The group of investors seeking to purchase The Bull at Pinehurst Farms is made up of local residents, including some who own homes on the golf course, and may make a bona fide offer in the next 10 days to two weeks.
The group does not include the current principal owner, David Bachmann Jr., the group’s attorney, Jerome Kerkman, said late Wednesday. Bachmann is financially unable to participate, he said.
The group had been attempting for more than a year to come up with a plan to buy the financially troubled, but highly pedigreed, golf course in Sheboygan Falls. The Bull, as it is known for short, was the first Jack Nicklaus signature course built in Wisconsin and found a place on numerous best course listings since it opened in 2003.
Despite its reputation and location – immediately adjacent to the two celebrated courses at Blackwolf Run in Kohler – The Bull has struggled. A foreclosure judgment was entered in October; court records showed the operation was in default to Wisconsin Bank and Trust for loans totaling more than $4.2 million. A sheriff’s auction of the property had been set for Tuesday but was postponed when the owners filed for bankruptcy late Monday.
Kerkman said group's last-minute decision to file for bankruptcy was a surprise to him. The group of would-be buyers had been working for more than a year to come up with a purchase plan acceptable to the bank but had been unable to do so. Richard Hahn, lawyer for the bank, said Wednesday the group had not offered “even close to the full amount” owed, which was why the bank had not accepted earlier offers.
Filing for bankruptcy put the sheriff’s sale on hold for now, and Kerkman said the investors are hoping to make a satisfactory offer soon in order to take possession before the 2020 golf season.
“I have told them the offer needs to come in higher so I would expect it to be higher,” he said. “The people who are looking are pretty well-heeled people. They’ve got the money to put this together.”
Although there had been interest in acquiring The Bull from outside Wisconsin from “high-wealth people,” Kerkman said that amounted to mere “tire kicking” and the current effort is from local people, including some who own homes on the golf course. And while their negotiations over the past year failed to produce an offer acceptable to the bank, the short time bought by filing for bankruptcy brings new urgency.
“When the notice went out on the foreclosure sale, people kind of woke up,” Kerkman said, “and people who were hemming and hawing kind of came out of the woodwork. It’s kind of a mindset of people. They don’t see there’s urgency until the wolf is at the door.
“It could be that within 10 days there will be an offer to buy.”
Kerkman said it was a very emotional time for all involved, but especially for Bachmann, whose family had long operated a thriving cattle breeding operation on the property that later became The Bull. Bachmann had staved off foreclosure in the past but in recent years the value of the golf course declined while debt remained constant, Kerkman said.
“They were pretty close. They were getting enough revenue to get by, but there was no wiggle room. At some point in time it became clear the value of the course was less than the bank was owed.”
In a statement released Monday explaining the bankruptcy action, Bachmann attributed the filing “to a combination of general downturn in the sport and hospitality, the inability to charge sufficient fees to cover escalating expenses and consecutive bad years of weather.”
“We simply could not generate the revenues needed to cover all debt and expenses the last few years,” Bachmann said.
Kerkman said the current owners did not sell golf memberships or golf packages for 2020 because of the uncertainty, which was frustrating because of interest surrounding the Ryder Cup this fall, which will be held at nearby Whistling Straits.
The urgency extends two ways. Hahn, the lawyer for the lender, said the bank may move to file for a lift of the stay so that the sheriff’s sale could be rescheduled. But Kerkman said after a long day of meetings on Wednesday the investors have a game plan.
“I’m guessing we will know a lot more in two weeks,” he said.
Is he confident the group will succeed?
“I can’t use that word right now,” he said. “The most I’d say is hopeful.
“We think there’s one more chance … and that’s why we filed for (bankruptcy).”