By Scott Kauffman
Longtime course operator Bob Williams and sister companies National Golf Properties and American Golf Corp. are wheelin’ and dealin’ once again.
Eight years after Williams sold 20 of his Golf Enterprises Inc. courses to National Golf for $58 million and merged his remaining 23 courses with American Golf, he has agreed to take over 21 Texas courses from National Golf and American Golf.
The proposed $132 million deal was made official Aug. 17, and is expected to close before the end of the year, according to Santa Monica, Calif.-based National Golf. No official purchase price was disclosed, but Golfweek’s sister publication, SuperNews, has learned Williams’ new company, Premier Golf Management Inc., is paying $125 million for the courses, plus $7 million for inventory.
If the agreement goes through, it will be the largest deal in golf since Sept. 16, 2002, when an investment group composed of Goldman Sachs and Starwood Capital Group affiliates paid an industry-record $1.1 billion for National Golf and American Golf.
“The acquisition is consistent with our strategy of acquiring outstanding properties in major markets with strong prospects for growth,” Williams said. “We are thrilled about the quality of the facilities and the staff we have met. . . . We expect a very smooth transition.”
Williams spent more than 15 years as a top executive for Dallas-based ClubCorp and American Golf before starting Golf Enterprises in Dallas.
After selling off Golf Enterprises, Williams eventually was hired to run Irving, Texas-based Evergreen Alliance Golf Limited and grow that company under the direction of financial backer Westbrook Partners.
Now, Williams is at it again, after forming Premier Golf in January 2003. Coincidentally, Premier Golf’s first big acquisition was a package of six Texas courses purchased from Fort Worth-based Fore Star Golf in June 2003.
With the National Golf/American Golf deal, Williams will more than double his portfolio to 41 facilities in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Kansas, Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee – all acquired in the past year and a half.
Two of the top private facilities Williams’ company will get in the deal are 36-hole Sweetwater Country Club in Sugar Land, former home of the LPGA, and 36-hole Club at Sonterra in San Antonio. In all, there are nine facilities in Dallas, eight in Houston, and two each in San Antonio and Austin.
“I think the single most attractive aspect of the deal is the ability to suddenly dominate one state,” said golf course real estate agent Jeff Woolson, senior vice president and managing director of CB Richard Ellis in San Diego. “And it’s the state of Texas, which is a big golf state. But it can be a boom or bust state. Is it a golf state you want?”
Williams certainly does, and his financial backers, Thoma Cressey Equity Partners of Chicago, are putting up big money to get it.
“I’m back at it again. . . . I don’t know what’s gotten into me,” Williams said from his Pacific Palisades, Calif., headquarters. “Seriously, I see (the industry) at the bottom and I’m hopefully trying to put something together where the prices aren’t so high.
“I just thought now is the time to build another company, when so many others are sour on the business or getting out.”