Sunday, July 10, 2011

The Week That Was, july 10, 2011

scotland A Buyer for “the Beast”

The “subtle beast with a sense of humour” has found its new owners.

The “beast” is Machrie Golf Links on the island of Islay, which was taken over by its lenders late last year. The course and its accompanying hotel have been purchased by a British power couple, Gavyn Davies and Sue Nye. The former used to be the chairman of the BBC, and the latter, a baroness, was an aide to Gordon Brown, the prime minister of the United Kingdom.

In January, I blogged about the club's financial troubles and its search for new ownership. On the plus side, the property has a unique, historic asset: a 6,254-yard golf course, designed by Willie Campbell, that opened in 1891 and was modernized by Donald Steel in the late 1970s. The track is generally acknowledged to be among the world's best. According to a story posted at PGATour.com, “there may be no better place to experience the true delights of a Scottish links than at the Machrie.”

Of course, there's also a minus side that must have scared off some potential buyers: the club's location. Islay is the southernmost island of the Inner Hebrides, off Scotland's western coast, a place that isn't visited by accident. It's no surprise that the property's small, seasonal hotel attracts guests during the summer but, in the words of a local newspaper, “struggles to fill its rooms during other lean months of the year.”

The Scotsman reports that the property's sales price wasn't revealed. The paper did, however, note that the asking price had recently fallen from $2.79 million to $1.43 million.

Davies and Nye haven't as yet discussed their plans for the property, but they appear to be committed to preserving its historic status. The Scottish golf pro who'll manage the course told the Scotsman that they “intend to preserve the historic appeal of this great links course, while renovating the hotel and clubhouse buildings. It will become one of Scotland's prime golfing destinations.”

One last thing: Before it went belly up, the Machrie had been owned by a fellow named Graham Ferguson Lacey. He and his partners had hoped to attract more customers by enlarging the hotel and building a second golf course, plans that never went anywhere.

Could the new owners revive Lacey's plans?

canada The Sound of Silence

It took Machrie Golf Links a little more than six months to find a buyer. Will Owen Sound Golf & Country Club stay on the market longer?

Owen Sound, a fixture in Ontario since 1921, abruptly closed last week, a victim of what's become a familiar story: a declining membership and the resulting falling revenues, dampened by wet spring weather. Like other clubs in the over-saturated, brutally competitive province, says the Toronto Star, Owen Sound was “hanging on by [its] fingertips and needed a strong start to the season, but it didn’t happen.”

The club features an 18-hole, 6,145-yard course whose design is invariably attributed to Stanley Thompson. However, the club's website says that the course's second nine opened in 1975 and that “the club hired course architect Robert Moote to complete this project.” I can't explain exactly what that means.

Naturally, Owen Sound's 325 members hope that a buyer will emerge who'll pay off the club's $1.1 million debt and reopen the course.

“There's been an interest in the situation from certain individuals, a lot of indirect inquiries,” the club's president told the Owen Sound Sun Times. “I think there are a lot of potential candidates in the area, and I'm optimistic. I don't think the debt they'd have to assume is unbearable for them.”

Heads up: The Toronto Star's story declares that “a number of other courses are in similar trouble because supply has outstripped demand.”

new zealand School Daze

Later this year, a South Korean developer hopes to break ground on a golf academy that will attract a parade of golf-mad Koreans to New Zealand's South Island.

Thomas Na’s Christchurch Golf Resort will feature an 18-hole, championship-length golf course, a golf academy with a practice course, a recreation center, an “educational facility” for language training, and more than 200 villas, suites, and apartments for students and visitors. It'll take shape on close to 400 acres in Spencerville, a close-in northern suburb of Christchurch, the island's largest city.

And it won't be marketed exclusively to South Koreans. Na also hopes to attract students and golf vacationers from North America, Australia, Scandinavia, Japan, and China.

The project has been kicking around since 2004. At one time, its golf facilities were to have been designed by Greg Turner, a one-time professional golfer who now works with Scott Macpherson. Back in July 2009, the World Edition of the Golf Course Report said that the facility would be designed by Jangwon Golf Engineering, a South Korean company.

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