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Canadian company’s first Florida footprint on Sun City Center golf courses

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Mitch Traphagen Photo

ByMELODY JAMESON
mj@observernews.net

SUN CITY CENTER – Seven of the eight golf courses in this retirement community founded as a golfing mecca now belong to a Canadian corporation captained by a millionaire real estate mogul.

The purchase transaction, valued at US $8.7 million, officially transferred the seven SCC and Kings Point layouts of varying sizes owned by WCI Communities – along with much connected to them – to ClubLink Enterprises, Limited, Friday afternoon. The package asking price originally topped $13 million.

Meanwhile, SCC Community Association directors, who prior to the sale closing last week were revoking their agreement to public play on one of the courses, were changing direction.

The Deal

The deal inked Friday gives Ontario-based ClubLink a number of properties within the community, John Luper, former WCI Amenities Director, told The Observer early this week. In SCC proper, on both sides of S.R. 674, these include the Club Renaissance course and Renaissance clubhouse, the South Course also known as Sandpiper, the long vacant Golf and Racquet Club, the closed North Lakes course, the Caloosa Greens executive course and a two-acre parcel adjacent to Caloosa Greens near the U.S. 301-19th Avenue intersection. The prime highway site is zoned for commercial use such as a convenience store or an automotive service station, Luper added.

Kings Point layouts included in the sale are the Scepter Golf Club, Falcon Watch and the condominium community’s executive course, the Kings Point Golf Club.

The single remaining course not wrapped into the transaction is the still-private, member-owned Caloosa Golf and Country Club.

The purchase does cover, though, all auxiliary facilities such as pro shops and snack bars, equipment and maintenance buildings as well as the former WCI staffers, numbering about 195, who keep the various amenities humming, Luper said. In fact, Luper himself, who with his wife, Linda, has additional ties to the community, became ClubLink’s Director of Operations in SCC upon completion of the transaction.

Forthcoming

Wearing that hat, Luper and CA directors are likely to again take up the waiver and its various ramifications. The waiver dates back to December, less than three months after a cash-strapped WCI striving for new financial footing after its bankruptcy adjudications, closed the North Lakes course, thereby saving its substantial annual maintenance costs.

The SCC CA, guaranteed certain restrictive controls pertinent to the North and South courses under the 1984 Agreement that binds all successive community developers, gave WCI permission to open Sandpiper/South to public play in order to generate improved cash flow to the developer. In exchange, WCI was to maintain the unused North course, going fallow and bordered by some 440 homeowners, to a minimum Hillsborough County property standard.

But, on Monday, August 30, with the ClubLink purchase looming, CA directors met in special session to consider with some 40 CA members present a withdrawal of the waiver, at least in part to prevent its automatic transfer to ClubLink as part of the sales transaction. After a 90-minute discussion, board members voted unanimously to serve the immediate withdrawal notice on WCI, citing the developer’s failure to maintain North Lakes as agreed. WCI’s neglect of a buffer around the acreage has produced at least two active citations from Hillsborough’s Code Enforcement section.

Within 24 hours, however, additional conversation transpired involving CA leadership and ClubLink management, and by Wednesday afternoon the CA board “altered course,” according to Ed Barnes, CA president. Directors agreed to rescind their August 30 vote, leave the temporary waiver in place and draft a new agreement with ClubLink “containing more teeth” regarding the north and south courses, he said.

Business background

ClubLink Enterprises Limited is Canada’s largest owner and operator of member golf clubs as well as holder of diverse other business entities, according to Wikipedia. The company is controlled by K. Rai Sahi, its chairman and CEO. Sahi, who initially became a shareholder in ClubLink when it ran financially aground and who ultimately acquired controlling interest about three years ago, has more history as chairman and CEO of Morguard Corporation, which Wikipedia describes as one of Canada’s largest integrated real estate companies.

Morguard reportedly has extensive retail, office, industrial and residential holdings through direct ownership and through its Morguard Real Estate Investment Trust, ranging from sprawling shopping malls to compact condos. ClubLink operates some 40 golf clubs in Ontario and Quebec as well as resort facilities, plus holds rail, tourism and port related businesses through a Skagway, Alaska, subsidiary known as White Pass &Yukon Route.

Sahi, sometimes called “the closest thing to a Wall Street raider” found in Canada, is known for picking up faltering enterprises at bargain prices turning them around and selling for hefty profits. A native of India and a youth wrestler good enough to win a college scholarship, he relocated to Canada in 1971, going to work as a laborer. He also became a certified general accountant. By 1982, he was working in real estate loans at the Bank of Montreal. Over time, he bought and sold several companies, making CF Kingsway, Inc., for example, into Canada’s third largest trucking operation and branching out into manufacturing and real estate.

Known more for his business gamesmanship than for his golf game performance, Sahi’s involvement with ClubLink dates back to 2001, according to Canadian Golfer, when ClubCorp USA Inc., a U.S. golf facilities operator, was trying to shed its interest in ClubLink. Sahi was approached and eventually anted up something in the $25 million neighborhood for ClubCorp’s ClubLink stock, significantly under the market value. A fiscally hobbled ClubCorp took it.

A year later, with ClubLink profits stalled, Sahi the shareholder staged a takeover which he subsequently withdrew when the management was restructured. Fast forward four more years. A boardroom rebellion threatened and Sahi responded with an offer the opposition could not refuse, thereby gaining control of 70 percent of the ClubLink voting stock, according to published reports in The Financial Post, part of Canada’s National Post.

Asked about his aggressive style, Sahi told The Financial Post he is neither fearful of hostile takeovers nor does he see his own dealings as necessarily hostile. “I’m not hostile to shareholders,” he is quoted as saying, “only to incompetent management. It’s management that sees me as hostile.”

Getting acquainted

With a number of matters yet to be explained – the ClubLink tiered memberships structure, disposition of North Lakes, resolution of the county code enforcement citations, clubhouse uses, to mention a few - both Barnes and Luper were anticipating community meetings. ClubLink executives are expected to top the agenda at the SCC CA membership meeting slated for October 13, Barnes said, and board directors plan to sit down with the new owner/managers on September 20.

Luper noted that much work is to be done as ClubLink establishes its “Florida footprint,” adding he anticipates roll-out of the company’s imprint as well as explanatory conversation with the community beginning in November. He said he believes the company is adding to its portfolio with the SCC course purchases, “not buying to flip the properties.”

Copyright 2010 Melody Jameson

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