Trump eyes Boston golf market

Donald Trump looks to add a Boston golf course to his portfolio (Photo: Wikipedia)

Despite failing to reach an agreement to purchase Boston Golf Club earlier this year, real estate mogul Donald Trump remains interested in the financially troubled property, according to a person familiar with the situation.

Good fit. Trump, who owns and operates 10 golf courses throughout North America and Europe, would like to establish a foothold in New England and the uber-exclusive BGC in Hingham represented an opportunity to enter the Boston market. With courses in Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, New Jersey, and New York, Boston would be a natural fit, acknowledged the source, who noted that Trump was still in the market for the right opportunity.

Boston Golf Club, which is some 20 minutes from downtown Boston and opened to widespread acclaim in 2004, did not meet the corporation’s requirements. While negotiations in March involving Trump’s son, Eric, The Trump Organization’s executive vice president of development and acquisitions, EVP of development Lawrence Glick, and the owner of the 300-acre property, John DeMatteo, were fruitless, Trump would re-enter discussions under different circumstances.

For now, though, confusion concerning the sale, member unhappiness, and too steep an asking price will keep Trump from further talks, the source said.

Rave reviews. Rob Ketterson and John Mineck founded Boston GC, which shared 89th place with Plymouth’s Old Sandwich GC on Golf Digest’s 2011 roster of 100 greatest courses in the U.S. It also ranked 21st among GolfWeek’s 2011 Best Modern CoursesMineck died in a construction accident on the course in 2007. Ketterson is married to Elizabeth Johnson, daughter of Fidelity Investments chief executive Edward “Ned” Johnson.

Despite its pedigree, the club has run into problems facing public and private courses worldwide. In Massachusetts alone, several courses have fallen victim to the sour economy. New owners hope to bail Lakeville CC out of its previous owner’s deep debt; Wentworth Hills GC recently reopened after its troubles; and the adversities of Sterling National CC, the former Georgetown Club (now Black Swan CC), and Pleasant Valley CC are well-chronicled. Within the next couple of years, developers will build houses on nine of Quail Ridge CC’s 18 holes in Acton, according to general manager Mark Laviano.

“Over the next several years,” Mark O’Neill, president of Essex Golf Group, a brokerage and turnaround consultancy for New England-based courses, told us recently, “we’ll see several courses not able to survive. It’s unfortunate, but it’s the reality of the economy today.”

It’s a reality facing the deep-pocketed golfers at BGC, who had the option of buying the club themselves but decided against doing so. Despite what one club employee termed a “fantastic” season, the number of memberships — costs of which include upfront initiation fees between $50,000 and $100,000 and annual dues of $13,500, according to the Hingham Journal — is reportedly on the decline.

Earlier in the season, Anthony Pioppi reported that a group of members funded the club’s operating expenses after the course opened later than usual due to “serious financial problems.” BGC has also been running at a reported annual loss of between $1.3 million and $2.5 million.

Over-valued. DeMatteo, president of Park Square Reality and its subsidiary, Hillshire Realty Corp., has reportedly sought $9 million for a property that Trump’s people estimated to be worth no more than $5.5 million. DeMatteo’s plans to build houses around the 18-hole, Gil Hanse-designed track also diminished Trump’s interest in purchasing the facility, the source noted.

DeMatteo acknowledged having a “very pleasant meeting” with members of Trump’s organization. He said, however, that a purchase-and-sale agreement to sell the land to a different buyer was “scheduled to close sometime this winter,” though he could not provide a specific timetable.

“We have an agreement to sell the land and it has not fallen through,” DeMatteo said, disputing rumors that the deal — possibly with a local developer who owns a nearby club — had gone south. “There is not really a specific date but it is this winter. A date has not been firmly established.”

Citing a confidentiality agreement, DeMatteo declined to name his asking price or identify the would-be buyer.

Meanwhile, the club employee refuted reports that members called an emergency meeting earlier this week to discuss the organization’s problems. “It was a scheduled year-end type of thing,” said the BGC person, who requested anonymity.

Trump could have been — and perhaps may still be — the answer to BGC’s woes. For one thing, while other private clubs struggle to stay afloat by offering steep discounts and opening up their tee sheets to the public, Trump would have kept Boston Golf Club private. The source acquainted with BGC’s plight pointed to Trump National Philadelphia, which boosted enrollment from 200 to 300 after Trump Golf turned a semi-private concern into a members-only enclave.

Top-shelf amenities. Trump Golf can continue developing and rescuing courses while others fail because it offers economies of scale and “white-glove service” that smaller operations can’t, said Glick.

“We make sure every member feels like a star and can tap into 10 different golf courses,” Glick told us Thursday. “The values of Donald Trump’s name and brand are what bring in members while everyone else is losing membership.

“It’s easy for a company like ours,” he said, “with our efficiencies, buying power, and branding, to increase membership.”


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