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The State of the Canadian Golf Industry: Pt. 1 (Seguin Valley, The Rock, Humber Valley Resort)

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.

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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.

8 CommentsLeave a comment

  • I was up in the neighbourhood over the weekend and my wife who stopped in said the resort side of Red Leaves looked great (busy at least). I’ve never had issues with the golf course, but it will be a critical add on to the resort if the whole thing is going to be a financial successful. The course has some quirk, but it’s better than Seguin, and I don’t think Seguin is all that bad. Interestingly, I think Seguin is designed even more as a resort type course. However, I couldn’t think of stronger headwinds than the economy for the Red Leaves guys right now. Opening in this environment will require patience from all stakeholders. Wish them luck, and Greg, don’t worry about RT’s criticisms of the course. You’ve got a nice track that takes full advantage of the Muskoka feel and landscapes, and that’s what people are coming there for.

  • The Rock. Awful name for a golf course. Was “The Swamp” taken? We used to drive up and back in a day (a long day) occassionally – just to get away. Gas is too pricey now. Collingwood is closer – easier drive – and usually better conditions/weather/less bugs.

  • To each their own. Me and my group of 8 long time golfers vacation in the Muskokas every fall. We all enjoy Seguin immensely and have played there multiple times. Nothing wrong with the routing. Follow the cart part. Beats marching up and back like so many courses do. ‘Marginal holes’. What’s your criteria?

  • The Rock is a well kept tricky little piece of golf architecture that can eat up an average golfer in no time. If shots aren’t placed on strategic landing areas on many holes you haven’t a hope of scoring well. I loved the sand traps a much friendlier place to find your ball than the green side second cut! Greens were fast and true. I still prefer Muskoka Bay and Rocky Crest … However for a hundred bucks with a cart it is a good days outing! J.

  • It seems we have been so caught up in the marketing of golf, real estate and resort development, that we forgot what it is as important as the golf game itself. Financial self sustainability!Maybe we need the top 100 financially sustainable golf courses in this environment, something to look up to, a business model that actually works, not the Top 100 underachieving courses. ( I am not saying the existing top 100 are struggling financially, I don’t know and neither does anyone else)
    It is my belief that we are using the cost of maintaining golf courses as the sacrificial lamb, when the real culprit is very poor management. Lets face it, if the state of golf course management in North America was as good as we feel or think it is. Then why are we having all these issuese.
    Repeating the same Golf management practices over and over and expecting a different result is quite simply ” insanity”!!
    All the Associations involved in the game of golf have to realize the role they have played in a game that is in trouble.
    It is my belief that we can no longer afford to do the things we used to do in the design, construction, management and maintenance of golf courses. It is time we checked the egos at the door and developed some solutions to a problem that everyone had a hand in.

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