WHAT'S YOUR REACTION?

December 2 — Paul Fireman, former Reebok International chief executive, will reassume ownership of Willowbend Country Club (Mashpee, Mass.) on Jan. 1, 2011.
Club members recently voted overwhelming to transfer ownership from its current membership-equity arrangement back to Fireman, Willowbend VP David Wood told New England Golf Monthly. Fireman bought the private club in 1992 and was its sole owner through 2007. That year, he sold the facility to its members after unsuccessfully trying to sell it for $33 million, according to the Boston Globe.
Under the original sales agreement, Fireman agreed to be financially responsible for the club for the first four years, after which members could opt to transfer the club back to him if two-thirds of them voted to do so. The continuing weak economy was a primary reason that Fireman and the equity members decided to move the transfer up a year, Wood said.
“The way the economy has been, there was a sense from members and from Paul that it would make more sense for Paul to own the club than the members,” Wood said.
Equity members paid $65,000 to join the 27-hole club in 2007. Non-equity members, each of whom pays a $35,000 initiation fee and $14,290 in annual dues, recognize they could lose their memberships if enough new golfers join, Wood said.
Fireman — a reputed 6-ish handicapper — reportedly bought Willowbend at a government auction for $8.5 million after the nearby and uber-exclusive Oyster Harbors Club (Osterville) refused to admit Jewish members. Despite its reputation as a millionaire’s club, Willowbend has struggled through the sour economy that has affected courses worldwide. Over the past few years, the club has lost members and cut fees. In 2009, members paid a $25,000 entry fee — down from $150,000 in 2004, said Wood.
Fireman also owns the Liberty National Golf Club, which he bought for an astounding $130 million. The former toxic waste dump site came under heavy criticism by PGA Tour golfers when they played The Barclays event at the New Jersey course last year. Initiation fees at the course with a view of the Statue of Liberty reportedly range between $300,000 and $400,000 — the most expensive anywhere, according to the Wall Street Journal.
As a side note, New England golf fans may recall that Willowbend member, New England Patriots’ owner Robert Kraft, hosted Pats QB Tom Brady and his single-digit handicap earlier this year. Shortly after the golf-and-gab session, Brady signed a lucrative new contract.
(Emily Kay is a regular contributor to New England Golf Monthly. Check her out on the Waggle Room, Boston Golf Examiner, and National Golf Examiner websites.)

WHAT'S YOUR REACTION?