Milton Hershey School will close controversial golf course

The Hershey Links Golf Course, purchased by the Hershey School for well over its independently appraised value.
The Hershey Links Golf Course, purchased by the Hershey School for well over its independently appraised value. (MICHAEL BRYANT / Staff Photographer)
Posted: February 16, 2013

The multibillion-dollar Milton Hershey School for impoverished children will close its championship-caliber $17 million golf course, which is part of an investigation by the Pennsylvania Attorney General's Office.

The school said Thursday that as part of a campus expansion, it would seek municipal approval to construct student homes on the Hershey Links property, which was acquired at an inflated price in 2006 and was the subject of several Inquirer articles in 2010 and 2011.

The Dauphin County school bought the unfinished golf course for $12 million, two to three times its independently appraised value, and then constructed a $5 million Scottish-themed bar and restaurant on it.

School spokeswoman Lisa Scullin said Thursday, "The building presents a number of viable and useful options when it comes to future use. We are confident that we can utilize that structure in a way that benefits our students."

Hershey Links will close at the end of the 2013 season, the school said.

In a statement, school president Anthony Colistra said that it was an "exciting time for the Milton Hershey School as we continue our efforts to serve more children," and that this was part a long-planned campus expansion.

The school said the new student homes were envisioned in a master plan developed nearly a decade ago by the Washington firm Bowie Gridley.

Hershey is the wealthiest secondary school in the United States, with about $9 billion in assets and a controlling stake in the Hershey chocolate company. The free school was founded in 1909 by company founder Milton S. Hershey and his wife, Catherine. Students board there in about 150 suburban-style family homes.

Colistra was chairman of the board of Hershey Trust Co., which manages the charity's assets and administers the school, when the trust agreed to purchase the course from investors in 2005.

The deal closed in 2006, when LeRoy S. Zimmerman, a former two-term Pennsylvania attorney general, headed the trust's board. Zimmerman has since resigned from his Hershey board positions.

One of the original investors in the golf course was Richard Lenny, at the time the chief executive of the chocolate company and a Hershey Trust board member, who could have lost his investment but earned a small profit because the school bought the course.

Ellen Mellody, spokeswoman for the Attorney General's Office, had no comment on the Hershey investigation. She said the day-to-day activities of charities are not approved by the agency.

The investigation was launched by then-Attorney General Tom Corbett as he campaigned for governor in 2010.

When the deal for the mostly finished golf course was disclosed publicly, the Hershey Trust said it "ensures the long-term future of the championship-caliber course and provides an open buffer of green space for the planned expansion of the Milton Hershey School campus."

The school has substantial land holdings in the Hershey area - thousands of acres - in addition to the golf course.

Contact Bob Fernandez at 215-854-5897 or or follow on Twitter @bobfernandez1.

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