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Ancaster's Mystic GC in receivership?

[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.

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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.

5 CommentsLeave a comment

  • Robert. You were bang-on in your assesment of Mystic. I played the course several times last year as a guest of Mr. Hayward and Mr. Berger. They constantly wanted my feedback on every aspect of the course, and I told them what I honestly thought. Unfortunately, Mr. Hayward agreed, but Mr. Berger didn’t want to address some of the issues I had (Ridiculous 10th hole with three forced carries. Patchy fairways, lack of amenities, etc.) I also had a problem with the green fees (even though I didn’t have to pay) I have many friends who don’t mind paying 125 bucks, but certainly don’t want to drive halfway to Brantford UNLESS the course is the second-coming of Augusta National. Like you, I hope whoever buys Mystic makes the necessary changes that will turn it into an excellent course worth playing again and again.
    Keep up the excellent work.
    Yours truly,
    Mark Hebscher
    CHCH Television
    Hamilton ON

  • Editor’s note — several comments relating to this post were deleted when I made some alterations to the story. Sorry about that.

    RT

  • Why would Clublink be interested in this course? They already have one private course in Ancaster, Heron Point, which is a better course and which is a relative bargain given its location that makes it a bit too far for Toronto based golfers. There is also another private course in Ancaster which is, arguably, the best course in the country.

    This leaves the daily fee option and there is other good competition at lower price points. For example, Copetown Woods is about $55-65. Isn’t that the right price point for Mystic? If so then how much money could Clublink make operating the course as a public facility?

  • Apparently, Wayne, Heron has been a big hit since the 407 went through and now the organization thinks it could sell another course down in that area.

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