[photopress:mystic_1_2.jpg,full,centered] First Muskoka’s The Rock closes for all of 2007, now Mystic Golf Club has apparently finally succumbed to its financial woes.
G4G spies have noted that Mystic GC, the much-discussed public course near Hamilton, was placed in the hands of a receiver on Friday. This essentially means the creditors are taking over the course from owner Roland Berger, the German businessman with whom I had many an intriguing exchange on this blog over the summer (these pitched email exchanges can be found here, and here.) Mystic’s creditors will now try to sell it in the hopes of getting their cash out of the facility. I believe the receiver will be meeting with creditors, which might well include Mr. Berger, depending on how he structured the club. That meeting is supposed to take place today. I’ll provide more detail as it becomes available.
The saga of Mystic, or Mistake GC as it has been referenced by those in the Canadian golf industry, has become the stuff of much gossip. The course “opened” in the fall of 2005 with patchy fairways, no clubhouse and numerous issues. But owner Berger, who had no experience in the industry, had big plans, including a hefty green fee that was expected to start at $125 and rise. The following spring the club opened with many of the same problems. The issue was golf patrons stayed away in droves, and when the club’s financial situation failed to improve, with staff disappearing on a regular basis (including a couple of superintendents, a GM and a director of golf, all this summer alone). Despite Berger placing thousands of dollars worth of ads (and then not paying for them in places like Score Golf, OG and others), golfers determined Mystic wasn’t that magical and decided to play elsewhere.
Truth be told, the course itself was not bad, though Berger’s lack of knowledge of the game (he never played golf before building the course) and the decision to build a difficult course with narrow fairways and tons of forced carries, certainly hurt playability and limited the audience. Thankfully many of these problems could be easily fixed with a few small design tweaks. So what are we as an industry learning from the failures of clubs like The Rock (which only did 11,000 rounds in 2006, according to sources, well below a projected 20,000) and Mystic? Apparently a developer needs to put plenty of thought and care into chosing their designer and the style of club they want to create. If you spend too much, build a course that limits your audience, build in the wrong place or somehow fail to capture the imagination of golfers, they will simply go elsewhere.
I guess this would seem self-evident. But course developers regularly build golf without giving any consideration to these factors. Every developer thinks they can attract the corporate dollar instead of the average public golfer. However, look at the clubs that have been true financial successes in recent years — places like Ballantrae Golf Club, Copetown Woods and others — have offered strong, more modest designs at a value that makes them attractive to a vast majority of golfers. As an industry it is time to stop building courses with a $150 green fee that come equiped with clubhouses suitable for Donald Trump and focus on something much more radical — building courses with fees that make them profitable and popular with average golfers. This should be an obvious notion. One shouldn’t have to hire a consultant to explain this. The Rock may successfully relaunch as a “new and improved” version of Faldo, Stenson and Moote’s work; Mystic’s new owners (who might be ClubLink, but could also be one of a handful of others who would be willing to snap up the club at the right price) may be able to alter the design to make it attractive to golfers. But in the near term we are going to see more turmoil — and more receiverships — of courses whose owners simply misunderstood the market and what golfers actually want.
My review of Mystic, from the fall of 2005 when I first played the course, can be found here.