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$22M Burning a Hole in Your Pocket: Buy Grand Niagara Resort

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Grand Niagara Resort, the once great development by the Sharp family (Four Seasons) and a Mississauga development group led by the Sorokolit family, have apparently run out of cash and patience with the underperforming resort, as it is now listed for sale at the price of $22-million under power of sale. All 788-acres are part of the package, according to the listing.

The course, which opened in 2004, has (and continues to have, apparently, since it is on the website) some grand ambitions:

¢ 350 unit, high quality, brand name resort accommodation

¢ 300 unit luxury vacation ownership community on a man-made lake including a designated clubhouse and recreation centre for vacation ownership guests

¢ 20,000 square foot spa and recreation centre

¢ a state of the art conference facility

¢ a vision to create the Grand Niagara Estate Winery that will include facilities for public tours and a full service restaurant

¢ world-class recreation services and amenities

¢ 225 bungalow and townhome residences for anyone wishing to make GN more than a vacation destination.

None of this has happened. Last time I was there, the parking lot was unpaved and the clubhouse was a trailer, with operations being run out of an old house. The golf course, as I mentioned in my review, was fine, but certainly nothing special and would never have warranted the $150 per round concept the development group floated at the beginning. I find this quote from the course’s opening quite intriguing when the situation has been placed into perspective:

“You can’t tell me that the chance to play a Rees Jones-designed golf course for what amounts to $100 in American funds isn’t a steal,” Sorokolit said.

Apparently it wasn’t a steal. In fact, most people didn’t even think it offered value for money once prices were reduced. Needless to say, no one has been talking about the second course — to be designed by Greg Norman — in a long, long time, though the ownership group hadn’t given up on a second course, and were known to be nosing around in recent months on the matter.

So what went so wrong? Foremost, the golf course, created by Jones on a largely ordinary and relatively flat piece of property, was design-by-numbers. It was standard Jones fare — popped up greens, flanked by deep bunkers. The course, which features a lot of water as a key design feature, could have been found in central Florida. It was, apparently, always in good condition, but was too costly for the region, which already has a glut of courses, many of which are value-priced.

Sources have told me the partners rarely had a cohesive vision for what they were trying to accomplish, which meant there was no singular way of presenting or marketing the facility. And I think it hurt that they were so aggressively ambitious at the start, only to fall so far short of their stated goals.

I think it is pretty clear no one is going to ante up $22-million for nearly 800 acres in a rural area near Niagara Falls. Would it be worth half that?

Thanks to realtor Dave Pratt for sending me the listing. Interestingly, with the exception of Crimson Ridge in Sault Ste. Marie, which is still up for sale at a listed $3.5-million, Pratt notes few high-end golf properties have made their way onto the market.

“We’re shocked at how few courses are available for sale in Ontario,” he says. “There doesn’t seem to be a shortage of buyers, just a shortage of available properties.”

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Robert Thompson

A bestselling author and award-winning columnist, Robert Thompson has been writing about business and sports, and particularly golf, for almost two decades. His reporting and commentary on golf has appeared in Golf Magazine, the Globe and Mail, T&L Golf and many other media outlets. Currently Robert is a columnist with Global Golf Post, golf analyst for Global News and Shaw Communications, and Senior Writer to ScoreGolf. The Going for the Green blog was launched in 2004.

6 CommentsLeave a comment

  • Played the course a couple weekends ago for the first time. It was in nice shape and I enjoyed my round. I think we paid @ $60 for our round. For that price, I have no bones to pick. As mentioned in the article, it is fine but certainly doesn’t excite one as a round is played. We all know there is an over supply especially in Niagara and at the high end. I think a lot of the development in Niagara from casinos to hotels to golf courses was started when we had a different dollar and Buffalo had a better economy. Between supply, the dollar,and the general economy, it will be interesting to see how things develop in the area.

    In terms of the real estate development, ideas and paper are fairly inexpensive….I have plenty of both!

    As an aside, the day I played, we were going to choose from this course and a RTJ course across the border, Glen Oak, which was charging $30 for a round. As it turned out we couldn’t get the tee time we wanted so we played Grand Niagara.

    I am also surprised there haven’t been more transactions. Another course of note is Seguin Valley which shut down this year? Not sure what the status is. We also saw Coppinwood change over. Perhaps by spring there will be a few more.

    Colin

  • A very nice course to be sure though I would agree that there was nothing so outstanding about the track that would make it a weekly must play.

    Given the extremely bad economy in the NF area it would seem to be many years before that vacant land has “residential” value.

    Have been told that one Southern Ontario private course has been decimated by resignations and opening in 2010 is not a certainty.

    This could be a nuclear winter for many marginal courses.

  • Sounds like an ambitious project that was concocted during boom times. They’re certainly not alone – look at Dubai! As for the pricetag, it sounds high, but I have no idea what land in that area is currently selling for. I guess the hope is that someone will bring some equity capital to the table and can wait for a rebound when a project like this may make sense. I suspect the lender is both willing to write their loan down and do a vendor-take-back if someone is willing to put up some dough. At 600 approved units (You could likely change the type of units) that amounts to about $37K per unit, which doesn’t sound completely crazy.

  • I have played a number of rounds at the Grand Niagara and it has always been in top condition. “Staying power” is the name of the game for these guys with the new convention centre coming into the Fallsview area, a Wallmart Super Centre and 750,000 of retail going up at the next interchange – if only these guys could hang in there for a few more years.

    I understand that the site also has a decommissioned CP rail line connecting it directly to the Niagara casino … now that would be some service if they could ever get the homes built.

  • It will be interesting if Clublink or Golf North make a bid for this course? Maybe the owners next year offer a golf and meal package such as Wodden Sticks do. Would pay over $100+ if this offer was available.
    RT- How are the reno’s comming along at TG???

  • Richard Pryor’s character in “Brewsters Millions” wouldn’t pay 22 million for that place.

    How many clublink shares can you get for $22.5 mill??

    RT.

    It doesn’t seem like they are really trying to sell it by listing at 22 million….will it go to auction?

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