Muskoka Bay GC: Reaching for the Sky in a Falling Market

Muskoka Bay: Worth $215?

Muskoka Bay: Worth $215?

I was intrigued by a note I received as a “Muskoka Bay Enthusiast,” from Peter Freed, the president of the Muskoka Bay development in Gravenhurst. By all accounts, Muskoka Bay has been exceptionally well received. It has won a boatload of awards, and is generally held up as one of the best courses in Northern Ontario.

However, I found Freed’s note perplexing. He said the clubs fees will “start to reflect our gradual phasing towards a private model.” With that the club is raising greens fees to $215, or 28% from the previously listed green fee of $175. But it doesn’t stop there. Nope. The club’s message also says they now have 90 members, and “are likely to approach 150” by the end of 2009.

One thought — who are these guys kidding? Have they not noticed the news lately? My paper this morning had a headline screaming that real estate prices in Toronto have dropped 10% in the last six months, yet here is a high-end club announcing they are raising their fees by $50.

I can only assume their goal is to clear their fairways so that the 90 members they have won’t run into a member of the hoi poli taking a divot on one of the slopped fairways on their Muskoka gem. If there’s another reason, I’m hoping someone can point it out to me.

In case Freed and management at Muskoka Bay haven’t noticed, we’re in a recession. He says in his note that memberships are still selling for $50,000 for a single and $70,000 for a family, but are set to “increase substantially.” I’ve spoken to several private clubs recently and no one is talking about having their memberships increase, let alone raising the initiation fees. What they are discussing is offering “trial” memberships for up to three years now (as is the case at Brantford.)

I find this all the more stunning since Muskoka Bay is a real estate development, and one that I would think will struggle to sell units in coming years. I would think the facility would want to supplement its income — money that won’t likely be coming from members — by inviting the public and offsetting the club’s costs. Instead they’ve designed a plan that will likely turn more people away.

The world has changed since the summer — but apparently word hasn’t hit the outer reaches of Gravenhurst.

  • My review of Muskoka Bay from 2006 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.

9 CommentsLeave a comment

  • I’d add one more comment to that RT. Muskoka Bay is a pure Resort Course – not walking friendly. I guess if I bought a house in their development, a membership might make sense, but while all you pundits reap praise on the course, it has the most resort feel of all of them up there with the exception of Taboo. It just doesn’t lend itself to being a members course.

    Hope I’m wrong, but I think they have a problem.

  • I dont consider the Muskoka area to be located in Northern Ontario.

    I don’t know why the club would be doing this after being well recieved as a golf course. Given that the fee was already $175, I can’t imagine people will be that receptive to an increase. Why reinvent the wheel, clearly people were happy with what was being offered price wise and golf wise.

  • it’s also a very short season, have you tried golfing in the Muskoka’s before the 3rd week in June? You get eaten alive – After 3rd week in Sept? you have to finish by 3:30

  • Mr. Freed has another unpleasant surprise coming as he tries to get $550 per square foot in some of his unsold condos in King West. Someone please tell the Emperor that he isn’t wearing any clothes!

  • Having been an employee at Muskoka Bay both before and during the price increase I can tell you that I’ve witnessed all the motivations and reactions associated with the situation. In 2009 we did acquire nearly 30 new members – an exceptional number given the economic forecast – lifting our member number to nearly 140. The public green fee increase to $215 was, I believe, an attempt to distinguish Muskoka Bay as the most exceptional golf experience in the region – which, honestly, it may very well be – and to facilitate for more ‘blocked’ tee times for member play (prior to 2009, we would see days in the peak season which were marked by high volumes of twilight play, when the rates decreased).
    Despite the fee increase and introduction of some tee time restrictions, Muskoka Bay received MORE public players than it had in previous years! It would seem that the more people come to play, the more they realize it’s worth the green fee. The golf course sells itself – but the fee-hike strategy was definitely a clever and effective instrument in attracting new interest.

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