Harris Golf Sells Boothbay Country Club

Harris Golf has agreed in principal to sell one its most successful holdings, Boothbay Country Club, to a group of investors headed by longtime club member James Reeves and veteran Harris Golf employee Clayton Longfellow.

The sale price of $4.5 million was announced October 14, at which point Reeves and Longfellow assumed immediate stewardship of the 300-member private club, located in the heart of Maine's Mid-Coast.

"We could not imagine two more worthy or qualified people to take our work and to continue it," said Jeff Harris, president of Bath, Maine-based Harris Golf, which purchased Boothbay CC in 1994, before utterly transforming the property. "Jim has been a member for many years. Clayton has single-handedly directed every improvement in the conditions of play at the 'New Boothbay' - but for the first time ever, Boothbay will be his sole focus. Both are familiar faces who have a passion and an expertise for golf, in general, and Boothbay in particular. They have our full and enthusiastic support moving forward."

Reeves and Longfellow, who resides in nearby Edgecomb, Me., indicated that only the chain of command will change at Boothbay CC. "This is an exceptional opportunity for us as business owners," said Reeves, a resident of Cheshire, Conn. "The membership structure and operation of the club will remain the same, and the plan is to operate as usual - while making continuous improvements to the course, the facilities and the members' social calendar."

In a golf market that had slowed well before the country's housing market imploded, Harris Golf has conceived and opened projects like three-year-old Sunday River Golf Club in Newry, Me., just named to Golf Magazine's "Top 100 Courses You Can Play" for 2008 (No. 82). This summer, it christened Old Marsh Country Club - the only new course to open in New England this year.

However, in large part, the modern idea of Harris Golf was born and fostered at Boothbay Country Club. When the firm purchased the property in 1994, Boothbay CC was a public, nine-hole course that, like many Maine golf facilities, happened to sit in close proximity to a popular summer-home and tourist destination. Harris Golf renovated the Wayne Stiles nine, added a new one, took the club semiprivate, developed 21 real estate lots, and courted/hosted prestigious tournaments, including the 2005 Maine Amateur. The transformation of Boothbay Country Club reached an effective conclusion in 2007, when the club went fully private and, eight months later, capped its membership rolls at 300.

"Boothbay is a project very near and dear to our hearts. In that sense, it's difficult to see it leave the nest," Harris explained, noting that he retains ownership of 12 of the 21 real estate lots. "It softens the blow to pass the torch to someone like Jim, a member who clearly appreciates what we've been able to build at Boothbay - and Clayton, someone who helped build the new holes and take such good care of the course over the years.

"In another sense, the sale of Boothbay illustrates that Harris Golf has further matured as a company. We pride ourselves in being a development company, a course builder and club operator - a one-stop shop. At Boothbay, we succeeded in all these core competencies and created a saleable product that clearly had value. That's the model we set out for ourselves and hope to follow with future projects."

Harris, Reeves and Longfellow all pointed to another remarkable aspect of this sale: the deal's financing, arranged with no drama whatsoever by the Savings Bank of Maine.

"We are proud - thrilled - to work with Harris Golf," said Arthur Markos, president of Savings Bank of Maine. "From the initial upgrade to 18 holes in 1999, to this transaction today, their company has shown real vision. And I feel fortunate as well to be working with the new owners of the club, who appear to share Harris Golf's business philosophies."

In the midst of a decidedly unsettled economic climate, Markos says it's a testament to Savings Bank of Maine's stability that the deal went through in such an unremarkable, straightforward fashion. "We really enjoy helping customers who have been pushed out by larger, troubled banks," Markos said. "The Boothbay transaction underscores the wisdom of keeping business - at all levels - local."

"Good deals always get done, and this is a good deal," Harris added. "This shows that credit markets aren't dry when cash flows are demonstrable. It also shows that golf in Maine remains a viable business. We continue to see opportunity here because our visions for new projects and the transformation of existing properties are always based on the realities of specific markets."

Harris pointed to the success of Old Marsh and its location in York County, which is golf poor but extremely populous by Maine standards - and close to even more populous areas of New Hampshire and Massachusetts. In New Hampshire's Mt. Washington Valley, beside the Attitash ski area, Harris is poised to undertake an 18-hole project with golf's hottest architect, Tom Doak, the man responsible for Pacific Dunes in Bandon, Ore., and Cape Kidnappers in New Zealand. In Orono, Maine, Harris Golf is currently restoring the Penobscot Valley Country Club, a Donald Ross original that, when it reopens in spring 2009, will be "the finest golfing option for 100 miles in any direction," Harris opined.

At Boothbay, as at all of these current/pending projects, Harris Golf created and maintained what Harris calls a project's "momentum and integrity".

"By that I mean we follow through and actually build what we promise to build," Harris says. "This sounds elemental, but this is exactly what you don't see at projects where the memberships have to bail out the developer - no clubhouse, or a manor house that is never converted or refurbished as promised, or a golf course that had to be cobbled together at the last minute. Members see those things and feel betrayed; potential members see those things and run for the hills.

"Private club development and golf real estate development are like anything else: You've got to maintain your momentum and build the whole thing as planned or people smell blood. You can't develop half an office building, half a golf project, and expect people to 'feel the dream.' They have to be able to see and touch it."