ClubLink sees more opportunity in redevelopment than acquisition

ClubLink made a big splash in 2013 and 2014 with the acquisition of several courses in Florida. The Canadian operator was already the largest in its home country, and was now talking about expanding into California and Texas. 

But its CEO and owner, Rai Sahi, has found greater opportunity in redeveloping his existing properties. In 2014 he closed a Toronto-area venue, Highland Gate Golf Club, in the hope that it’ll be allowed to build houses on the property. In 2015 ClubLink closed two of its courses in Sun City Center, Florida, citing a lack of support from the community’s retirees.

More recently, it floated a controversial proposal to draw the curtain on Glen Abbey, a venue in suburban Toronto that’s hosted the Canadian Open 27 times. If it can secure approval for its plans, ClubLink will replace Glen Abbey’s 229 acres with 3,000 houses.

ClubLink’s downsizing is being directed by Sahi, who has more passion for real-estate development than he does for golf operations. Size matters to Sahi, a wealthy entrepreneur (Forbes says he’s worth $1.18 billion) who at one time or another has owned, wholly or in part, Canada’s largest industrial-products distributor, its second-largest auto-parts distributor and its third-largest trucking company. Today he controls Morguard Corporation, one of the nation’s largest real-estate companies.

Last year he said that the golf business is “getting challenging” and suggested that he’ll jump at the chance to turn his golf courses into subdivisions. “It’s a better deal to build,” he advised. In the meantime, he still owns the biggest owner/operator of golf properties in Canada.

While a spokesperson says “we’re always looking to expand,” the company hasn’t acquired any new properties since 2014, when it added Hidden Lake Golf Club in Burlington, Ontario and TPC Eagle Trace Golf Club in Tamarac, Florida.

Despite the downsizing, it is still the largest operator in Canada with 41 properties, and that will likley not change anytime soon. The only comparably sized competitor, GolfNorth Properties, has 28 venues in Ontario and one in Nova Scotia. Windmill Golf Group has eight properties in greater Calgary, Alberta. KaneffGolf has six properties, all of them in Ontario. ClubLink has assumed dominance in Canada despite operating in just three provinces, and 25 of its properties are located in and around just one city, Toronto. 

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