Curlander and Doak
Dr. John Curlander’s engineering expertise has created some of the world’s most advanced GPS technologies. Now the Boulder-based computer executive is engineering the future for Ballyneal, the internationally acclaimed but financially troubled private Tom Doak-designed golf club 2.5 hours northeast of Denver.
Curlander purchased the club at a March 7 foreclosure auction—“a nonevent,” in his words, since he, as the sole secured lender on the property, had also been the one who foreclosed on it. The move wiped out the club’s debt, much of it in the form of unsecured notes from founding members, and “will allow us to market the club more competitively,” according to General Manager Matt Payne.
This means dropping the initiation fee from $50,000 to $10,000 and annual dues from $6,000 to $4,000 for Regional members (within 300 miles) and $2,500 for National members. Existing members are all invited to rejoin without paying the initiation, and founders and charter members will retain their statuses.
The new owner does anticipate maybe “10 or 15 percent” of Ballyneal’s approximately 75 members won’t stay because they suspect his approach won’t differ from that of his brother-in-law, Ballyneal founder Rupert O’Neal, whose “mismanagement,” according to a letter signed by nine members lobbying to buy the club, put Ballyneal in dire financial straits.
But Curlander believes he will “easily” make up any attrition by attracting new members with the reduced price. “And there’s a good chance some vacating members will return after they see what we’re going to do,” he says. That includes introducing a limited number of carts (with caddies) to the currently walking-only facility; instituting executive/corporate memberships for up to four individuals; increasing on-site lodging; eliminating hunting (except on demand); shortening the golf season (May-October); and adding nine more holes, instead of the 18 O’Neal hired Bruce Hepner to lay out (“My preference is to have Tom Doak do it; the members think Tom is God,” says Curlander.)
As far as selling the club to members, Curlander says, “Once Ballyneal gets over the hump, then that’s all on the table. Right now, someone has to carry the load. It’s me.” In the meantime, a one-time payment of $10K, plus another $4K annually gets you membership at a Colorado club ranked in every major golf publication’s Top 100.
“The price change will make it a little less exclusive for the rich guy,” Curlander concedes. “But we can’t get trapped into thinking we’re something we’re not. We’re not Augusta, Pine Valley or Cypress Point. Selling memberships at a lower rate opens us up to a whole new demographic. That said, this opportunity will not be there next year.” ballyneal.com; 970-854-5900