Integrity Golf closes its doors

At its peak, Florida-based management company oversaw operations at 41 golf courses in several states.

| | Originally posted on Golf Inc.

Integrity Golf Company, once the world's 15th largest golf management group, has ceased operations, according to Golf Inc. magazine. An official notice hasn't been issued, but a number of courses have reported that the management company was not paying bills, or making needed improvements. 

The Kissimmee, Florida-based company owned, leased and managed mid-market and municipal golf properties, the vast majority of them in Florida, through numerous affiliated LLCs. In early 2016, in what appears to be the prime of its corporate life, its portfolio consisted of 41 venues in Florida, New York, North Carolina, Tennessee and other states. In pitches to prospective clients, the company offered "a complete range of golf-club management and consulting services" and touted its ability to avoid "common financial pitfalls that often plague unsuccessful businesses."

Gene Garrote, Integrity's CEO, apparently pulled the plug in June 2017. Garotte hasn't explained why he did it, and neither he nor Integrity's chairman, William "Jack" Davis, responded to phone messages. Integrity's attorney, Orlando, Florida-based Alan B. Taylor, likewise declined a request for an interview.

Golf professionals contacted by Golf Inc. wouldn't speak on the record about Integrity. One believes that Garrote and Davis "either split or bought each other out." Another thinks the company "got too big too fast" and ran out of money. Earlier this year, a newspaper in North Carolina reported that the company's lease with Tot Hill Farm Golf Club, in Asheboro, was abruptly terminated "due to health concerns of Integrity's CEO."

Integrity's roots were in Celebration Golf Management, a firm created in 2007 to operate Davis' Celebration Golf Club in Kissimmee. At one time or another, Celebration also operated several other properties in Florida, among them Golden Bear Golf Club in Windermere, Eagle Creek Golf Club in Orlando, Kings Ridge Golf Club in Clermont and Stoneybrook West Golf Club in Winter Garden.

With few exceptions, Integrity's courses were open to the public, as its portfolio consisted primarily of privately owned daily-fee courses and municipal tracks. The Florida collection included Feather Sound Country Club in Clearwater, Mystic Dunes Golf Club in Celebration and Temple Terrace Golf & Country Club in Tampa.

Integrity marketed itself as an expert in revitalizing troubled properties, and as a result its portfolio included a number of courses that were struggling financially. Gulf Breeze, Fla., for example, hired Integrity to manage Tiger Point Golf Club because it believed the firm's "track record of success" would enable it to "turn around our operation." Capital City Country Club, in Tallahassee, Fla., had flirted with bankruptcy before Integrity helped to bring it back to life. Mount Vintage Plantation Golf Club, in North Augusta, S.C., had also filed for bankruptcy protection and was in the hands of a bank when Integrity signed a long-term lease on the property in late 2015.

In retrospect, it's evident that something was amiss at Integrity. A board member at Mount Vintage Plantation, which cut ties with Integrity last year, complained to a newspaper that its golf course "was getting in very bad shape" because the operators "put no money into it." The Town of Huntington, N.Y., which had turned over operations of two properties to Integrity, revoked its agreement in late 2016 after concluding that the company failed, in the words of Newsday, "to pay the town on time," make promised capital improvements and respond to "requests for remedy."

The Pensacola News-Journal reports that the city of Gulf Breeze began looking for a new operator for Tiger Point earlier this year, because officials were "picking up signals" that "vendors were not being paid." Officials in Brevard County, Fla., which had hired Integrity to operate three courses, had reportedly received "ambiguous responses" and "mixed messages" about the company's future.

However, Integrity's demise clearly took at least one client by surprise. In May 2017, after learning that Integrity was backing out of its contract, the members of Frosty Valley Country Club, in Sunbury, Pa., were quickly obliged to sell their property.

Most, if not all, of Integrity's properties are now in other hands. A few examples: Capital City Country Club is now managed by Honours Golf; Orange Lake Golf Resort in Orlando is now in the hands of Brown Golf Management; and both Forest Oaks Country Club in Greensboro, N.C., and Hunter's Creek Golf Club in Orlando are operated by OB Sports. Gulf Breeze and Brevard County are now working with other private-sector management groups.

Integrity's top officials appear to be going their separate ways. Ed Whalley, the company's chief financial officer, has found a new job with a company that isn't in the golf business. He also declined to talk about his time at Integrity.

Davis is the longtime chairman of Coeburn, Va.-based Davis Mining & Manufacturing, Inc., a company that manufactures explosives. Today, he and some family members reportedly own Thistle Golf Club in Sunset Beach, N.C., the International Club of Myrtle Beach in Murrells Inlet, S.C., and Crockett Ridge Golf Club in Kingsport, Tenn.

In 2015, a company spokesperson said that Integrity's goal was "to become the largest golf-course management company in the country." It was not to be, and we may never learn exactly why the dream died.