I've been reading a few articles recently on the uncertain future of Scotland's Loch Lomond Golf Club. The course is host of the Barclays Scottish Open on the European Tour and a regular pick for one of the best non-links outside the United States.
Loch Lomond is a rare course in Scotland that is a modern, fully private, "American model" club with a big initiation fee up front and no public tee time blocks, unlike traditional Scottish clubs that are usually very affordable to join and set aside public times.
At Loch Lomond G.C., some members are golf packagers and able to get client groups on, but most of us are shut out.
Banking on being a must-join for Europe's elite set since opening in the early 1990s, ownership couldn't survive the latest economic downturn and handed the club over to the bank, which has been working on the sale of the club for about two years.
One option I read about via Golf360.com's Alistair Tate would have De Vere Hotel Group, who own the nearby Cameron House Hotel and new Carrick course next door, buying out the club. For the golf traveler, this would be a wonderful stay-and-play -- probably the best non-links duo of golf courses in Scotland. If I was going to send a golf group off the links in hopes of showing a different side of Scotland beyond the dunes, I'd probably send them to this spectacular National Park.
But last reports make that sound unlikely. Coming from the Herald Scotland, are that some of the members are going to buy out the club, sinking even more money to it than their 55,000-pound initiation fees and yearly dues -- and in all likelihood keep it private.
Imagine investing $100,000 in a club membership only to see the course go belly up within 15 years and be asked to buy the club. I didn't go to no fancy business school or nothin', but is that an "investment" or a "money pit"?
From time to time, I sniff around my local Austin area, looking to see what the private club climate is like with the possibility of getting a junior membership somewhere. There are some pretty intriguing offers out there. But one of the reasons I never pull the trigger, is that who knows how healthy any of these clubs will be in a few years? Why would I ever possibly consider an initiation fee if a few years down the line the the club is losing members and course conditions go south in an effort to stay afloat?
Golf courses that set such high initiation fees handcuff themselves, because it prices out most potential buyers, but if you lower it or start offering public play, the initial members feel screwed. I see a lot of private clubs in the future eventually partnering up to offer a super club of several courses to play -- or offering regular public tee times at a premium price to keep member dues down.
Reading about such stories as Loch Lomond and many other smaller clubs throughout the United States make me a little gun shy about ever wanting to commit to a private club without getting a good, long look at their books to ensure it's sustainable for decades to come. If a course that is recognized world wide can't make ends meet, how will the little local club next door?