Turmoil at Mystic Golf

According to well placed sources, several potential suitors are now circling [photopress:Mystic_18.jpg,full,alignright]around Ancaster, Ont.’s Mystic Golf Club. Today owner Roland Berger fired head professional John Hayward, and rumours of the club’s struggles and lack of rounds are the talk of the Ontario golf industry. According to one industry source, Mystic has barely done 2,500 rounds to date, in a market where 25,000 to 30,000 is expected.

One industry source told me today that ClubLink Corp. has approached individuals in a move that would see it acquire the club’s outstanding debt. On Friday, ClubLink said it would not comment on the rumour. Sources said other suitors are also said to be looking at acquiring the club..

Of course, the Mystic story was almost expected in a highly competitive market. Berger had no golf experience and placed a questionable green fee on a course in challenging conditions. The club initially charged $125 green fees and kept patrons away; but at a more reasonable $85 that it had been charging lately, the course should be a success. However, difficult course conditions, regular employee turnover (a super, two assistant supers, GM, and a head pro all since opening , and unusual choices in marketing certainly have hurt its chances.

Friday Update: Despite several calls to Mr. Berger asking for clarity on the Mystic story, I did not receive a return call. The club is operating normally, despite John Hayward’s departure. I reached Hayward today, and he commented that a lack of a strong business plan certainly hurt the course over the last year. Hayward was always a strong proponent of Mystic’s design, and the club has certainly lost a supporter with his departure.

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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.

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  • I don’t know if anyone will read this or care, but I was one member of a foursome who paid $125 to play a pretty good designed course that was in horrible unfinished shape. We went because of the hype that it will go up in price to $175 and this was our last chance to get on for $125. BIG joke!

    When we finished the round, we all acknowledged the fact that we were fleeced and the course would be a complete fiasco–as it turns out to be. The support staff was gloomy and depressing. I have had better service from a mini-putt operator. I know that one of the staff was the Head Pro and if he got fired, from my experience with him, I think it could be a relatively good move.

    Again I doubt anyone will read this and care. Good luck,

  • Dear Mr. Thomson,
    since I could not reach you by phone today and you did not try to get in touch with me directly, but called Mystic’s reservation # 905.304.3344 instead on behalf of ScoreGolf and The National Post I prefer to write this open letter.

    John Hayward’s termination of employment as Head Professional at Mystic was a professional decision which does not require to be discussed in public. Mr. Hayward got a 14 days notice under regular terms. We would appreciate if Mr. Hayward accepts this as an unfortunate part of any business.
    Ryan Wilson, CPGA, is in charge of golf operation. I’m convinced Ryan, a class A golf professional for several years, will be running Mystic’s golf operation to the full satisfaction of Mystic’s patrons.
    Although it is not Mystic’s policy to release confidential information I may assure you Mr. Thomson so far we are well over 2500 rounds. It would not be realistic to expect 25-30000 rounds for the first year of operation. The 1. and 2. year are usually in any business considered as start up. A golf club is no exeption. Besides, with 15 minutes tee time interval it would be mathematically impossible.
    An outstanding golf course as Mystic will prove to be a successful operation as well; wait a year!
    As a young course with dramatic elevation changes, wetlands and lots of mature woods Mystic finds its lovers not only among the serious golfers but also a variation of wild life.
    Under the direction of Golf Course Superintendent Brian Taylor Mystic’s highly motivated crew deals with this challenges on a daily basis. As a result, the course is constantly improving and leaves the majority of golfers with the wish to come back asap to challenge their skills again.
    I do not no of Club Link buying any debt of Mystic; as to their own comments neither does Club Link.
    Most important:
    Mystic NEVER announced a rate of $ 175. This wrong information was originated by an uninformed insider of the media industry.
    The rates are:
    Member for the day: $ 125,- includes cart, bag tags, tees and unlimited golf including Nike one black unlimited range balls and replay. Many golfers especially of the GTA enjoy this feature.
    Regular rate: $ 85,- includes cart, bag tags, tees , 1/3 hour practice range and 18 holes.
    Monday “EARLY BIRD” 7 to 11 am: $ 75,- included as above
    Twilight: $ 65,- included as above
    all rates include complimentary continental breakfast until 9:30 am.

    Last but not least Mr. Thomson why do you use the same old photo over and over again (dated back to Mid Novemver 2005). We will be very happy to send you some actual professionnal photos.

    Always available for you,

    Roland Berger

  • Mr Berger, I think you have it wrong.
    Mr Thompson has given your course favorable reviews. It was a responder that brought up the $175 figure.
    I am sure he is just looking to clarify rumors that have been circulating for weeks. I had heard the same thing 3 weeks ago while playing a nearby course.
    The course definitely needs to mature some, although to be fair, most of the greens were in very good shape.
    I would suggest to you that Mr Thompson and this website should not be considered your enemy. In fact they have probrably brought you a significant portion of your business to date.
    Your clubs problem lies strictly with its marketing. I have never spoken to anyone (all avid golfers) who had even heard of the Mystic. I did convince some friends to try it a couple of weeks ago and we loved it. The price was fair, $85 with cart and range on a Fri afternoon (you would pay that anywhere).
    Local newspapers and opening specials (making up for some poor fairway conditioning) would go a long way in promoting your course.
    $125+ golf courses are having a tough go of it now (although your $125 concept of member for a day is somewhat unique), as the average guys entertainment dollar is getting swallowed up by the Gas and Energy companies. Thundering Waters has dropped their price to $99 (from $149), Grand Niagara can’t draw anybody and the Legends of Niagara has offered some great deals to get people out.
    An empty tee time is like an empty airline seat or hotel room…worthless to its owner.
    Be creative offer some deals to get people out. Be honest about the conditions and open up the range so someone can drop by and practice once in a while.
    In a couple of years the market will find itself and you can adjust accordingly.

  • Dear Mr. Berger,

    Its hard to justify $125 or even $85 for that matter to play your course, which doesn’t even have a clubhouse. I suggest your lower your price (again) and give your customers a break. Mystic is a wonderful golf course, but with your location, price and zero amentities, its really hard to make the trip.

  • Dear Mr. Burger,
    You should have fired the superintedent of the course. I cannot believe I had to pay $90 to play a course with no grass. The course was harder than my drive way.

  • Kevin, in the Superintedents defence, I think its more of a budget issue then he’s fault.

  • I recently played with an eightsome (2 foursomes) and enjoyed the course. The staff that greeted us were very cordial and helpful as was the Marshall. I can’t say the same for the pro shop staff. Not user friendly.

    I agree with earlier comments that the fees need to be more respectful of the newness of the course and lack of amenities such as proper toilets, food, etc. There is a lot of competition in the area that offers great golf (Heron, Hamilton, Copetown, Burlington, etc). It will be difficult to attract golfers without stronger marketing, more reasonable fee structure and improved grooming around the fairways, etc. I know this since this is my living, developing strategic plans.

    Good luck.

  • It seems that Mr. Berger’s attitude (as displayed in his posting above) may represent a large part of the reason that Mystic is continually receiving the reviews from the non-journalist golf community (i.e., paying players) that it has: interesting design, some good concepts, but it’s like they just ran out of money.

    There has clearly been a lack of seed on the fairways, the staff is apparently coming across as disgruntled (although I must say my experience with them, particularly John and Ryan, was positive – that’s a lot of what brought me back to try it a second time), and there is an utter void when it comes to the kind of amenities that make a course ‘high end’ (or heck, even passable – can you say washrooms and ballwashers??).

    Despite Mr. Berger’s hopes, Mystic will *not* be successful without stark realization: if it is going to be a high end course, then someone has to invest the money to make that happen. You can’t charge the prices that Mr. Berger wishes to charge and have a sizable number of golfers feeling that they got less than their money’s worth. Golfers will not come back to a course if they feel they were taken for a ride the first time out – they’re very reluctant to give a course a second chance once they’ve been burned. Golfers are also very anxious to tell their golfing friends (and even golfers they’ve never met) about their good, and bad, golfing experiences. Blogs have done wonders for the golfing community.

    Unfortunately, with the number of individuals and companies that have yet to be paid for the work done toward making Mystic the terrific course it *could* be (which is why I question the rumour about Club Link’s interest in buying – I understand all they have to do is a search on outstanding law suits against the course to see what they’re dealing with), I suspect things at Mystic will get worse long before they get better.

  • Mr. McVeigh, I hope the marketing strategies you put together for your clients are a little more subtle than your pitch to get marketing business from Mystic!

  • I played Mystic yesterday for the first time and found it in great shape, the recent rain has helped. The greens were fast but true and only a few fairways had little grass. It was the most challenging course I have ever played including Angus Glen and Glen Abbey. The $75 earlybird was a great bargain, but not for everyone, if your handicap is over 20…you won’t break 110.

  • I, as well as about half a dozen other students, worked at Mystic over the summer. As part of our term of employment we signed a contract stating that should we maintain employment through the entire summer, we were entitled to a bonus equal to $1 for every hour worked. We all fulfilled our contracts (worked 50 hours a week, no overtime or any perks of any sort, from Spring to September 1st) and eagerly awaited October 1, 2006–the day we were to receive our bonus lump sum. Of course knowing Mystic and its Modus operandi, this money was never given to anyone. I ask what kind of management cheats off hard-working students that have tuition to pay? Many of us were counting on that bonus to pay for books, rent, food etc. Mystic is a pathetic excuse for a golf course and Roland Berger is a liar and thief.

  • On October 28th 2007, my lovely girlfriend and I were able to leave our work behind and fit a round of golf into our busy lives.
    We decide mystic (no typo) would be a change and challenge from the surrounding courses weve frequented the last while.
    After nine holes the rain was persistent enough that we asked for a rain check so that we could return and enjoy the back nine hopefully at the like temperature but dryer.
    “No problem”, the polite staff said.
    We returned on the 31rst at around 3 p.m.
    We are all fully aware as golfders and S. Ontarians that the window is closing quickly for golf and often slams shut without notice.
    It was a slendid sunny afternoon and the course was relatively busy.
    Our choice to play the front nine again (I note “our” because the staff did try to get us off the back nine) was based on the time of day and the fact that a foursome had just teed off on no. 10. (2 were walking when we were told it was cart only!).
    We zoomed through the front nine and had a good half hour of sunshine left in the day. Without any thought of malice or deception (Hey! we’re golfers) we drove to the tenth tee and admired it’s length and layout. We hoped we could get in a couple more holes and return the cart in time for everyone to leave at their regular hour on this gorgeous sunny afternoon. Well, we hit our drives (my lady in the fairway, me in the bush) and proceeded along. While searching for my ball a marshall approached and asked somewaht arrogantly if we were “the twosome with the nine hole raincheck”. Not “How did you enjoy the course?” or “Folks I know it’s a great day but we pack up at…”.
    There was no tact whatsoever as you may expect from a, I say loosely, higher end course. He did retract and tell us we could finish out the hole if we wished after he felt my ire but at this point the the game was done.
    What a shame, with so many golf courses in the area, that there wasn’t proper training or the hiring of staff to deal with future prospective clients properly.
    So, did we expect something for nothing? No, we played 18.
    Did we lose respect for a course and it’s (or a few of it’s employees) policy? Definitely.
    So, we’ll continue patronizing the courses that have no beef with golfers and their fever. What a few extra divots? A couple more broken tees? C’mon who does it hurt?
    It hurt mystic. (no typo) We won’t return and our many friends and family know the story well.

  • With all due respect, you need to adhere the rules of the golf course and not make your own. You obviously are not associated in the golf industry except that you play golf. After all, would you like it if I came to your job and and help myself to as many milk shakes possible. I have seen people take advantage of golf courses in the respect as what you have. If you wanted to play more holes, then you should have worked out something with the pro shop manager and not assume that you can keep playing and hope that you don’t get caught. I think you were more embarrassed that you got caught and felt like ranting about a marshall that was doing his job. If you were playing the round of your life and were anywhere close to breaking 80, his or her comment about the “raincheck couple” wouldn’t have fazed you. Regardless, it’s people that take advantage of golf courses and play extra holes, bringing there own alcohol that will get less respect for there actions. The old saying goes, when you ASSume, ……figure out the rest

  • RS,

    Your unintelligible scribble leads me to believe that you are not associated with the golf industry either. At least not with Mystic.
    If you were you would have seized the opportunity to gain future patrons (and possible employment?) by soothing the situation rather than accentuating it.
    My letter of concern (sandwiched among many others) was prompted by two important factors: the end of season and the time of day.
    Your point of stopping at the clubhouse was valid and had there been more than maybe 30 minutes of daylight left the trek probably would have been made.
    How your letter factored in “milkshakes, alcohol, breaking 80” (did once) was comical and completely irrelative nonsense.
    No one was trying to take advantage of anyone nor hurt anyone. The fact remains that with the competitiveness for business in all sectors a happy customer is repeat customer.
    So adios amigos. Copetown here we come.
    P.S. Can I ASSume that the last 3 letters of your name are ole?

  • While visiting the In-Laws, in the area, I decided to check out this course June 19, 2006.

    Have played quite a bit of golf in North America and England over the past 35 years.

    1. Teed of at 2pm – there were maybe 10 cars in the parking lot!
    2. I am never impressed when there are dandelions growing on the first tee box.
    3. NO ball washers on the course?
    4. NO directional signage?
    5. NO food available.
    6. Many fairways lacked something ….. grass. Greens were in excellent condition.
    7. Chubby dickweed, wasting good air in the Pro Shop tried his best to make me fell unwanted…… job well done fatfuk.
    8. Range/Cart attendant guy was very nice and helpful.

    Suggest, if you don’t know how to run a golf facility, get out of the business.

    Paid $95.00 ….. was worth $35-45.

    Nice layout, for the new owners to take over.

    If you can’t have 60 cars in the parking lot at 2PM mid June, the ownership is confirmed as useless!

    Not like I care, I would never go back.

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