Foresight pays off for club's woods

By John Maslin

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Gregor Vallely (left) and Neil Hooker on the second tee at Belmont with the cleared forestry block land behind that has proved a real earner for the club.  Photo/Bevan Conley
Gregor Vallely (left) and Neil Hooker on the second tee at Belmont with the cleared forestry block land behind that has proved a real earner for the club. Photo/Bevan Conley

If fundraising is measured in selling barbecued sausages for $1 each, then the Wanganui Golf Club was saved the daunting task of selling 390,000 of them just because one of its members saw the bigger picture.

Twenty-eight years ago, Ted Vallely convinced his club cohorts to invest in a pine plantation on land he had bought bordering the Belmont course.

It took some talking but, in the intervening 28 years, the club's initial investment of $76,000 has earned it $390,000. And that sure beats barbecuing sausages.

This week, club president Neil Hooker said the club owed Mr Vallely and others a "huge debt of gratitude" for their vision.

Mr Vallely's son, Gregor, was at the very first meeting of Belmont Forests Ltd and remembered the idea was a contentious one when it was flagged.

He said the club had realised its existing clubhouse would not last forever and means of funding that project were being talked about.

When the land next to the course came up for sale, his father bought it.

"He had the idea that if the club bought the land and planted it in trees then it would be beneficial. At that time, forest prices were projecting huge figures," Mr Vallely said.

Ted Vallely bought the land and then floated a company (Belmont Forests Ltd), encouraging the golf club to take shares in the company.

"The club had $40,000 cash available at the time, some of that from fundraising. He urged the club to invest the $40,000 and take a 40 per cent share in the forest. The idea was to get Belmont members to buy shares in the rest of the company."

Initially, the club was prepared to invest just $15,000 (a 15 per cent share). But Ted Vallely argued that such a small shareholding was not going to generate funds to build a new clubhouse.

"It came to a special meeting at the golf club. Harvey Green was alongside dad with this one and although a younger man then, was a staunch advocate for the $40,000 investment.

"A lot of members were wary of the investment but Harvey and I spoke, saying the club needed to make a decision for the next generation and not the current one. Dad told me later that he reckoned that changed the members' minds and they invested $40,000."

Annual Belmont Forest tournaments were held and raising money for the ongoing maintenance of the plantation.

The forest was planted in 1986 and, at the same time, it gave some extra land for the golf club as well. Part of that parcel is along the sixth fairway and the other area provides an expansive practice range that runs parallel to the first fairway.

In the past 17 months that total investment of $76,000 in the forestry company has realised $390,000 for the golf club.

A storm that ripped through the area a few years ago created significant windfalls in the mature plantation and the company decided to mill them out. It eventually decided to mill the entire lot.

The land has been sold to neighbouring farmers and for a price that reflects its potential rather than just a scruffy piece of former pine forest.

Remembering those initial meetings, Gregor Vallely said supporters of the project "got chastised at times, but I think it's worked out quite well in the end for the club".

With a 40 per cent shareholding, the club had two directors on the company and Harvey Green was on for the whole 28 years.

Mr Hooker said there was no question the club owed a huge debt of gratitude to the Vallelys for having the vision.

"This was always going to build the new clubhouse because forestry projections were very positive," he said.

Fate intervened when the old clubhouse burned down. Insurance paid for a good portion of the replacement clubhouse. The club borrowed $450,000 from the bank to help finish the rebuild and put in the state-of-the-art fairway watering system.

But the sale of the trees and the land has seen the club clear its bank debt and leave it with a tidy sum in reserve.

"The returns from that forestry company were very good. It has meant a 12 per cent return per annum over those 28 years. That's impressive," Mr Hooker said.

He said the importance of the forestry block could never be underestimated.

- Wanganui Chronicle

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