Build your own golf course
Hello readers: Just a quick note to let all of you know that I'm on parental leave through to the end of August. In Canada, that means I'm getting paid to look after my nine month old daughter, Sydney. However, I continue to write my golf column for the Post.
Here's a story I wrote for last week's National Post on the costs associated with building your own golf course.
The really wealthy golf aficionados build their own: A single vision
By Robert Thompson
Chris Goodwin, a merchant banker in London, Ont., had no problem finding the money to pursue his childhood dream. He and his business partner John Drake made millions in a leveraged buyout of an industrial company in the late 1980s.
Rife with cash, the entrepreneur and his associate decided to go ahead with a project both had been dreaming of: building a golf course. "I wanted to make a great course, but it had to be efficient from a cost basis," Mr. Goodwin said.
The dream became a reality in 1990 when Redtail Golf Club, created by architect Donald Steel, opened, but it came at a cost of $2.5-million.
The course remained his private retreat for two years before 80 associates were invited to play on an annual basis. Now Redtail is considered one of the most exclusive -- and best -- golf courses in Canada.
Despite the cost, Mr. Goodwin says he'd do it again. "Owning it is extraordinary and has allowed me to play every great golf course in the world," he said. "But given the choice, I'd choose Redtail over any of them."
Mr. Goodwin isn't the only golf fanatic in Canada who decided to build a golf course. The idea has a lengthy history in North America. In 1937, John D. Rockefeller hired golf designer William Flynn to build Pocantico Hills in New York, a course that remains closed to the public.
More recently, Australian media tycoon Kerry Packer created Ellerston, a course designed by Greg Norman that is legendary for the infrequency of play on its fairways. Similarly, former Blockbuster owner Wayne Huizenga runs his own golf oasis in Florida aptly named The Floridian.
This spring, Oviinbyrd, a course conceived by Peter Schwartz, the former Descartes Systems Group chief executive, will open to an extremely limited membership in Muskoka.
The benefit of running your own golf course, Mr. Schwartz said, is you can fashion the whole project -- including the clubhouse -- based on a single vision, without the hassle of greens committees and outside influences.
"When I came up with the idea, I made a list of things I didn't like about private golf clubs," said Mr. Schwartz, who owns and operates a private equity firm. "One of the things I didn't like was the access issue. Having great access to the tee is synonymous with great exclusive golf. So we kept the membership small and just called friends to join."
Recently Paul Desmarais, the founder of Power Corp., determined he wanted a course next to his estate north of Quebec City. He hired Thomas McBroom, the architect of Oviinbyrd in Muskoka, to build a golf playground few will ever get to see. "Some guys build a couple of holes, but Paul built a complete golf course on a grand scale," Mr. McBroom said.
Even within golf circles, few have had the chance to see Domaine La Forest, Mr. Desmarais' course. It gets little play, aside from business associates lucky enough to get a personal invitation, and those also are few.
For those slightly less financially flush than Mr. Desmarais, building a golf course can be an expensive procedure, said Ian Andrew, a golf architect at Carrick Design in Toronto.
Mr. Andrew is helping Peter Grant, founder of Grant Forest Products, finish Frog's Breath, his private golf course near New Liskeard, Ont.
Building a single hole can cost upward of $100,000, while a small, nine-hole course can cost as much as $1.5-million, Mr. Andrew said. But construction costs aren't the end of expenses for those who build courses. "People have to understand there is a lot of upkeep associated with even having a single hole," Mr. Andrew says. "You have to cut the green every day, for example. You have to top dress it and aerate it. It can take a lot of time or money if you have to hire someone to do it."
Some people have built putting greens that use new synthetic surfaces requiring little upkeep. These greens use packed sand to create a realistic surface that is light years removed from earlier artificial surfaces, which became as hard as concrete over time.
The greens are so realistic and easy to maintain that several PGA Tour pros, among them John Daly and Canadian Ian Leggatt, have had them installed in their yards.
Synthetic putting greens cost about $35 a square foot, meaning even an artificial golf green can cost $5,000 plus to build, with some costing more than $40,000.