Family row results in sale of top golf resort

A family row has resulted in the sale of the exclusive €70m Doonbeg golf resort in Co Clare to a US-based property investment firm.

Family row results in sale of top golf resort

The court battle between cousins, chairman and CEO of Kiawah Partners, Charles “Buddy” Darby and Leonard Long, has resulted in the sale of the entire portfolio that also includes Kiawah Island which staged the 1991 Ryder Cup.

Patrick Melton, chief executive of the new owners of Doonbeg — South Street Partners — said the new management is “evaluating” Kiawah’s overseas holdings but added that no immediate changes are planned as a result of the ownership change.

A spokesman for Doonbeg golf club yesterday declined to state what value was placed on the resort which contains the Greg Norman-designed course.

Reports that the deal was valued between $360m and $400m (€306m), including the taking on of debts, was dismissed as “pure speculation”.

The resort opened 11 years ago and failed to record a profit. The most recent accounts, for 2011, show the resort’s losses increased to €6.4m in spite of revenues going up by 16% to €10.4m.

The resort in high season employs 245 and Kiawah Partners have invested more than €67m in the project, with planning permission in place for an additional 61 holiday properties.

A spokesman said yesterday: “Doonbeg has been given assurances by South Street Partners it is to be business as usual. Over the coming months, South Street will be evaluating the total Kiawah portfolio and no doubt then they will decide on the strategy.”

Yesterday Doonbeg’s general manager Joe Russell said: “Doonbeg continues to perform well in these most challenging of times. The new owners are fully aware of the challenges faced in Ireland but equally they are aware of the unique nature of the Doonbeg project, its success to date in establishing itself on the world market, and the measures we have taken to ensure its success continues.”

Mr Russell confirmed that he has met the new owners and looks forward to working with them “to continue to build Doonbeg’s reputation”.

He said: “We fully understand the reason for the sale at this time and are confident that the previous owners will continue to have a relationship with the property and the local community in Doonbeg.”

In a letter to the Doonbeg investors, that includes Health Minister James Reilly, Mr Darby said: “It is unique for a developer to remain with a project for more than 15 years which is why I feel privileged to have been at the helm of a great team leading the strategic development of Doonbeg.”

The sale was the result of a family row that culminated in a 2012 lawsuit over control of the Kiawah Partners’ valuable property holdings.

The two central figures in the dispute were Mr Darby and his first cousin Leonard Long, a former Kiawah Partners executive vice president. Their falling out triggered a lawsuit filed last June.

The complaint was filed by Mr Long and a group of partnerships, trusts and individuals who were minority owners in real estate ventures led by Mr Darby. They demanded that the assets of those businesses be dissolved and for the properties to be either divided up or sold.

All of the plaintiffs and defendants are related to the late JC Long, who headed a property empire in the US. The lawsuit was settled in December. The terms were confidential, but the deal included a buyout clause. Mr Long brought South Street Partners to the table and talks began in February. Mr Long will have an advisory role with the new owners.

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