Off the Edge: The Cliffs Communities are recapitalized and building more golf


Fresh out of bankruptcy and with new ownership, it appears bright days are ahead at The Cliffs Communities, located on the southern edge of the Blue Ridge Mountains in North and South Carolina. Construction has begun on a brand new golf course slated to open in 2013, only it's not Tiger Woods' High Carolina design, but a new signature course designed by Gary Player, The Cliffs at Mountain Park.

Like most segments in the golf and real estate industry, the past few years were a little uncertain at The Cliffs. When the housing bubble burst, Cliffs CEO Jim Anthony found his development over-leveraged. It didn't help that at the time the bubble occured, they had just signed on the biggest name in golf to build a signature course on some of the Cliffs' best property. Not long after Woods paid a highly-publicized site visit and lot sales had begun, money for the development dried up and the course was shelved.

In early 2012, Anthony filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. A new partnership of three companies formed to create Cliffs Land Partners, and they assumed operations of The Cliffs this fall. The new partneship, with no obligations to the Woods camp, say they are taking a wait-and-see approach with High Carolina.

'[High Carolina] is probably our best piece of property with the greatest upside,' said Brett Johnston, CEO of Cliffs Land Partners. 'Right now we've mothballed it so we can figure out the next step. It's too great an asset to put a Band-Aid on it. In a couple years it could be viable.'

The region's economy has rebounded well in the last year, thanks in part to nearby Greenville, S.C., and Asheville, N.C., both gaining business and residents in recent years. Cliffs management says their communities didn't take a massive hit during the economic downturn and bankruptcy proceedings. In fact, they report membership numbers remained steady and even emerged this fall with more members than it had going into bankruptcy. While there was some deferred maintenance and service levels may have dropped some in the interim, the club experience for residents still remained quite stable. 

Ownership can now turn their focus to enhancing current communities while planning new ones like Mountain Park. Presently, there are about 70 homes under construction in communities throughout The Cliffs.

'We have the financial backing for the runway we need,' said Johnston. 'This is not a quick fix. We're looking at a 12-plus-year plan with a long-term, patient attitude.'

Coming in 2013: The Cliffs at Mountain Park

Gary Player joins a strong list of architects already at The Cliffs. Tom Fazio and Jack Nicklaus have 36 holes each, while Tom Jackson and Ben Wright also have designs.

Mountain Park is the centerpiece of a 5,000-acre development on the southernmost edge of the Blue Ridge Mountains slated to open in the fall of 2013. Set on lower-lying ground compared to some of The Cliff's property that heads up toward 4,500 feet in elevation, Player's firm plans to build a firm, fast golf course. And his team will have a front-row seat, as Black Knight International's global headquarters is located here.

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