The man at the head of the company tasked with bringing the Belfry back to its former glory has said that the ultimate ambition is to one day bring the Ryder Cup back to the Midlands.
The De Vere Group has been appointed to run the famous Warwickshire golf complex by its new owners KSL Capital Partners and De Vere group chief executive Andrew Coppel said it was time for the Belfry to get back on the international golfing map.
“The Belfry is one of the leading golf resorts in Europe,” he said. “We have had conversations with the PGA and European Tour and they have been hugely positive and we are confident The Belfry will get back on the European tour at least in the near future.
“We would like the Ryder Cup to return to The Belfry. We will wait and see. First the renovation and then we will have a conversation with the relevant people. The Ryder Cup is another championship which we would like to have once the new facility is up and running.”
Colorado and New York-based private equity firm KSL Capital Partners has bought the 550-acre resort near Sutton Coldfield for an undisclosed sum through Jones Lang LaSalle Hotels after it was put on the market last December for an asking price of £70 million after racking up debts of a reported £105 million.
Former Belfry owners the Quinn Group, led by bankrupt billionaire Sean Quinn, faced financial turmoil last year, forcing the Belfry into the hands of Anglo-Irish Bank and US insurance firm Liberty Mutual. The Quinn Group had originally bought the complex for £186 million.
KSL plans to completely renovate the hotel’s bedrooms, public areas, its seven bars and restaurants, spa and meeting spaces over the next few months.
The firm, which specialises in travel and leisure businesses, owns a number of golf resorts in the US, but this is its first venture in Europe.
The De Vere Group previously owned and operated the 324-bedroom hotel before it was sold to The Quinn Group in 2005.
The Belfry also houses the headquarters of the UK PGA, meeting and conferencing facilities, as well as three 18-hole golf courses including the Brabazon course, and has hosted four Ryder Cups, more than any other golf course.
Richard Weissmann, one of KSL’s partners, said: “We believe De Vere’s familiarity with today’s European travellers combined with our planned renovations will provide guests of The Belfry a with new level of luxury, service and amenities.”
The last time the tournament between Europe and the US was held at the Belfry was in 2002, when it was won by Europe, captained by Sam Torrance.
That tournament was delayed by a year because of the 2001 September 11 attacks on New York.
Before that the Belfry hosted the tournament in 1993, when the United States won, in 1989 when Europe retained the cup and in 1985, which saw a European victory led by Tony Jacklin.
The 2012 Ryder Cup will be held at Medinah Country Club, Illinois, USA, from September 25–30 and the 2014 venue is The Gleneagles Hotel in Perthshire, Scotland.
De Vere owns and runs some of the best courses in the UK and Mr Coppel said the Belfry remained a “significant notch above the other courses generally” although he said the facilities were in need of significant upgrading.
“He (Quinn) hoped to spend £150 million on the site, tearing it to the ground, which I think was a bit of a pipe dream, irrespective of his fortunes thereafter,” Mr Coppel said.
“KSL are determined to make it a huge success. There has been a decline in quality of the place, given that KSL plans a complete restoration. There are 550 employees at The Belfry so it is a significant employer, not just in Sutton Coldfield but in the Midlands.
“KSL have a track record in this area and if you see their courses in the US, quality is very important for them.”
He added: “KSL have immense experience in operating golf courses, including La Costa in California and major courses on the US tour.
“I think there has been a disconnect between the outstanding quality of the golf course and the hotel and spa facilities. This will be addressed by KSL investment.”
A statement from the Quinn family said: “We congratulate KSL Capital Partners on their acquisition of The Belfry, and wish them well.
“We would particularly like to extend our appreciation to the management and staff at the hotel for their hard work and dedication over the past number of years, and look forward to seeing the proud traditions of The Belfry continuing.”
George Nicholas, executive vice president of Jones Lang LaSalle Hotels which brokered the deal, added: “The Belfry attracted wide international interest from investors looking to capitalise on the existing golfing reputation and grow the business through renovation of the hotel and restaurants.
“The sale is a vote of confidence by KSL Capital Partners in to the UK and bolsters the sentiment in the UK lodging sector as evidenced by £1.123 billion in hotel property sales year to date 2012, representing growth of 12 per cent over the same period last year with the majority of investment coming from offshore.”
Lawyers from DLA Piper, including Mark Beardmore, office managing partner for DLA Piper in Birmingham, acted for KSL Capital Partners.