Bally Haly land swap best way to save historic golf club, says board chair
An 11th-hour legal challenge by a handful of breakaway members is not distracting the board at Bally Haly Country Club from moving ahead with a landmark deal that could see a dramatic shakeup in the St. John's golfing scene.
After months of negotiations, research and consultation, Bally Haly president Paul Rose said Thursday it's full speed ahead for a deal that will see Bally Haly relocate to a neighbouring golf course — Clovelly — in the city's east end.
"It's going to happen," Rose said during an interview at the Bally Haly clubhouse on Logy Bay Road.
Rose said a formal deal — one that will see Bally Haly relocate to the newer, professionally designed Clovelly off Stavanger Drive — is very close. Clovelly is privately owned, spread over 220 acres and features two golf courses, a large clubhouse and other infrastructure.
The deal is essentially a land swap, but with Bally Haly also paying $5 million to acquire Clovelly.
Rose said it's his hope that the Clovelly brand will disappear in the coming weeks and the new Bally Haly will be ready for the 2023 golfing season.
"People look at Bally Haly and say what a piece of land, and it is, but we look at Clovelly and say what an opportunity for the future," said Rose.
So what's to become of the current Bally Haly property? It will soon be linked to the Dobbin family, which has played a prominent role in real estate development in the city and beyond. Clovelly co-owner Judy Dobbin could not be reached for comment.
"That is in the hands of the purchaser," Rose said when asked whether a prominent and historic open space in the city will be covered in condominiums and houses.
Bally Haly is the oldest golf course in Newfoundland and Labrador, with a history dating back more than a century. It also features a curling club on its 117 acres of prime land. Most of the ownership shares — more than 60 per cent — are owned by the board of directors, with much of the remainder linked to notable St. John's family names going back generations.
Like most golf courses, Bally Haly struck a hole in one during the pandemic as people flocked to outdoor activities, and its financial fortunes took a significant upswing.
But the extra business also exposed a growing problem. Bally Haly features many fairways that run parallel with each other, and is bounded in some areas by private homes.
New technology has allowed golfers to hit the ball dramatically farther, though not necessarily more accurate, and that has raised safety concerns on the course.
"We've had a number of members who've been hit," said Rose.
The Bally Haly golfing community has also come into conflict with homeowners.
"Balls going into backyards, children almost being hit, windows being broken, and people trespassing, looking for balls on people's property," said Rose.
The board ruled out a major redesign of the course, one that would interrupt play for several years as construction was underway. Rose said membership is already declining, and the business would not sustain such an overhaul because users would drift away to other courses, with bankruptcy the likely outcome.
So the Bally Haly-Clovelly land swap idea emerged, and 73 per cent of the 450 members who voted late last month endorsed the deal, said Rose.
But not everyone is on board. A group of eight Bally Haly members went to court recently, seeking an injunction to stop the deal. One of their beefs? That the Bally Haly curling facility will likely disappear. The dissenters also accuse the board of ignoring Bally Haly bylaws.
The group withdrew its application for an injunction, however, but plans to proceed with a lawsuit, said one of the plaintiffs, Keith Renouf. Renouf declined an interview request while the matter remains before the court.
Thursday was membership renewal day at Bally Haly, and there was also mixed reaction from those who agreed to speak with CBC News.
"I just can't understand it," said Ray Hurley, who's been a member at Bally Haly for 50 years.
Hurley said he will follow Bally Haly to its new location but won't be happy about it.
"I love this place. I grew up here," he said.
"For it to be torn down and put houses here, it's just as well to go up and tear down Cabot Tower."
Bally Haly member Sharon Hughes, however, said the proposed deal is the only way to ensure Bally Haly is around for another century.
"If this doesn't go ahead, I think this is the end of Bally Haly," she said.
Paul Rose, meanwhile, said the board has been fully transparent throughout the entire process.
The curling facility is a money-losing venture, he said, but curling members have been asked to investigate the viability of establishing one at the new location.
"We've put the ball in the hands of the curlers and said: give us the business case, you identify the funding, and we'll see where we go from there," he said.