Barton Tuck turns over management of Wingfield to his son

After more than 30 years in the golf business, Barton Tuck is taking a breather.

Just days into 2018, Tuck appointed his son, Noel, as the president and chief executive officer of Wingfield Golf Management Services. Noel has long been groomed for the job, as he’s worked with his father for many years, including a decade with the family’s first golf company, GolfSouth, which owned and operated 30-some properties in the Southeast, predominantly in coastal states from New Jersey to Florida.

“Noel has more experience in golf than all but a handful of other people,” Tuck advised, “and I’m going to support him with whatever he needs.”

Noel will oversee a Greenville, S.C.-based firm that owns seven properties and manages two (a total of 10 18-hole tracks), all of them in Virginia, Florida and Mississippi. The group consists of one private club and venues described by his father as “high-end, semiprivate courses.”

Make no mistake, however: Though he may be turning over the firm’s day-to-day operations, Barton Tuck intends to play an active role in defining Wingfield’s future.

“I’m definitely not retiring,” he insisted. “I just won’t be running the company. I’ll be looking for the acquisitions that will help us grow.”

Tuck engineered just one acquisition in 2017. An LLC affiliated with Wingfield paid $2.45 million for Halifax Plantation Golf Club, a financially struggling venue that anchors a community in suburban Orlando, Fla. The seller was an affiliate of Chubb, one of the world’s largest insurance providers, which Tuck thinks was operating Halifax Plantation “just to sell real estate.”

Regarding future acquisitions, Wingfield aims to make one or two a year – some purchased, some managed – until its portfolio grows to 15 or 20 properties. These days Tuck is focusing his attention on opportunities along the Atlantic coast, but he appears to have his eyes on one particular state whose economy is on the rise.

“I think Florida is a good place to go,” he acknowledged. “It’s coming back very strong.”

Size matters to Tuck, at least when it comes to golf management. Before he founded GolfSouth, in 1986, he was the president of U.S. Shelter Corp., which reportedly owned and operated 400 multifamily housing units. It didn’t take him long to conclude that running golf courses was far more difficult than running apartment buildings, which, in his view, requires little more than a capable leasing agent, a good mechanic and money for the newspaper advertising.

“Golf is very complicated,” Tuck explained. “When you own a golf course, you’re in the farming business, the food business, the retail business. You’ve got to be good at all those components, so you need a lot more qualified people. I don’t see how anybody can manage 100 golf properties.”

As the head of GolfSouth, Tuck was also one of the golf industry’s best-known developers. His premier property was, arguably, Forest Creek Golf Club, a venue in Pinehurst, N.C., that features a pair of Tom Fazio-designed courses.

Today, however, Tuck has no illusions about the future of golf development.

“There just isn’t a need anymore,” he’s concluded. “There are still too many non-performing golf courses on the books. It’s hard to compete in a lot of markets.”

Tuck doesn’t expect the imbalance between supply and demand to be corrected anytime soon. The way he sees it, the golf industry will continue to lose courses for at least four or five more years.

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