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Investors aim to expand Sand Hills' Dismal River Golf Club into a full recreation destination

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A group of seven investors led by two Omaha businessmen has purchased a 36-hole golf course carved into a section of the Sand Hills in Hooker County, Nebraska.

The transaction, which closed on Jan. 13, marks the fourth change in ownership of the Dismal River Golf Club, which opened in 2006. The facility’s pair of 18-hole courses are about 20 miles southwest of Mullen.

Now, Joel Jacobs and Aaron McKeever are looking to build up the site to become a recreation destination that will include more than the golf haven.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed, but Jacobs said previous owners have spent more than $40 million to date on both courses. The entire facility comprises $15 million worth of assets.

“The assets are worth more than what we paid,” Jacobs said. “We got a good deal.”

Initial plans include the development of skeet shooting, mountain biking and hunting tours on and around the facility’s nearly 3,000 acres. Other plans include private shuttles out to the relatively remote facility.

Jacobs will be the organization’s chief executive. He is founder and chief executive of Omaha-based financial advisory firm Quantum Financial Partners, which manages $70 million in client assets.

McKeever, who is president of Omaha-based health food chain Eat Fit Go, will be a managing partner.

The facility’s executive chef will stay with the new ownership group, and McKeever said he plans to bring his restaurant marketing acumen to help raise the facility’s profile for dining. His previous experience includes ownership stakes in Pitch Pizzeria and Jam’s Bar & Grill.

The ownership group has enlisted marketing agency OBI Creative of Omaha to help raise Dismal River’s profile nationally. A deliberate marketing effort is something the entire facility has lacked during its life, the new owners said.

“Out there in the middle of nowhere, you need to bring it to life,” Jacobs said. The 36-year-old financial adviser and former New England Patriot knows the area as well as anybody: The entrance to Jacobs’ family’s fifth-generation ranching operation is adjacent to Dismal River Golf Course’s main access road.

That isn’t to say that the facility is inaccessible, or even unknown, however.

When Steven Ekovich visited the property on the last day of its 2016 season, he bumped into a group of eight golfers who had traveled from England to play the courses there.

Ekovich is national director of the leisure investment properties group for the Tampa, Florida-based Marcus & Millichap real estate concern. He worked with the sellers and buyers in the recent deal and said the property garnered global interest since going on the market last year.

Dismal River’s seclusion is both a challenge and an asset, he said.

“People go to resorts around the world where there’s no phones and they stay in rickety shacks to get away. This is the perfect venue to do that, but you have Four Seasons-style hospitality,” Ekovich said. “To have those comforts along with the dark sky at night and the rural feel of being in the Sand Hills is surreal.”

The “white course” at Dismal River opened in 2006. Golf legend Jack Nicklaus designed that set of 18 holes, and the Golden Bear himself ended up buying in when the facility last changed hands, in late 2009. Those owners opened Dismal River’s “red course,” the second set of 18 holes, in 2013.

Ekovich said 2006 was the height of the market for golf course development. After that, golf course revenue and earnings fell every year until bottoming out in 2012, he said.

Transaction prices have since rebounded in successive years, however, and Ekovich’s team closed a record 24 deals in 2016.

“We’re on the way up” from the bottom of the market, he said.

cole.epley@owh.com, 402-444-1534

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