Golf Inc. - Most Influential People In Golf Sales PP 2018





Jeff Woolson

Managing director,

CBRE Golf & Resort Group

There must be a reason so few people excel

at golf course acquisition. You might be able

to cobble together a few foursomes, but you’re

not goingto field atournament with them.

Our gut feeling: It’s because their jobs are

really,really hard.

Take buying a member-owned course, for

example. In that scenario, prospective buyers

and their representatives have to persuade the

equity partners to sell. Imagine if you were

trying to buy a car that had, say, a dozen

owners, and each one had a different opinion

about the merits of the car. That would be

fun, no?

That’s why Golf Inc. asked the most active

buyers, sellers and brokers to identify the

people who influence golf course sales the


The results showed that longtime professionals

—those who’veweathered booms and

busts – continue to influence others the most.

They’re well known in the industry, and their

names won’t surprise anyone who’s been

following the ups and downs of golf course

acquisitions over the years.

Jeff Woolson has reached the place he wants

to be in his career. When he started out, he

thought it wouldbe great if one day people

would call and ask, “Are you the golf

course guy?” It happens daily now, he says.

Yes, Woolson is that golf course guy and has

been one of the leading brokers in the industry

for years now. Maintaining that status is

impressive, given how the business continues

to evolve.

For one, deals have become more timeconsuming,

particularly the ones involving

member-owned courses. Woolson recently

brokered the sale of Las Vegas Country Club

for its members, a process that took a full 18


“Those deals are unbelievable grinds,” he


In the Las Vegas case, several potential

buyers came forward, and the members had to

whittle it down to two finalists. This wasn’t a

small group of members, either. Try 466. They

had to vote online. And after they went

through negotiations and voted, the original

deal fell through and another buyer had to be


These equity-owned clubs are in demand

because they’re often being operated in a

financially inefficient manner, so they stand to

have alot of upsidepotential.

Many are nonprofits, so making money isn’t

a priority, and board members have a tendency

to overpay staff because they want to be seen as

nice guys, Woolson said.

So professional operators see an opportunity

to cut costs and increase revenue. Members

want out of the ownership business because, in

many cases, they see members walking out the

door and fear a potential death spiral

beginning to unfold.

Another change has been the shrinking

pool of buyers, Woolson said. Some major

purchasers have slowed their acquisition

programs considerably.

While deep-pocketed investors still

exist, they aren’t necessarily sophisticated

when it comes to the golf business, so

those deals can take longer, he said. And

still other sellers are single-course owners

who are getting older and have families

who don’t want to be part of the business.

While golf courses continue to be

shuttered because of a lack of buyer

interest, that’s not necessarily a bad thing,

Woolson contends. “Way too many golf

courses had been built,” he said.

18 Golf Inc. May/June 2018

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