Banner year for management companies: Clublink, Sequoia, Heritage set pace

The world’s largest golf course management companies grew by six percent over the past year, according to an exclusive survey by Golf Inc. magazine. That represents one of the fastest growth periods on record, and the growth was even stronger for American companies with eight percent growth.

Overall, the world’s 25 largest management companies now operate 1,653 18-hole equivalent golf courses, up by 21 percent from 2006.

Troon Golf still reigns as the world leader, with 209.5 18-hole-equivalent golf courses either in operation or in development. Troon is the only management company with more than a handful of courses in development. It has 31.5 courses currently under construction, almost all of them outside of the U.S.

A much higher percent of courses added this year were private clubs.

“There were many private clubs in the last three years that got overpriced because they rode the tail of the economic expansion,” said Peter Hill, CEO and chairman of Billy Casper Golf, the world’s fourth largest operator. “When the economy tanked, some of them fell pretty hard, pretty fast. A lot of clubs that were used to having a full membership roster and good member replacement struggled to find new members. That put a strain on operations that still exists today and it really hasn’t improved.”

Private clubs have helped fuel Billy Casper Golf’s brisk growth. It added 11 courses this year, recently adding Sapelo Hammock Golf Club in Shellman Bluff, Ga., Hilltop Golf Course in Plymouth Township, Mich., and Harbour Pointe Golf Course in New Bern, N.C. The Vienna, Va.-based operator has more than doubled in size over the past five years to 131 courses. It had only 18.5 courses in 2001.

ClubLink’s recent buying spree in Florida has added ten courses to its portfolio, bringing it to 50.5, and making it one of the fastest-growing companies by percent of growth. It is 12th on the list of largest operators). It was closely followed in growth percent by Sequoia Golf Management (11th on the list for total courses), which has transformed itself into the largest operator in the Southeast. It added 11.5 new courses this past year, bringing its total to 58.5 courses. Joe Guerra, who used to be CEO at American Golf, has grown the company from 18 courses in 2006. It recently took over operation of LuLu Country Club in Glenside, Penn. and Elks Run Golf Club in Batavia, Ohio.

Heritage Golf Group also rebounded as it started taking on management contracts for troubled courses. It is now the 17th largest operator with 26 courses.

Affiniti Golf Partners is the newest addition to this year’s list of the largest 25 management companies. It has grown from just eight courses a little more than a year ago to 20, making it the 21 largest operator. IRI Golf Group, which is no longer a management company, dropped from the top 25 list. Jeff Silverstein has restructured and recapitalized his properties, moving ownership into private investment groups. 

American Golf continued its decline — dropping to 109 courses. It had 294.5 courses in 2001. It is now the 6th largest operator. Evergreen Alliance Golf Ltd., 8th on the list, showed the biggest decline, dropping from 88.5 to 73 courses. It is still much larger than it was in 2006 when it had only 25.5 courses.

ClubCorp, the largest owner in the U.S. and 5th on the list, continues to grow. It now has 128 courses, but that is still down from 164 in 2001. O.B. Sports added seven courses increasing it to 42, and making it 13th on the list. The Scottsdale, Ariz.-based operator had been quiet for a few years.

A complete list of the 25 largest management companies will be published in the summer issue of Golf Inc. magazine, due out in early July.

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