New Island Green course owner looking to increase golf holdings

ablondin@thesunnews.comJanuary 25, 2013 

— Ray Watts has entered the Myrtle Beach golf market with his purchase of Island Green Country Club, and he’s probably not done yet.

The owner of Apex Homes, who splits time between Charlotte, N.C., and the Grand Strand, said he is negotiating the purchase of at least two more courses on the Strand and hopes to close on them by this spring.

“Now is the time to buy a golf course,” Watts said. “Now is the time to buy any real estate, really. We might have this [buyer’s] market for 12 months but the prices are going back up. I think there’s a lot left in the market.”

Watts said he plans to keep all of his golf course purchases in operation, and refused to identify the other courses he’s negotiating to buy because of confidentiality agreements.

He has retained head pro Gary Johnson, superintendent Hans Sapochak and food and beverage director Jodi Cotten as employees to operate Island Green, a 33-year-old Bill Mooney design off S.C. 707 in Myrtle Beach.

The trio had been leasing the course through BB&T Bank, which honored the lease after foreclosing last summer on the course’s previous owner, Tower Development, whose owners were English citizens.

“I think Ray is going to invest some money in it so I think the golf course is going to get even better,” Johnson said. “Hopefully we can get the golf course dressed up a lot.”

The 6,382-yard par-72 course has traditionally been priced as a bargain in the market. It closed in August 2011 – it was the apparent victim of a tough economy and competitive market and was managed by now defunct Signature Golf Group – and reopened in January 2012 under the lease agreement.

“We struggled in the spring but the fall was fantastic and January has been really good,” Johnson said. “We’re catering to the local golfer with specials.”

Watts’ purchase from a BB&T holding company includes the 122-acre 18-hole course and 70 adjacent acres that were previously an additional nine holes that closed in 2005 for planned redevelopment.

He intends to finish building and selling the partially-completed Dogwood Estates on a handful of acres and “probably” develop the remaining acres into residential housing.

The Island Green sale closed on Dec. 30 and improvements have already begun. Parts of the clubhouse are being carpeted and painted. Landscaping around the clubhouse includes new concrete and asphalt. Fountains are being added to ponds, and the entrance road is receiving new course signage, a remodeled guard shack and resurfaced asphalt. Additional work on the golf course will begin within a week, though Watts said fairways and greens are in very good shape.

“Since we’ve owned it, it’s been very impressive to me,” said Watts, who plays golf sparingly. “I’m amazed at how many locals and residents utilize that course. Every time I’ve been down there, the parking lot has been full. The restaurant is full also. It’s been good this year so far.”

Watts, 53, has been buying and building in Myrtle Beach for three decades, and several properties have been around golf courses, but none have been the courses themselves.

He’s tried unsuccessfully to buy other courses in the area in the past, and is exploring forming a partnership with two friends who know more about the golf industry to handle his pending golf ventures.

He generally deals with distressed properties, and he has bought and sold distressed golf courses in other areas that he never attempted to retain.

Apex Homes has offices in Conway, North Myrtle Beach and Myrtle Beach near Myrtlewood Golf Club.

“We’re actually selling pretty good right now,” said Watts, who is also involved in several properties in the Caribbean. “Not only in Myrtle Beach but everywhere we’re doing business there is an upward trend, for us anyway. … The market is starting to come back. On property we own from as far back as 10 years ago, we can start moving bulldozers.”

Watts’ company owns and has built and/or sold property in or around Azalea Lakes, Arrowhead Country Club, Myrtlewood Golf Club and Cypress Bay Golf Club, and he recently purchased property around Palmetto Greens Golf & Country Club in Longs.

Watts said the Palmetto Greens property includes the Sun Colony development, which has new condo units for sale and additional land for another 250 units. He also plans to build single-family homes on land he owns around the course, which includes property he purchased about a decade ago and a large tract through the back nine.

“We’re glad somebody’s buying that property and we look forward to a long relationship with them and the new homeowners,” said Palmetto Greens G&CC general manager Philippe Bureau.

North Carolina-based developer Mike Matheny owns the Palmetto Greens golf course and some property around it that he has been attempting to sell/develop, including behind the clubhouse and what had been the 10th and 18th holes before a course redesign and reopening in 2008.

R.S. Parker Homes has built a handful of houses in the Palmetto Village development there over the past couple years and still owns three lots, according to company owner Ronnie Parker. But he said an agreement with Matheny to purchase lots and market the development has expired and he no longer has sales associates working on the property.

Contact ALAN BLONDIN at 626-0284.

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