Ross M. Cellino Jr. said he plans to keep Harvest Hill Golf Course in Orchard Park open to the public, does not want to raise greens fees and wants to build three new structures by next April.
Cellino, the well-known personal injury lawyer, bought the 248-acre golf course for $941,390 from the Harvest Hill Foundation, formerly known as the West Seneca Rotary Foundation. The total investment, with property and equipment for the 18-hole course, was $1.5 million, he told The Buffalo News.
“On my watch, I want it to remain a public course,” he said. “The fear was this one was going to go up for auction if they couldn’t find a buyer.”
Cellino said he and his son were working in his West Seneca backyard Aug. 16, when his son, who plays in the men’s league at Harvest Hill, asked if he had heard the course was for sale. Cellino texted a friend who confirmed it had been for sale for three months.
“Within an hour, I was kicking tires over there and looking at it,” he said.
Cellino attended the Orchard Park Town Board meeting Wednesday night, where the board granted a one-year extension for the parking lot, landscaping and site improvements to the course, and referred the request for new buildings to the Planning Board.
In agreeing to purchase the course, Cellino also committed to the First Tee program and said it could continue operating at the course rent-free forever. The program is a national educational, developmental and recreational initiative for young people.
“I want them to prosper. I think it’s good for the community, and it’s good for the golf course long term. These kids will become paying customers,” he said.
Cellino, who said he has a 19 handicap, said he played the course the day it opened six years ago, and the week before he bought it.
He is enthusiastic about his ambitious plans, and has already engaged architects and an engineer, and lined up a general contractor. He has talked to Orchard Park town officials, and wants to work with them to get swift approval of the plans. Preliminary plans are to be ready today.
“I need to get a shovel in the ground before winter if I’m going to have this completed by spring of next year,” he said. “I will not build it in the middle of golf season. I need cooperation from the town to approve my plans. I will work at break-neck speed to get them done.”
Plans call for an open-air pavilion that could accommodate 150 to 200 people for tournaments, a pro shop and small coffee/sports bar, and a storage facility for the golf carts. He also wants to construct bathroom facilities halfway through the course.
He said he is “really blessed in life,” and does not need to go to a bank for financing. He also said he has a budget, and he knows how difficult it is to make money on a golf course in Western New York.
But he said, “I have a day job. I don’t need to make money. I don’t want to raise prices for seniors and children or anyone. I want to leave the prices where they are.”