Reinventing the Game

I was back writing for the National Post this week — doing a golf supplement for the Financial Post Business Magazine and writing a story on private clubs in Canada. It was almost like old times, except without the regular pay cheque and dealing with difficult editors.

Anyway, one of the stories appeared today. It is about the struggles of Canadian private clubs in the post-economic meltdown period:

Despite a sharp downturn in 2008 that left many private golf clubs struggling for members, and dozens of courses in the United States shuttering their doors, Kevin Thistle says he was still convinced there would be a rebound. In fact, Mr. Thistle, the affable former general manager of Toronto’s Angus Glen Golf Club, a high-end public course that hosted two Canadian Opens under his watch, was so certain of his conviction that he left his job to take on the head role at Coppinwood Golf Club, a struggling but exclusive private club near Uxbridge, Ont.

Coppinwood had opened only five years previous with huge expectations and an equal budget, but had failed to find a market for those willing to part with $80,000 to join a private golf club. Seeking 375 members, the original owners could attract only 108, and were forced to sell the club in 2009 at a fraction of the price it cost to build. The new owners, 30 members calling themselves WSC -We Saved Coppinwood -raised the money to purchase the club, slashed the initiation fee and changed the club’s model.

“I think we’ve come out of the worst of the economic downturn,” Mr. Thistle says.

Coppinwood members are lucky. Many other clubs continue to struggle to find wellheeled younger members. Newspaper sports sections are often peppered with clubs offering to cut or finance initiation fees, especially for those under 40. In the United States, golf courses -often central to large real estate developments -were struggling even prior to the economic slowdown in 2008. Since then, real estate developers have walked away from some of the courses, offering to sell them to members or turning them over to banks that have little interest in running them. In the United States last year, 107 courses closed.

The remainder of the article is here.

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Jeff Lancaster

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  • This is an interesting issue. Just last night I was talking to a friend about the Toronto Golf Club (HS Colt/1912). Until recently, there was a perpetual waiting list. No longer…

    Clubs like Thornhill, Weston, Summit and others in the Toronto area provide a trial membership equivalent for the most part to the annual fee. This can be a mugs game in that one could potentially simple “join” a different club every year and rotate through without a long term commitment. This doubly hurts as there is no annual recurring revenue from renewals, bar & meals tabs and fewer guest rounds that could also expose potential members to the a club.

    Some clubs have also reduced their initiation fees and/or have added extremely attractive financing terms.

    Woe is also the club that decides to sell – the land upon which many clubs sit is worth a fortune.


  • Last I looked, The Summit doesn’t provide a trial membership and shouldn’t be misrepresented as such T. Morris. I haven’t looked at the membership offers at Thornhill or Weston either, so it probably would be best to verify also.

    I agree with you in principal, that some trial memberships are not good business models for clubs in the long term.

    Personally, I think the semi-private model may start to creep in at struggling clubs

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