[photopress:dundasvalley.jpg,full,alignright]While doing some Internet reading, I stumbled onto a link to a $9.25 million plan for Dundas Valley, the private Stanley Thompson-designed golf course located near Ancaster, Ontario.
It provides an interesting insight into the inner-workings of a mid-tier private golf course in Canada, including the issues they face from increasing competition.
The essence of the report is this — Dundas Valley feels it is falling behind its rivals in the area. Without significant clubhouse and course changes, the situation is bleak, as the club notes in the report:
¢Dundas Valley demographics: average age is now 56.8 with only 16% under 45; very active golfers playing 25% more rounds than the RCGA private club average; membership has declined from 615 to 550 with average annual member attrition at 48 versus new members of 28 per year.
¢ If current attrition and recruiting imbalance continues, golf membership can be projected to decline to 442 by 2011. This means a projected non-competitive annual fee of $4,320 in 2011, or 40% higher than it is today.
So members are falling off and costs are rising. At the same time, competition is tough:
¢ Local competition has grown significantly over the past 30 years with 35 public courses and ten private clubs within 30 minutes of Dundas.
¢ Local private club competition is segmented in three tiers:
-Tier 1, high-price (+$40,000) – Hamilton, Heron Point, Rattlesnake.
-Tier 2, moderate ($20-39,000) – Burlington, Brantford, Beverly.
-Tier 3, low-priced (under $19,000) Dundas, Glendale, Trafalgar, Wyldwood.
¢ Tier 1 and 2 clubs are in high demand each with wait lists; tier 3 clubs have no wait lists.
¢ Brantford, Beverly and Burlington have invested significantly for new clubhouses and course upgrades.
¢ Our annual golf fees have risen 20% over the last five years leaving little room for increases based on competitor pricing. Our annuals are also somewhat higher than the competition when combined with house minimums.
All of these problems, as well as the big bill for all the changes, has apparently divided many at Dundas Valley. I called the club a few months ago, and the bill for the changes was approved, though the GM admitted not everyone was happy about it. He said there was no truth to the rumours the club had been approached by developers to sell the land, or that some club members were pushing the club to consider that option.
It’ll be interesting to see what happens. The club has hired David Moote to do the restoration work. The club’s reasoning was this:
In 2003, the Club engaged golf course architect David Moote to develop a long-range Master Plan for the golf course.
Moote Golf Architects has a historic relationship with Stanley Thompson since Davids father, Bob, worked for him. This provides for important continuity for restorative golf course work…
Funny that a club would think a person’s tangential link to Stanley Thompson would be enough to warrant his hiring. While I enjoyed Le Portage, a course by Bob Moote in Cape Breton, the firm’s work is considered first tier among Canadian golf designers. And it is not like David Moote worked for Stanley Thompson. I mean I have the same last name, so I have about as much of a connection to Canada’s greatest designer. But this happens all the time, which is why Rees and Robert Trent Jones Jr. are often hired to do work on their father’s designs.
I’ve spent the last couple of days talking to private club GMs, and I regularly hear the same thing — clubs are going to have to change, reconsider their cost structures and move with the times or, as one GM said, “They’ll go the way of the Dodo bird.”
My take on this means the situation has to become more transparent. Clubs should post their initiations and fees on their websites. They need to learn to spend less — a model that has worked wonderfully in Scotland and England. In turn, a more affordable club system could well bring new players into the game.
Maybe with an appropriate restoration Dundas Valley can compete with Burlington and Hamilton. But one has to wonder about the merits of spending $9.25 million and whether that will yield the appropriate return when the project is completed.