Bob Parsons’ desert sanctuary rewards loyal members
In the satirical cinematic comedy, History of the World Part 1, Mel Brooks coined what has since become a lifestyle catchphrase: “It’s good to be the king.”
Just ask Bob Parsons, who is better known as the risk-taking founder of the wildly successful dot-com company, GoDaddy. In addition to owning motorcycle dealerships, a public-relations company and several other businesses in the Phoenix metro area, the self-made billionaire is also the no-nonsense owner of Scottsdale National Golf Club.
Scottsdale National is the new name of Golf Club of Scottsdale, an exclusive, pure-golf property that was hard-hit by the recent economic recession. It got so bad for the tony North Scottsdale club that its former owner, Crown Golf Properties LP, sold it to Parsons for $600,000, which included an 18-hole Dick Bailey and Jay Morrish-designed course, boutique clubhouse and undisclosed debt estimated in the hundreds of millions of dollars.
No stranger to risk, Parsons, 63, acquired the prestigious, no-residential-housing property in 2013 and immediately set out to transform Scottsdale National into one of the finest private golf clubs in the world.
That’s when the proverbial junk hit the fan.
In January 2014, Parsons delivered an edgy, no-apologies email to existing members, many of which initially had paid an $110,000 initiation fee to play unlimited golf, and others who joined for $25,000 during the financial crisis. In that email he laid out several new eyebrow-raising changes, among them a decision to limit members’ play to 30 rounds of golf a year. Plus, he increased guest green fees to $200 and eliminated the “unaccompanied guest play” benefit.
Parsons figured this would ruffle some feathers, so in the email he offered to buy back any membership at the original initiation-fee price. Not a bad deal, but some members saw it as Parsons’ way of kicking out anyone who wouldn’t fully invest in his new vision.
Sixty-five members sold back their memberships and 110 chose to stay.
“That offer was well received,” said Scottsdale National spokesperson Leela Brennan, “but those members who chose to stay are sitting pretty now.”
Indeed. Because all that billowing and blustering turned out to be litmus test to measure membership loyalty and commitment.
Soon after the Jan. 31 buyback deadline, Parsons significantly enhanced membership services by instituting a premium-club employee training program, raising staff wages, upgrading course conditioning and buying a fleet of GPS-equipped golf carts. He also announced immediate plans to construct a stately new clubhouse, reposition the course’s 18th hole, and build a nine-hole practice facility.
Then, he rewarded members who stayed by cutting their service fees in half and—more importantly—reversing the loathed 30-round cap.
And, most recently, Parsons acquired 273 acres of adjoining, undeveloped desert scrub, including a 223-acre parcel that was slated to become 250 luxury homes and a boutique hotel. He purchased it from by the legendary golf community developer Lyle Anderson, who had acquired the land in 2006 for $26 million.
Parsons won’t say how much he paid Anderson in the deal—the land is valued upwards of $67 million—but everyone agrees it was a cunning move to preserve Scottsdale National’s priceless, virgin-desert site lines. Plus it offers the opportunity to add more member amenities, including a second 18-hole golf course.
“We’re in a position where the club doesn’t have to make money for a number of years,” Parsons told the Phoenix Business Journal earlier this year. “I want it to be known as one of the finest clubs in the country.”
Based on Parsons’ track record, it would be ill advised to bet against him.
In 1994, he sold his company, Parsons Technology, to Intuit, Inc. for $64 million. Three years later the self-taught computer programmer and Vietnam War veteran started Scottsdale-based GoDaddy, which became the world’s largest provider of Internet domain names and now reports $1.4 billion in annual sales. In 2001, Parsons sold a majority stake in GoDaddy in for $2.25 billion.
Chris Duthie is a contributor to Colorado AvidGolfer, the state’s leading resource for golf and the lifestyle that surrounds it. It publishes eight issues annually and proudly delivers daily content via www.coloradoavidgolfer.com.