Andrew Gunning, president of Farnsworth Construction Ltd, won’t be building any homes on the well-known golf course, but does intend to rebuild the course – from the ground up.
Gunning, admittedly, isn’t a golfer.
That may appear a bit on the “bizarre” side, said Gunning.
“But from what I’ve researched, the most successful people who run golf courses are non-players. Business people who run golf courses do well, players don’t. I’m an entrepreneur. We can and will do this right,” said Gunning.
Gunning went public during an interview with The Intelligencer Wednesday at the company offices in Stirling, saying the timing was right to put an end to the “rumour mill.”
Gunning is forming a new company this week. Oak Hills Gold Club Ltd. will be the new owner of the course.
Gunning, 35, said the moment created the business opportunity.
“I seized that opportunity,” he said.
“For anyone who knows me they know I’m an entrepreneur and I see the value in the course. I’ve spent a lot of time learning the aspects of this particular business. It’s a 36-hole course that suffered from being under-capitalized, with absentee ownership.” Oak Hills has been around since the 1960s, but in recent years the course deteriorated, losing its reputation as one of the premier courses in the region.
Those days are over, said Gunning.
Gunning said he’s talked with former staff, listened to golfers and, in doing so, got a solid understanding of what transpired at the course in recent years.
“From what I understand, the previous ownership showed up every couple of weeks to put money in the bank. That’s not the way to run a business. You have to work at it. It’s going to be well managed – the difference will be totally night and day. The things that went on there is not the way I do business. I’m going to turn it around. I’m in this to fix it,” said Gunning.
Gunning began working on the purchase around Christmas. He did not disclose the purchase price for the 36-hole course citing privacy and legal issues between the financial institutions and the former owner.
But Gunning said the property was purchased directly from the owners.
“There were a lot of rumours flying around and, to answer your question, I bought the course from the owners,” said Gunning.
Gunning said he wants to end speculation that “Andy the builder and developer is buying it and that it’s going to be a subdivision.”
That speculation, said Gunning, is entirely wrong.
“First and foremost, it’s going to be a golf course. Is there going to be some development work down the road? Yes. Will that overpower the golf course — no, not even close. This is always going to be a golf course. I’m buying the course to bring it back to an excellent standard. I believe this business can succeed. The whole basis of this deal is to fix the golf course. If I were buying this to build a development the deal wouldn’t make sense,” said Gunning.
He foresees only three to four homes being constructed.
“Don’t get me wrong. I’m a business person. If everybody said ‘I’m not going to golf there,’ I wouldn’t have any other choice but to do something else with the property. That’s the survival mode you have to go into. But it will survive as a golf course,” said Gunning.
Gunning said the current membership and the number of people who want the course to thrive is incredible.
“That’s what I’m investing in. There isn’t a course out there with better membership,” said Gunning.
Gunning said work has already begun to re-establish the golf course.
“I’ve got my hands full. We’re going full steam ahead. We’re organizing right now. Come opening day we’re going to be ready for golf,” said Gunning.
The new owner is confronted with a long ‘to do’ list, topping that is investing in the course.
“The club house needs some work, but first and foremost is that the course needs to be ship-shape. The members want a club house, but golfers would rather have a great course first. The course will be first. Work will be done on the club house as well,” he said.
Gunning wouldn’t say how much the new company will invest in the course.
“A lot of things on the course in particular aren’t necessarily big money items. A lot of it is the organization and the co-ordination to get people to do the right things. I have priorities – those are course, the golf carts and a lot of other things. We’re addressing everything about this golf club,” said Gunning.
The real change will be on the course itself.
“My honest take on this is people will see a lot things happening at the course. Golfers will see an immediate difference,” he said.
The company is in the process of hiring staff. Gunning couldn’t say if a new manager will be hired.
“We’re working on job descriptions right now. They have to understand the business from top to bottom. You can have a good group of people, but if they are not managed properly, it’s all in vain, or if they need resources they can’t get, it’s still all in vain. That means they can’t do their jobs properly. I’m a very particular person. I like to run a successful business. The bottom line is every thing on this course needs to be done properly,” said Gunning.
Gunning draws a parallel between building homes and running a golf course.
“You have to do all the little things right and that makes a huge difference with clients. The same goes with the golf course. You have to show the business is tightly run and have good people who provide an awesome service and provide an awesome golf experience. Those are same principles I use with Farnsworth,” said Gunning.
There are between 200 and 300 members signed up for the new season.
“The membership has been very loyal. We’re developing a marketing plan and will be doing a membership drive. It’s such a special course – because if has 36-holes – members still get to golf if there’s a tournament,” said Gunning.
Gunning said the reputation of Oak Hills will be rebuilt by results.
“We don’t do things half way. We’ll get the course to where it needs to be,” he said.
The course is currently selling membership and booking tournaments.
Gunning said membership prices will not change this year.
In the meantime, Gunning said he won’t be taking up golfing any time soon, not “until a lot of work is done at the course.”
“I won’t have the time. My focus will be on running the golf course – the right way,” said Gunning.
By Ernst Kuglin, The Intelligencer/Trentonian
Wednesday, February 10, 2016 4:22:26 EST PM