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Dundas Valley — The State of Private Golf Pt. 1

[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.

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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.

4 CommentsLeave a comment

  • Souped up equipment/balls = more distance. More distance = increased land and maintenance costs. Increased land and maintenance costs = slower play, higher cost to play. Slowplay, high playing costs = reduced demand. Reduced demand = reduced market for private club snobs.

  • Rob: with respect, you may have missed the point about Dundas Valley. Many of the proposed changes, resulting in a planned expenditure of $9.2 mil over five years, are required for technical and practical reasons.
    For example: the clubhouse, while technically sound, has aged and needs upgrades. Maintenance buildings need to brought up to new codes. Similarly, turf has aged and planned restoration through a Turf Quality Care program is underway. Bunker restoration has been a plan in the works for years.
    Partially, as is the case with many old courses, because bunkers have been closed out, or diminished in size meaning intrinsic elements of a Thompson design have been lost. In Dundas Valley’s case, many orginally planned bunkers were not constructed (possibly due to restrictions during the Depression).
    Bunker restoration assists in bringing back the risk and reward style of play given the course now, like so many others, is landlocked.
    All of the elements were very thoughtfully examined over two years by the Strategic Planning Committee. Members were surveyed about many issues and the conclusion after much research and deliberation was that a renaissance was in order. And not only because of increased competition, or changing demogaphics. Any course, Thompson or otherwise, of this era needs upgrades to remain healthy and viable. This was not a desparate plan, hell-bent to only secure new members, rather one which addressed long and short-term needs.
    I think your comment about a ‘tangential link to Stanley Thompson’ (regarding David Moote) is unfortunate. Irrespective of master planning, and given my comments above, David is regarded as one of the country’s top environmental golf course architectural experts. As well, he has similar qualifications in regard to turf and reguired growing mediums for old turf to bring all to modern standards.
    Given that we are situated in a sensitive world bisophere, carefully guarded by NEC; and have tired turf; I can think of no one more qualified to be the Club’s architect-of-record. Importantly, given his lineage, and even though his name is not Thompson (as is yours), he is a proponent 0f the Stanley Thompson Society mandate which is ‘dedicated to the preservation of Stanley Thompson golf courses’. There are many architects, unfortunately, who have little or no regard for preservation, or restoration. David does. This is a further measure of protection for one of Stanley’s better routings on, possibly, one of the best natural properties in Southern Ontario.
    Dundas Valley, I believe, considers itself to be responsible stewards of this escarpment property (with its important Carolinian forest); and of a Thompson classic.
    So, there is more to it than simply being competitive.

    Regards, Bill

  • It is 6 years later. What was outcome of the planned renovation and how is the course and membership faring today?

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