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?”