Sunday, January 07, 2007

Intrigue at St. Catharines Golf and CC

In my last post, I mentioned that the outgoing president of my club dropped a little bomb on the members at the end of our recent shareholders meeting, which took place last month.

An unidentified developer has made a significant offer to buy the club's 150+ acre property, located on a prime piece of real estate right near the St. Catharines downtown core and in the middle of one of the most desirable neighbourhoods in town.

The purpose?

To pave over the course and use the land for more housing and condominiums.

The club would then buy a piece of land in the Queenston area in order to build a new 7000 yard championship course, a state-of-the-art practice facility with range and practice holes and a new clubhouse with every imaginable amenity. The members would get to play at the current facility until the new course is completed and the club itself would end up with a nice surplus in funds when all is said and done.

I guess it would be appropriate to first talk about the history of the club.

The original nine-hole course was opened in 1899 and was in play for 48 years before Stanley Thompson and Robert Trent Jones were commissioned to renovate those holes and build a second nine. The 6400-yard, 18 hole course was finally opened in late spring in 1949.

Robbie Robinson redesigned a new course for the club in the mid-1960's, building over much of the existing course after some of the land was sold to the province to build a new highway linking St. Catharines with some other towns in the region.

Noted Canadian golf course architect Ian Andrew has been working with the club on a renovation project over the past number of years, with the main focus on increasing our water storage capacity and installing a new irrigation system. Both of those projects have been completed. A spectacular new short-game practice facility was put in place in the fall and will be ready for play in late spring this year. Mr. Andrew has also updated our course master plan and one of the final steps will be a bunker restoration project, which is scheduled to be completed by 2009, I believe.

St. Catharines G&CC has hosted a great deal of big tournaments over the years. In 2006, we hosted the Ontario Women's Amateur Championship and the 2006 Ontario University Golf Championships. In 2002, the club hosted the prestigious Whirlpool Canadian PGA Women's Championship, a tournament that included LPGA star Lorie Kane and Big Break participant Jan Dowling and was won by Elizabeth Earley, a St. Catharines G&CC member.

In 1999, the club hosted the Ontario Men's Amateur Championship. The list goes on and on. There is a lot of history that's been made on these grounds.

Now, let's get to the facts. The offer on the table is in the very early stages and the club is just exploring its options at the present time, as any club or business would do in similar circumstances. If the board of directors ultimately feel that this is something worthwhile to bring to the membership, they will and the club's shareholders will vote on whether or not to move ahead with the proposal.

Two-thirds of the 600+ shareholding members would have to approve the plan to move forward.

So what do I think, you ask?

Hard to say, I guess. I'm intrigued by the proposal, I must say, and would love to know more about it and the positive ramifications on the club's bottom line. I'm also dying to find out more about the proposed golf course, whether a potential design is in place and if so, will this be shown to each of the members in the proposal package.

I think it would be irresponsible to form an opinion without all of the facts at hand.

However, this much I'm sure of. It would have to be an unbelievable offer financially, a spectacular piece of land in Queenston and an amazing golf course design for me to consider voting in favour of the proposal.

The existing course is woefully underrated, especially after the recent changes by Mr. Andrew. The new irrigation system and our new course superintendent have done wonders for the conditioning of the course and it truly is a pleasure to play on a daily basis.

That's the key. It's very difficult to build a great "members course" and it is next to impossible to recreate the look and feel of a traditional, century-old, tree-lined course on a new property.

And it certainly is completely impossible to recreate over 100 years of history when building a new facility.

I am very interested in what my readers think of all this. Are there any precedents in the past twenty years where something like this has taken place? If so, was it successful?

Do you feel this is a decision that can be made solely by the membership or do city residents (especially those that live on property bordering the course) have a say in the matter?

It's a fascinating topic. But I'm very intrigued, I must say. And I can't wait to see what they have in mind so I can properly assess this proposal.

4 comments:

  1. As a member who does not have a share yet (im not as old as Matty here), I can honestly I wish I did at this point so I could throw in my vote.

    I would much rather play at St. Catharines every weekend than the so-called "premium courses" like Grand Niagara by a long shot. It's nearby, it's convenient, and I grew up playing there. The club has history and I have history with it.

    This would have to be a damn, damn, damn fine offer (as in, I dont have to pay club dues for the next 10 years (or ever) and get to play an ultra-premium private course) for it to be worth losing our great club on the best piece of land in the city.

    If some of our jackass members would even consider selling the club for "a new course and a couple extra million in the bank" they'd be morons -- it has to be hundreds of millions in the bank plus an ultra-premium course+facility to be worth it. Until I hear what that deal is, I'll reserve my judgement.

    I look forward to Matt's next report on the issue. Keep up the good work, dude.

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  2. As much as i like the current course we play on, I think the club house is horrible. The mens locker room is sub par. The restaurant is still using the same chairs and tables from the 1970's. The food/service is horrible. Basically the whole club is based and run on the current mindset of keeping all the members over 80 happy. I would cast a vote to move if it meant we got to play on a state of the art championship course, with a brand new club house and practice facilities. The only disadvantage I see is the location, which is so accesible right now. This will never pass anyways. No way my dad and all his friends vote to move the course 30 minutes away and be willing to drive out there every morning, and the old glenridge members vote to move it will never happen.

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  3. I am not a member at St Catharines, but I am intrigued by this proposal. The notion of MOVING a private golf club to a new facility in another town sounds crazy. Clubs add holes, increase yards, redesign layouts - but move? I think the interesting point here could be history.

    Given that the club is 108 years old, I'm wondering if someone could play a card where the developer is left unable to develop on this land. It has some historical significance afterall. Yes the building needs a serious overall and yes the new garage is a monstrosity that overshadows the lacklustre clubhouse. Can't they be overhauled cosmetically?

    The neighbors, some being club members, would never, never go for a condo development in the backyard . That's a given. Those would be some seriously vocal town meetings.

    As for Toast's comment about club dues - I'm not a member but I've got enough business sense to know that nobody is going waive dues. Even in a deal of this magnitude, there's going to be higher costs, more staffing, etc and therefore, if anything, I'd wager higher club dues. Maybe current membership gets some break as in not paying the new higher dues, but you'll be paying somewhere. I imagine the lounge is where you'll first feel the pinch.

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  4. I'm not a member -- just an interested observer. St. Catharines G and CC is an average course, at best, and has issues with liability from the highway, a very poor and dangerous range, and an out of date clubhouse. The plans for the new facility -- if they match the images Ian Andrew has shown on his site -- would be a tremendous improvement.
    And let's be clear -- St. Catharines is a historic club, but the golf course is not historic. Almost all of the holes were reworked in 1961, leaving maybe two Stanley Thompson greens and likely none of the original nine.
    Golf clubs are all facing membership issues these days -- having a new course and clubhouse would certainly help attract new members. And remember, old members don't bring new money into a club and without new money, clubs do not continue....

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