Life after Tiger

The Cliffs looks to shine without its biggest star.

In 2007, Tiger Woods said the first U.S. golf course he designed would be built at The Cliffs at High Carolina near Asheville. It was the pinnacle of notoriety for Cliffs Club and Hospitality Group Inc., the Greenville, S.C.-based developer of residential golf communities, which had two in North Carolina. But publicity is a double-edged sword. The company’s bankruptcy filing in February 2012 was national news. Now a new company, Jacksonville Beach, Fla.-based Arendale Holdings Corp., owns the developments. Robert Wright, its Charlotte-based vice president of real estate, talks about restoring the luster of a once-shimmering brand. The following are his words, edited for brevity and clarity.  
SunTx Urbana acquired about 70% of the lots and land at the Cliffs from the bank at a discount, and the Carlile Group managed the clubs during bankruptcy. We entered a partnership — called Silver Sun Partners LLC — with them and closed on the clubs in August 2012.

The Cliffs are the sort of places we invest in. They have a lot of members, and there weren’t legal, permitting or membership issues preventing us from moving forward. The developer had built a lot of infrastructure, roads. We picked up about 630 fully developed lots, so we didn’t have to pour a lot of development dollars into improving inventory.

We bought our partners out in December because we want full control. There are things we obviously needed to do. For instance, the Mountain Park Golf Course in South Carolina was about 75% complete. We re-engaged with Gary Player Design to finish it in 2013. The clubhouse should be complete this month. Also, when you had seven golf clubs with money problems for four or five years, there was plenty of deferred maintenance to address.

About 70% of our sales leads in 2013 were generated that year, so there’s not as much of a stigma attached to the developments anymore. We’ve got to keep ourselves from bringing it up.

Spending $10 million a year on marketing, like the Cliffs did at its peak, was a different day and time. We feel like we’ve got to be more focused. The overarching theme is that one membership gets access to all seven of our courses. We’ve been pleasantly surprised by the response we’ve gotten from direct-mail advertising. It was very much back in 2013.

Banks and investors are trying to get rid of their lots, which has driven prices down, but the end is in sight on those. Values have stabilized, and we certainly expect them to rise.

We don’t even own some of the property for the Tiger Woods course. We have seven other communities. It’s not that it’s not a priority, it’s just not the biggest thing on our minds right now.

It’s really amazing that the Cliffs brand still gets a strong response from people. The bankruptcy may not be washed away, but it’s well down the path of being washed away.