Thursday 17 July 2008

€170m golf club deal lands in the rough

'We have taken this decision in the light of the extraordinary change in the economic climate over recent months'

IT may be the most spectacular collapse in golf since Jean van der Velde at the British Open.

A massive property deal that was to net the 670 full members of Clontarf Golf Club personal windfalls of €100,000 from the sale of course land is -- like van der Velde's ill-fated challenge -- dead in the water.

As part of the €170m package, the property company Capel Developments was also to hand over its Bernhard Langer-designed links course at Portmarnock to the Clontarf club.

However, the developer informed the club in a letter this week that it is withdrawing its offer because of the downturn in the property market.

"We have taken this decision in the light of the extraordinary change in the economic climate over recent months," Capel said in a statement yesterday, confirming the decision to the Irish Independent.

"We felt it would be imprudent to proceed at this point in time and, rather than have uncertainty, we felt it would be in the best interests of both parties to inform Clontarf now."

Management at Clontarf Golf Club -- where Bertie Ahern was an honourary member until he stepped down as Taoiseach in May -- were said to be "disappointed" at the news, after "having put a lot of time and effort into the deal".

Under the original package, voted through by 488 of the 537 club members who attended a meeting last November, full members were to receive €100,000 each, while lady associate members were set to net €22,000.

The ball didn't stop rolling there.

Five-day members were in line for €17,500, intermediates were set to take €16,500, bowling and country members €5,000, and even pavilion members were to pocket €1,000.

As well as signing over ownership of the Portmarnock Links course -- itself set on 150 acres -- to the Clontarf club, Capel had also offered €20m for club funds and was to build a new clubhouse there. The entire package was valued at over €170m.

But what stood out in the Clontarf deal was the cash payment aimed directly at the well-heeled members of the north Dublin club.

Three other deals over the past decade -- for the Bray, Dun Laoghaire and Douglas golf courses -- involved land swaps with developers but, in each case, the members were not given a direct share of the cash.

Among the well-known members of the Clontarf club are former Dublin football manager Kevin Heffernan and former Tipperary hurling captain Tony Wall, both All-Ireland winners.

The general secretary of the Golfing Union of Ireland, Seamus Smith, is also a member at Clontarf.

Mr Ahern included an honourary year-long membership of the club in last year's Dail Register of Member's Interests but added that he did not "receive any material benefit from this as I do not play golf".

Joe Brennan, Liam Kelly and Jason O'Brien
Irish Independent

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