ClubCorp could buy 16 courses from Concert Golf

ClubCorp is in negotiations to acquire 16 properties from Concert Golf Partners, the investment group that has pieced together its portfolio in the past ten years. No sale price has been revealed, and neither party has identified the clubs that would be sold. But the due diligence period has begun.

In a letter to affected club members, Peter Nanula, CEO of Concert Golf, said the deal will be done in the next few months. Concert Golf owns 18 private clubs in Florida, Indiana, Pennsylvania and eight other states. 

Until the sale is consummated, neither ClubCorp nor Concert will discuss the deal. 

If the deal is finalized, the transaction would be the largest in the golf industry since 2015, and it would cement ClubCorp’s position as the world’s premier owner and operator of private golf clubs. 

“The 1,000-pound gorilla just became a 2,000-pound gorilla,” said Steven Ekovich, managing director of Marcus & Millichap’s National Golf & Resort Properties Group.

News of the negotiations comes as a surprise, especially when considering Concert’s business model. Concert is owned by Nanula and several partners and funded by wealthy individuals who, according to the chairman, “invest for the long term.” Last year, he said he had $150 million to spend and no plans to dispose of any properties.

“We buy income-producing properties that we intend to own forever,” he said.

It’s difficult to estimate the impact the proposed sale would have on the U.S. golf economy. With the acquisition of the bulk of Concert’s portfolio, ClubCorp would no longer have any significant challengers in its hunt for under-performing private clubs. 

“From a broker’s perspective, I’d rather have two buyers in the market than just one,” said Ekovich. “The lack of competition won’t be good. [But] This is a great situation for ClubCorp.”

Jeff Woolson, managing director of CBRE’s Golf & Resort Group, calls ClubCorp and Concert “the two biggest competitors in the member-equity club space,” and he points out that in recent years they’ve vied for the same properties. 

Neither company targets elite clubs, which are almost without exception financially secure, or the ones at the bottom of the barrel, which don’t have much upside potential. Instead, they focus on clubs that generate $5 million to $10 million in annual revenues, many of which have struggled in the wake of the Great Recession and need an injection of cash to fund the golf-course renovations and lifestyle attractions that charm prospective members.

In a letter to members of the Concert properties announcing the sale, Nanula said his decision to sell is a bittersweet moment. He also said members would be better off under ClubCorp’s management, promising that the big conglomerate will take their clubs to the next level. He asked them to maintain an open mind and to welcome ClubCorp’s interest.

The deal would leave Concert as a mere shadow of its former self. Concert acquired its 18th venue, Fountains Country Club in Lake Worth, Fla., and Nanula said it is not included in the properties being sold to ClubCorp. 

As for ClubCorp, the proposed acquisition is proof that its new owner does not plan to harvest the company for value, as some investors had called for when it was a public entity. The owner, Apollo Global Management, is a private-equity firm with pockets deep enough to fund additional acquisitions. 

 

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