Tar Heel Tattler - March 2005

Sale sinks hopes of golf-club members
By Matthew Moriarty

Members of a Southern Pines golf club who have feuded with its management for four years thought they would get a break when the club was auctioned off after its owner declared bankruptcy. But letters they got in January from the new management of the Club at Longleaf sounded straight from the lyrics of a song by The Who: “Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss.”

That would be golf-course architect Don Maples, who lives in Pinehurst. One of his companies, Maples Properties, owned the club from its opening in 1988 until it filed for bankruptcy last year.

Bad feelings started in 2000 when he took over management of Longleaf’s money-losing restaurant from Boston-based General Investment Development, which ran the real-estate side of the housing development and golf course. Maples instituted a $35 monthly minimum that irked club members.

The dispute mushroomed. Some members became critical of course maintenance. When GID sold the property in 2002 to Chicago-based CMC Heartland Partners, it withheld nearly $400,000 due Maples Properties, citing the ragged course. Maples fired back, suing GID for $5 million over the withheld payment. In July 2003, a group of members sued Maples Properties citing the restaurant minimum, fees, golf-course access and condition of the course. Both lawsuits ended the year in mediation. But Maples Properties filed for bankruptcy May 26.

After hearings in September and October, Maples refused to let the courts reorganize the company, and the court ordered its assets sold. The winning bid of $2.4 million came in from Pinehurst-based Sound Golf Enterprises. Sound Golf formed a limited-liability company, Longleaf Florida, to own and operate the club. Weeks later, club members got a letter from Longleaf Florida signed by Maples.

He says only that he’s excited about new things the club can do. Others have seen enough. About a third of its more than 200 members have resigned. Many have been recruited by rival clubs. While some members want to give Maples a chance, others aren’t as conciliatory. “It kinds of blows your mind that someone who declared bankruptcy can come back and get a piece of the club,” one says.