This year marks Cranberry Highlands’ 15th anniversary as both a top-rated municipal golf course and a high-value community asset. Even at a time when America’s golf industry is struggling, Cranberry Highlands has been thriving. So how did Cranberry come to get involved with the golf business?
It began in the sewer. The Municipal Sewer & Water Authority, which had been merged into the Township in 1999, owned a 336-acre farm near the sewage treatment plant which it used for land application of sewage sludge from the treatment process. But state regulations limited how much they could dispose of there, and by that point, they had reached the limit.
The idea of turning the property into a golf course wasn’t exactly new. An out-of-county general authority had previously proposed using the property to build a golf course. So here were the alternatives that fell to the Township: should the farm be sold to developers as the site for another 300 homes? Should we permit an out-of-county authority to take control of the land? Or should the Township assume responsibility for turning the property into a community asset by building an upscale public golf course similar to the one proposed by the general authority? The answer lay in the Township’s stated objectives.
Several years earlier, in 1995, the Board of Supervisors had adopted a comprehensive growth plan. It identified preserving green space as a priority. And a golf course, if nothing else, is green space, so building one would be consistent with the plan. Then we held a series of public hearings, and here’s what we heard: Do not sell to developers! Use the land instead to benefit the community by building a public golf course. How would we pay for it? Float bonds financed by green fees generated from the golfers themselves. That fee is currently $34 a person for 18 holes. With around 30,000 rounds being played a year, that’s about $1 million in revenue.
The comprehensive plan also identified another priority: investing in assets that would add to local property values. But a golf course can only achieve that if it’s well-designed and exquisitely maintained. So golf course architect Bill Love was brought in to design the course. His philosophy, which had been brought to life in other courses he had designed, was to ‘discover’ a golf course, as distinct from building one. Love was able to see, in the former farm’s rough and hilly terrain, exactly where a golf course could be built without requiring a massive volume of earthmoving. And to make sure the course would be kept up properly, we hired Dave Barber – a perfectionist in golf course maintenance – as our Superintendent.
The architecture of Love’s design remains the foundation of Cranberry Highlands. But the past 15 years have also seen a series of additions and enhancements that have both improved the golf experience and made its clubhouse a magnet for weddings, receptions, business meetings and other private events. The golf course itself has become the venue of choice for a huge number of outings, raising millions of dollars to benefit worthy causes.
In addition, it’s become a focus of new development. Over the years since Cranberry Highlands opened, a number of attractive residential developments have sprung up around it. The golf course not only adds value to those homes, but also to the values of properties throughout the Township. Yet it costs us virtually nothing. Since about 80 percent of our golfers live outside of Cranberry, we now have a Township-owned asset that benefits our residents which is mostly financed by our guests.
At the same time, though, there’s an ongoing connection to the Sewer & Water Authority’s former use of the farm, and it’s not just sentimental. It’s that instead of using tap water, the golf course irrigation system uses the water treated and discharged from our nearby Brush Creek wastewater treatment plant – conserving both water and money for the Township.
Throughout our 15th season, we are planning a series of celebrations to mark this milestone anniversary, so keep an eye out for details. In the meantime, I see Cranberry Highlands as a success story we can all be proud of – even those of us who can’t tell a birdie from a bogy.
I’d love to hear your thoughts about Cranberry Highlands. You can reach me at email@example.com