which the state passed in 1963, farmland is assessed at a reduced rate.

In December 2016, Bob Ackley — one of Theodore Ackley's sons — and his cousin Cal Ackley filed an application to the assessor for classification as farmland. The assessor estimated the property to have 34 acres suitable for tillable land or permanent pasture. But the application was denied because the land was being used as a golf course as of the annual assessment date.

Groton Tax Assessor Mary Gardner said that to approve the certificate this year, her office will have to take a site visit and check on the status of the property by Oct. 1.

Bob Ackley said he has two farmers renting the land and that farming activities likely will involve hay, vegetables, sunflowers and cattle. He added that both farmers have draft horses.

e.moser@theday.com

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