Just four months into the top job at The Heritage Golf and Country Club, General Manager Wayne Sutherland has vowed to give the club’s members the best value golf and lifestyle offering since the venue’s inception in 1999.
The Heritage was sold again recently for a reported price tag just shy of $18 million and Sutherland insists the club is primed to realise its potential as a high-end golf and lifestyle facility.
“Fundamentally, the business at The Heritage is solid, it’s just that the previous owners have had some difficulties in being able to sustain their role in keeping the operations going,” Sutherland says. “The third ownership structure is generally where the best result for the members of the course will come. Throughout the world you see that by the time a third owner arrives depreciation of buildings and equipment has really already occurred and will generally dictate a slightly lower sale price. That generally means that the third operator can pick up quality blue-chip assets at a lesser price.”
Sutherland – who has a background in the hotels industry – sold transferable golf memberships from 2001 to 2007, working with clubs throughout eastern Australia including The Heritage, The National, Sandhurst, Sanctuary Lakes, St Andrews Beach, Twin Creeks and Terrey Hills.
“It gave me a broad brush understanding of start-up golf courses as well as the financials to operate a golf course. A lot of those developments were golf and residential based so it wasn’t just pure golf. There was obviously an element of lifestyle.”
From 2007 until July of this year, Sutherland worked at golf management firm Clublinks, managing residential golf course estates and stand-alone golf courses. He says The Heritage – part of a small minority of privately-owned golf courses in Australia – will make decisions based on what’s best for its members.
“We’ve been exceptionally forthright on not being really open for green fee play. We’re trying to uphold the benefits of membership. Whilst a lot of the courses have gone down the path of having multiple categories of membership, we’ve tried to just maintain the benefits of membership at a quality asset.”
The Heritage’s Jack Nicklaus-designed St John Course and Henley Course remain an internationally revered 36-hole venue, which Sutherland insists continues to set itself apart from the famous sandbelt in Melbourne’s southeast.
“The golf course designs here are unique and still have a lot of currency for people who keep playing the sandbelt. They always still seem to say ‘I’m happy to play Heritage because it is different’. It’s got a lot of admirers from other courses who still want to play out here. Particularly with the Nicklaus course, there is only one Nicklaus course in Victoria and there won’t be another one in a real hurry.”
According to Sutherland, the members are more spoiled for choice than ever before in terms of where they can play internationally, with The Heritage’s reciprocal clubs list receiving a major boost.
“We have just signed arrangements with a large number of courses across Australia, Asia and North America,” Sutherland explains. “Our members will enjoy additional playing rights in every mainland Australian state, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, New Zealand, the Philippines, South Korea, Indonesia (including Bali), Hawaii and mainland USA, Canada and Bermuda. In addition we are finalising arrangements with another 110 courses in France and 43 across the rest of Europe in Spain, UK and Sweden.
“All up members at the Heritage will have newly enhanced privileged playing rights at over 200 courses worldwide and Australia, and all are commensurate with the quality of our two championship courses.
“That’s something that our other competitors won’t be able to match in a hurry. A lot of our members or prospective members are successful business people and they travel. They still want the club atmosphere of a home club but they want a varied experience. If there’s a quality golf option where they’re travelling for business or leisure, it’s a great benefit of a membership.”
Nestled in the Yarra Valley close to an hour from Melbourne’s CBD, The Heritage benefits from a setting that is both tranquil and spacious. Members are afforded a level of privacy commensurate with any top-tier country club and Sutherland wants to keep it that way.
“We’re all about lifestyle as well and incorporating a quality experience into a membership. If we were inundated with another 600 members, we wouldn’t be able to offer that quality experience. Membership retention’s important for us like any other club, we simply want members at the end of the year to not even question the renewal decision. Our job is to incorporate our product so much into our member’s lifestyle they see it as being a second home, a place of invigorating tranquility.”
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