Interesting news crossed my desk today that led me to consider the state of the Canadian golf course business. Not that this is new for me — I wrote about the matter in the latest issue of ScoreGolf (which I can’t find a link to online — hardest thing about the Score site is finding the current issue online, but I digress).
At that point Newfoundland’s Humber Valley Resort was in bankruptcy while the main creditor tried to find an owner for the course. Wydansea in on Vancouver Island was faced with foreclosure, with an April date passing in which the developer owed $24 million. Several projects were put on hold — all relating to real estate development, and in Ontario, The Club at Bond Head was leased to ClubLink. Of course the saga of Coppinwood is well known — and it appears that club will survive with new management in place.
Today, I heard reference to Seguin Valley, a Muskoka course that was challenged from the start, with an owner (Robert McRae) who grossly overspent for a mediocre result. I know there are people that will write me and say it is a fine course, but its awful convoluted routing and marginal holes make it the ugly duckling of Northern Ontario.
It turns out you can put a fork in it — Seguin is done, at least for now. A recording on the club’s phone system says the course is shut down. There was talk that the project, which some say cost more than $20 million including 2,000 acres of land, was sold last year, but apparently the deal fell through. Now it is being maintained — but not operated — as the owner looks for another buyer.
That appears to be the state of Humber Valley Resort in Newfoundland as well. Though rumours of the course’s demise abound, and it has not been maintained since last fall, Gary Oke, the former GM of nearby Blomidon Golf & CC, has now been given the go ahead to reopen the course, according to reports out of the Newfoundland press. He raised a good point — that it would be easier to find a buyer for the course if it were maintained. Otherwise it could cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to bring the course conditions up after months of being neglected. Needless to say, the course isn’t out of the woods yet — and that’s a shame, since it is without doubt one of the Top 20 in the country.
Then today I received a strange not from the director of golf, Greg Downer, at The Rock in Muskoka. Downer came into the project after the course was closed for a year for an extensive renovation. He reopened the course last year, and Downer was front and centre trying to raise its profile once more, especially with the amazing looking Red Leaves resort opening. But Downer’s note today indicated he’s no longer with the club — and I haven’t been able to get to the bottom of what is going on. I’ll dig in on this one tomorrow…
Update: Downer emailed today to say that the club has parted ways with Marriott Golf, which was manning the golf-management part of the operation. Marriott remains in place with the resort. Downer is still at the club, which plans to open May 30. Interestingly, it was Marriott that pushed Ken Fowler, the owner of The Rock, into using Nick Faldo and Brit Stenson for the design. That went so well the club had to close operations to fix the problems. Sounds like Marriott didn’t get turfed soon enough…
Is this what the bottom looks like? Most private clubs are struggling to find members, and some (namely Credit Valley and Mississaugua) are faced with huge issues because of ice damage. Mississaugua is well heeled, but there are rumblings that Credit Valley is facing a large membership shortfall, and it is tough to entice new members to join when your course is going to be closed for half the season.
Are we likely to see more failures? I’d bet on it. But it won’t be the high-end GTA area courses — they are largely well capitalized and still seeing significant traffic ( I know, having fought for a parking spot at both Eagles Nest and Angus Glen in recent days). But real estate-based projects are likely bleeding cash, and one has to wonder about the state of golf in smaller markets (like Oshawa G&CC where GM is based, or Essex in Windsor, home of the Canadian operations of Chrysler). If we are going to see courses fail, I’m betting it is in the smaller markets.