Yesterday saw a press release from GolfNorth, the owner of numerous mid-tier courses in Southern Ontario, turn up in my in-box. The company is owned by RIM co-CEO Jim Balsillie, but is now run by new CEO Shawn Evans, who replaced former top dog and company co-founder Al Kavanagh. Evans, a lawyer, is a hockey buddy of Balsillie. The release made some bold remarks, though I’m not sure if there was a news hook in the timing.
“We are in a position where we can invest in our properties and it gives us a big competitive advantage,” says Evans, who was appointed President and CEO by GolfNorth owner Jim Balsillie in November 2010.
Looks like Evans was trying to capture some attention — after all GolfNorth has basically run under the radar. Beyond that, the courses always had a reputation as being low-end, with questionable conditions. Certainly this wasn’t the mini-ClubLink some had expected (though CL was an early investor).
The release says Evans is “buoyant” about the business and is overseeing an “aggressive” campaign to improve conditioning at the organization’s courses, adding:
Evans’s appointment signified a fresh infusion of new ideas, a younger and more energetic management team, as well as a renewed commitment to keep improving the golf experience at GolfNorth.
He added GolfNorth intends to spend “some money to make a little bit of money.”
“But we are spending significantly more over prior years to enhance our golf experience and improve our facilities. We have dedicated ourselves to improving the golf experience at our courses by purchasing new turf equipment, and improving tee decks, irrigation and drainage. We delivered new golf cart fleets this season to our Foxwood, Conestoga and Dundee courses.
“We are also managing our tee sheets better to provide a better customer experience by adjusting tee time intervals so that our customers enjoy brisk rounds. We have invested in our clubhouses with a range of upgrades such as new flooring and washrooms, new bars and banquet rooms in some of our facilities, and sometimes just a fresh coat of paint.”
As for the state of the business, Evans says it is a “sad reality” that a “number of courses in Ontario are going under,” though admittedly I haven’t heard of many actually failing, despite the high-profile mess that is Owen Sound G&CC.
He said GolfNorth’s stable financial position helps the company in tough times, even though Balsillie’s net worth has tumbled in recent months. Still, he’s a billionaire, so I guess the financial situation is solid.
“We want to make sure that people who are playing golf come to our courses,” Evans says. “We have solid financial backing and we will continue to grow. It will be hard to compete with us as the years go by. There are new golfers, and we want them coming to us. If we can pick up some new courses for prices that are favourable to us, we’ll use those finds to grow our business.”
Evans says GolfNorth provides “the best value for your golf dollar in Ontario. I’d be happy to debate that point with anyone. We sell an experience.”
I wonder what that experience is. In recent years GN has sought out numerous mid-tier clubs that were faltering and taken them over, and splurged on one course — Mystic near Hamilton. The problem is Mystic is still without a clubhouse or alterations that would dramatically improve its design, and hasn’t quite become the flagship some imagined. Will that change? Will GolfNorth acquire more properties? I’m intrigued at how the company evolves.