A Benton institution closed at the end of the day Sunday.
Longhills Golf Course owners Bud and Mary Jean Busken and Jeff and Sam Hamm are ending their oversight of the operation that has served the community for more than a half-century.
The owners have been trying to sell the property for some time to Lindsey Management Co., which has wanted to build an upscale apartment complex at the site while continuing to operate the golf course with its swimming pool, tennis courts and other amenities.
Several months ago Benton City Council considered an ordinance changing the zoning of Longhills Village to allow the apartment complex construction, but the council members became divided on the issue as did residents of the subdivision.
At the request of Lindsey's attorneys, a covenant question regarding the golf course eventually led to the tabling of the ordinance and the issue never has come to a council vote.
Today, Bud Busken said the covenant issue has been resolved.
"There were legal issues over the property's covenant, which said the golf course would remain a golf course, tennis course and swimming facility, but we have released the covenant on the golf course property. It's just not there anymore.
"We're currently working with others and homeowners to get the remaining issues resolved," Busken said. "We have signed a contract with the Lindseys, which is an extension to the original contract.
"When the covenant issues are resolved to satisfy the Lindseys, then the Lindseys will contact the city about rezoning for the apartments," Busken said.
"The covenant has been cleared on the existing golf course and it is zoned for single-family housing, R-11.5, which means that each lot has to be 11,500 square feet.
"That's really the gist of it at this particular point.," he said. "We're closed and as far as we're concerned, it will stay closed.
"We've tried to do everything we could to keep it a golf course for the community, and we hope, the good Lord willing, that the community will see there's a need for the course and the pool."
Busken said the negotiations will "take a little time, but we're still hopeful the deal with the Lindseys will go through. If it doesn't, it doesn't."
"No one has come forward with any other options," he added.
"Nobody has put anything else on the table. We have to go with what we're doing. We're not going to stay around and continue to lose money."
Busken expressed appreciation to community residents for their support through the years. "We're still hopeful for a good outcome for Longhills Golf Course."
Longhills was developed in the mid-1950s by Bill and Berneice Martin in fulfillment of his dream to build a golf course that would be a vital part of a community.
According to the Martins' daughter, Carol Martin Blann, her parents looked at land throughout the state, but settled on the rolling hills of Saline County.
"In a leap of faith, they made plans to leave their secure jobs and move to Benton," she said.
Bill Martin reportedly approached the Benton Chamber of Commerce and talked to city leaders including John Ashby, Bob Alsobrook, U.S. Floyd, Bill Millsapps and others. She said the community
"came together to make my parents' dream come true."
In a guest column and in a presentation to the City Council, Blann pointed out that the course has provided many services to the people of Benton. "For over 30 years, my family worked hard to provide the largest junior program in the state, to give the local high school golf teams a place to play and eventually a swimming pool was added for families.
"People of all incomes began to play golf and swim at the course," she said.
In 1986 the Buskens and Hamms assumed management of the course and continued with the dream that Longhills would be vital to the community, Martin said.
"Programs for juniors have continued to grow, and high school golf and swim teams have been provided services at the course," she said.
Under the leadership of the Buskens and Hamms, many charitable organization have conducted fundraisers at the course, putting thousands of dollars back into the community.
Organizations such as the Civitan Club, Benton Booster Club, Christian Community Care Clinic, Special Olympics, Boys and Girls Club, Humane Society of Saline County and many others have benefited from the events.
"The focus at Longhills has always been on service to the community," Blann said.
Blann continues to own stock in the Longhills Corp.