The rolling hills and woodlands at one of Canada’s top courses, Beacon Hall Golf Club in Aurora, Ont., may soon be turned into a suburban Toronto housing development, a prospect that divides the club’s members.
Beacon Hall, home to an 18-hole golf course that routinely ranks among the country’s top 10, told members on Monday that an unnamed real estate developer offered to buy the 200-acre property for $250-million.
The private club’s 260 members, most of whom work on Bay Street, are scheduled to vote on the offer in February after an often acrimonious three-year debate that pitted those who wanted to keep playing golf against members who wanted to cash in and share the proceeds – a $960,000 windfall per member – or at least gauge what the property is worth. Selling the club requires approval from two-thirds of members.
Beacon Hall members paid between $40,000 and $80,000 to join the club and gain an equity stake, along with roughly $15,000 in annual dues. Divisions over the club’s future have poisoned long-time friendships and led members to question how the board of directors handled multiple bids for the property, according to multiple sources. The Globe and Mail is not naming these sources because they are not authorized to speak for the golf club.
If members decide to sell, Beacon Hall would be the latest in a series of courses across the country to be turned into subdivisions. Golf Canada, the sport’s national governing body, said 51 courses shut down between 2015 and 2018, including 19 in Ontario. In the same period, 22 new courses were either launched or under construction.
There are about 2,300 golf courses in Canada. Urban and suburban courses have come and gone over the decades to meet housing needs, and now face increased redevelopment pressure because the price of land and homes is soaring, while Canadians are playing fewer rounds of golf.
At least three real estate developers, including a group led by Rogers Communications Inc. chair Edward Rogers, bid for Beacon Hall over the past three years, according to sources.
Other bidders include a consortium led by Vaughan, Ont.-based developer Treasure Hill Homes. Toronto-based Harlo Capital also made an offer. Mr. Rogers has made a number of successful property investments, and his group included real estate executives Robert Hiscox, Patrick O’Hanlon and David Beswick. Spokespersons for Beacon Hall and the real estate companies declined to comment Tuesday.
Beacon Hall opened in 1988, which makes it a relative newcomer on the golf scene. Designers Bob Cupp and Tom McBroom laid out the course with nine holes that run through woods, and nine that weave through rolling hills. In the past, Beacon Hall was home to a qualifying tournament for the U.S. Open golf championship among other big events.
The club is one of the few undeveloped properties on Yonge Street, a major traffic artery into Toronto. Beacon Hall’s letter to its members on Monday said the potential buyer will need to cut a deal with owners of homes on the property, many of whom are club members.
If Beacon Hall is sold, the new owner is expected to build homes on about 70 per cent of the property and turn the remainder into parkland. A similar approach is playing out in another Toronto suburb at York Downs Golf and Country Club, a 27-hole course in Markham that sold five years ago for $412-million, or approximately $200,000 per member. Builders plan to put 2,400 detached homes and townhouses at York Downs.
Meanwhile, the town of Oakville, Ont., is battling to stop Glen Abbey Golf Club from being transformed into homes. Other courses that will soon be suburbs include Harvest Hills in Calgary, Kanata Golf and Country Club near Ottawa and Copper Creek in Vaughan, Ont.
Roughly five million Canadians qualify as ardent golfers, playing nine or more times each year. That’s about 650 active golfers for each of the country’s courses, one of the highest ratios of clubs to golfers in the world.
But even the most active golfers are playing less often. A Canadian study by the National Allied Golf Associations, or NAGA, concluded the game was “vulnerable,” as 38 per cent of golfers were playing fewer rounds each year, while just 14 per cent were hitting the links more frequently. The NAGA report said: “Time and money constrain the playing of the game, they do not drive the game.”
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