Sahi, Clark, ClubLink and Me

I spent a gloriously sunny Monday on the fairways of Glencairn Golf Club near Milton playing a scramble to benefit Covenant House. The fundraiser was hosted by Morguard, a real estate company run by none other than Rai Sahi, the owner of ClubLink and Morguard’s CEO. Essentially I was there to nail down an elusive interview, as I’d been trying to catch up with Sahi by phone for some time. When that failed, Sahi invited me to join him in his foursome for the tournament.

While most corporate scrambles are deadly dull six-hour affairs, this one turned out to be different. For starters it only took five hours, and our group was interesting, including Sahi, Glencairn pro John Finlayson, and former Toronto Maple Leaf Wendel Clark. Sahi is a much better player than he was five or six years ago when I first played with him, and Clark, who says he plays 50 or 60 scrambles a summer, is a solid single-digit. Finlayson is a really strong playing club pro, an exception more than the rule. Typically I get paired in these events with one 20-handicap and two people who have never played the game.

That wasn’t the case this time. With all of us playing relatively solid golf, we shot 14-under and won the event, with Sahi taking a $20 bet off of former Argonauts QB Damon Allen (who has a beautiful swing, BTW) when we bettered Allen’s team by three shots.

The point of the event for me wasn’t the golf. It was about spending time with Sahi. I last played with Rai for a chapter in my Going for the Green book at Glen Abbey last year. It turned into one of my favourite chapters in the book, and I’ll admit to finding Sahi — who claims to have done more hostile takeovers than any CEO working in Canada — to be a fascinating figure.

He now owns three-quarters of ClubLink, and took over the role of CEO last year. He’s relatively involved despite his comment that ClubLink’s asset base of $550-million isn’t that large for him. “I buy $550 million in assets at Morguard and no one notices,” he says.

So what are his plans for ClubLink? He’s like to enter the development business and any new course the company builds — and that would likely be in the GTA — would involve a real estate component, he says. He’s also happy with the current executive arrangement, whereby three senior ClubLink execs — Charles Lorimer, Robert Visentin, and Edge Caravaggio — run the show as the office of the president. Sahi spends about a day a week working on ClubLink business.

And he enjoys it, by the sounds of it. He picked my brain on the state of the golf industry and gave me his impressions — that golf has to be run like a business and ClubLink could branch out from its main brand, perhaps entering the retail space to compete with GolfTown, or expand out its food services operation to non-golf entities. All interesting ideas — though it is hard to say if any of them will come to fruition.

All of that said, I wouldn’t expect a big change to ClubLink, though this notion of developing a new course with real estate was a newer notion, since I was last told the company would concentrate on buying courses, rather than creating them. “Raising cash is the least of our problems,” Sahi said in relation to financing a new venture.

He also mentioned 300 acres of land CL owns near the 400 and King Side Road as a possible new course, though he admited it would be tough to get it zoned for golf.

“It is zoned for green space,” Sahi said. “Isn’t golf green space?”

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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.

7 CommentsLeave a comment

  • Most property in King is affected by both the Provincial Greenbelt legislation and the Oak Ridges Moraine legislation. Golf courses may be permitted within certain designations of each, but the process is much more difficult and restrictions on the % of disturbed area may make the project infeasible (if that’s a word). I’m surprised quite frankly that companies like Clublink, and the golf industry have had little to say about these pieces of legislation and others proposed by the Provincial government. They have had and will continue to have a major impact on the industry in the years to come.

  • Isn’t 400 & King only a few kms from King Valley and Maple Downs? Is King Valley currently sitting with too many members? I heard that they lost more than a handful of members to Coppinwood in the last few years. If the courese was going to be public that it would also have to compete with Eagle’s Nest which is close.

  • Oh, thanks for that. Rai Sahi, someone I’ve known and interviewed on several occasions, invites me to join him in a charity function for Covenant House and that makes me “an entertainment reporter?” And how did I, exactly, “go along for the ride.” I find Rai to be interesting and a real force in Canadian business. Do I always agree with him? Hardly.

    And yes, Rai has done more hostile takeovers than just about anyone in Canada. I think that’s more fact than opinion.

    Sorry to hear your CL experience didn’t work out — Rai keeps asking me why I won’t join. I tell him I just am not that fond of most of CL’s courses — I like Heron, Glencairn and Rocky Crest, but am not thrilled about the rest.

  • Robert, Greenhills member here. I agree that clublink is good at letting the service slide. Conditioning is always suspect at best, Greenhills especially. Greenhills tends to be looked at as the second cousin to Clublink Toronto. Was there any discussion of purchases or developments in the London area. Mattrer of fact, I am suprised Clublink hasn’t dropped us yet.

  • I have to agree with the above statements re: conditions. Clublink has never been better than average in term of conditioning and playability. Better than most public golf course for Canada but sub standard to comparable private. Way below that of US and Mexician Resorts. The problem is they have no one on staff that has world class experience so how can you expect them to know the difference.
    RT is right with the collection of courses. They are lacking imagination and are very repetitive. Happens when you have 1 or 2 designers doing the work.
    At best they are no better than American Golf Corp.

  • RT – I am also a Greenhills member – BUT – I will be resigning at the end of this year due to the low quality of everything at Greenhills. Many members are fed up with playing conditions that are sub standard, especially since the local muni’s are in better shape and have faster greens. Clublink does have some great courses, just not in the London area. If you live in London, join Highland, The Oaks, or even St.Thomas G&CC before you ever think about Greenhills. Unless you are going to play 75% of your rounds in the GTA, Greenhills is not worth it. I will stop venting – thanks for letting me do so.
    BTW – Clublink will never buy anything else in the London area because they know they were lucky to get 500 suckers at Greenhills.

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