Cape Region golf course returns to life – we hope
January 20, 2023
After a prolonged absence from the Cape Region golf scene, the former Shawnee Country Club is potentially returning to life.
And if the new owners’ reported plans come to fruition, the area’s golfing community as well as the City of Milford should be very pleased.
On December 27, 2023, the owners of The Rookery formally settled on the sale of the 150+ acre parcel on S. Rehoboth Boulevard to Oak Front Park LLC, for a recorded $3.8 million dollars.
The Rookery owners initially leased the property from the shareholders of Shawnee Country Club, Inc. in March 2012, and renamed it Rookery North. The longtime private club, in existence since the late 1950s, faced continuing financial difficulties that made it impossible to continue in operation.
The lease included a sales option which The Rookery owners exercised in the fall of 2015. As reported in this column, lagging business and the pressures of the COVID pandemic led to a decision to close the course in December 2020.
The City of Milford explored the possible acquisition of the Shawnee property as a combination water resource and public park/golf course. However, a series of test wells on the acreage failed to produce promising results, ending that possibility. The Rookery returned to actively marketing the property, reaching an agreement with the new ownership group last fall.
Rookery owner/LLC general manager Chris Adkins said, “I’m happy.” He noted their work with the city and potential buyers over the past three years and said he was pleased the new ownership showed interest in re-opening the golf course.
Considering the size of the Shawnee acreage and its location on the south side of Milford, one might think it was ripe for conversion to single family housing or some other, more intensive real estate development. Considering the current recessionary climate, however, and as Adkins said, “We couldn’t have gotten more dollars if we went the development route.” Instead, they went with a “quicker sale” that carried with it the prospect of keeping the golf course in place.
Adkins was not worried about the possible impact on his business if the Milford course is re-opened. He said The Rookery was “coming off two of our best years,” he said. “I’m tickled to death to see it remain open space. I think there’s enough golf to go around for the area.”
He noted that the potential re-opening comes with its own challenges. Restoring the Bermudagrass fairways should not be a major issue, but the old push-up greens need a lot of work, along with drainage and irrigation system repairs and replacements. Adkins said. “If this guy does it right, he’ll be close to a year getting it open.”
One possible local benefit for Shawnee’s re-opening relates to its proximity to the new Bayhealth Hospital, less than two miles south. If the new owners can arrange for a restaurant operator to restore and re-open the kitchen and dining facilities, it could be a real draw – not only for the golfers on site, but also the visitors and staff at the hospital.
Dennis Silicato of Millsboro is a successful real estate developer in Kent and Sussex Counties. He was also a longtime member of the former Shawnee Country Club, following in his father’s footsteps as one of the original members of the club.
“I’m thrilled that someone is buying the property. I started playing there with my dad back when it was a 9-hole course. You could say I grew up there, playing golf and swimming at the pool. I’m especially pleased to hear that the new owners want to keep it going as a golf course. I wish them the best,” Silicato said.
Tim Johnson of the Johnson Companies in Smyrna, DE is the reported head of the LLC that acquired the Shawnee acreage. He did not respond to requests for comment.
As the last president of Shawnee Country Club, Inc., I share the hope that this great golf layout can return to its former well-respected place among the best Cape Region golf courses. And as the only regularly scheduled golf columnist in the state, I would be happy to help promote its return whenever the new owners are ready.
I will soon travel to Orlando, FL for the PGA Merchandise Show, where thousands of golf pros and others will test new drivers and other clubs and equipment.
One aspect of the game really has improved over the years – distance off the tee for drivers.
For example, young Davis Love III led the PGA Tour in driving distance in 1986 with his 285.7-yard average.
Last year, Chez Reavie essentially matched Love’s driving distance average. However, that only meant that Reavie finished 191st among his fellow Tour pros in that category.
Cameron Champ finished first in 2022 at 321.4 yards on average.
Improvements in technology as well as technique, partially tempered by Rules of Golf changes regarding equipment, led to this remarkable change.
Nonetheless, the distance improvements made by pros and high-level amateurs have not yet been matched by the rest of us, according to the USGA’s recent reports.
Hope continues to spring eternal, however.