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VOL. 129 | NO. 216 | Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Local Golf Courses Change Hands, Undergo Improvements

By Amos Maki

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Mirimichi is a Native American word that means “place of happy retreat.”

Mirimichi Golf Course near Millington has a reputation built on lush landscaping, creeks and waterfalls, along with great play.

(Daily News File/Lance Murphey)

Now that global entertainment icon Justin Timberlake and his family have sold their happy local retreat, Mirimichi Golf Course, to a local group for $500,000, the new owners have an opportunity to increase the number of holes and tournaments played at the course, which underwent a massive $16 million renovation.

Led by Fred Edmaiston, CEO of Memphis-based Aircon Corp., Three Star Leasing LLC acquired the course at 6195 Woodstock Cuba Road in the unincorporated Woodstock community off U.S. 51 between Memphis and Millington last week.

Having an engaged local ownership group could help the course become profitable, according to Keith Cubba, national director of Colliers International’s golf group.

“Golf is a unique asset class,” said Cubba. “It's very management intensive, and to have owners who are present in the market and focused on increasing play could make a substantial difference.

“People tend to look at golf courses like they look at a retail center or office center, but the reality is it’s an ongoing business concern. It’s all about management, and there could be big swings at the same property.”

Mirimichi joins a growing list of local golf clubs that have changed hands in the last several years – including Stonebridge Golf Club in Lakeland and Plantation Golf Club in Olive Branch – as new ownership groups inject cash and programs to make the clubs more attractive and profitable.

Mark Lovell and Robert Mears acquired Stonebridge in 2013 for $1.5 million and began investing heavily at the course, overhauling the clubhouse, restrooms and snack bar, and undertaking extensive landscaping, greens and fairways improvements.

They added electronic scoring for tournaments and provided a banquet and rental facility for everything from birthdays to graduation parties, providing reasons other than golf to visit the course at 3049 Davies Plantation Road between U.S. 64 and Interstate 40 in Lakeland.

“We have a huge building out here, and there’s no need of it sitting vacant all the time,” said Mears.

Justin Timberlake and his group have sold Mirimichi Golf Course to a local group for $500.000.

(Daily News File/Lance Murphey)

“People like to go to nice places and have a nice experience,” said Mears. “They’re spending their surplus money on something they enjoy, so why not provide them with a great atmosphere? And that’s what we try to do – take care of every need the golfer has.”

At Plantation, which was sold three months ago, the new owners have already made some upgrades and are following a three-year improvement plan.

Although prices remained relatively modest for a course like Mirimichi, increasing play at the former Big Creek Golf Course never seemed to be a top priority for the Timberlake ownership group.

Rather than a revenue generator, Mirimichi was more of a labor of love for the Timberlake group. Before he headlined international concert tours, Timberlake grew up playing Big Creek, and his mother and stepfather held their wedding reception there when it was called Woodstock Hills Country Club.

After hearing that Big Creek could be auctioned, Timberlake and his group acquired it in 2007 for $880,000. Later, the group spent $1.2 million for 19 parcels that buffered the course.

The Timberlake group invested heavily in Mirimichi, creating a virtually brand new golf course designed with environmental sustainability in mind.

The course, which includes lush landscaping, creeks and waterfalls, was the first in the United States recognized as an Audubon Classic Sanctuary and the first in the Western Hemisphere to be designated as Golf Environment Organization Certified.

“People own golf courses for multiple reasons, and his ownership in the golf course was probably not as a business venture, not for a return on investment,” said Cubba. “He’s an avid golfer, he saw something good he could do to the property, something good he could do to the land – and sometimes the buyer is chosen not because they paid the most but because they’d be the best custodians moving forward.”

Edmaiston did not return phone calls seeking comment, but in another interview said Mirimichi’s current membership structure will be phased out and will market itself extensively as an affordable destination with several tee box placements to make it more attractive to a variety of skill levels. Edmaiston said the group included PGA Master Professional Bill Munguia and that Timberlake will allow Mirimichi to continue to associate his name with the course.

Cubba said that with the right management, Mirimichi could do very well.

“I’m not sure what their business model is, but it sure looks like a great facility,” said Cubba. “There are courses in that market that are profitable, and I don’t know why they couldn’t gain their proper market share.”

RECORD TOTALS DAY WEEK YEAR
PROPERTY SALES 105 193 8,028
MORTGAGES 120 239 9,024
FORECLOSURE NOTICES 2 7 1,135
BUILDING PERMITS 192 445 17,512
BANKRUPTCIES 27 69 5,228
BUSINESS LICENSES 25 60 3,442
UTILITY CONNECTIONS 20 50 2,318
MARRIAGE LICENSES 25 50 1,642