Reebok magnate Fireman sells Willowbend CC -- again

Reebok Magnate Fireman sells Willowbend CC -- again (Photo: Merrily Cassidy/Cape Cod Times, part of Times’ online photo gallery)

Reebok mogul Paul Fireman has sold Willowbend Country Club -- again. This time around, Fireman unloads the posh, 27-hole club that hosted newly crowned U.S. Open champ Rory McIlroy last year, to a Massachusetts-based developer.

Reebok mogul Paul Fireman announced Tuesday that he had sold Willowbend Country Club to a Massachusetts-based real estate developer. The sale marks the second time that Fireman, who also owns Liberty National Golf Club -- site of the 2009 PGA Tour's Barclays event -- has unloaded the posh Cape Cod retreat where Rory McIlroy debuted his U.S. Open trophy after winning the major last year at Congressional Country Club.

The buyer, Southworth Development LLC, is a privately held developer of residential resort communities in the U.S., Scotland, and the Bahamas. David Southworth, co-owner of the company with Joseph Deitch, served as president and chief executive of Fireman's Willowbend Development from 1992 through 2005.

"I'm very pleased to have the opportunity to acquire Willowbend," Southworth said in a statement. "As someone who was there at the very beginning of Willowbend, being given the chance to take over the stewardship of the club and community is something that's very gratifying. Willowbend has always been a second home for my family and me -- literally, as I maintain a residence and membership there. To have the opportunity to guide this exquisite club community into the future is one that I value dearly."

Fireman reportedly bought Willowbend at a government auction for $8.5 million in 1991 after the nearby and uber-exclusive Oyster Harbors Club (Osterville) refused to admit Jewish members. The former Reebok International CEO was the club's sole owner through 2007, when he sold the facility to members after unsuccessfully trying to sell it for $33 million, according to the Boston Globe. He reassumed ownership of the luxurious 27-hole club on Jan. 1, 2011, after members voted to transfer the club from its membership-equity arrangement back to Fireman.

The club has served as host for the Willowbend Children's Charity Pro Am, an event that has attracted some of golf's biggest stars, including Greg Norman, Gary Player, Tom Watson, Nick Faldo, and John Daly, according to a release from Southworth.

Despite the luxurious 27-hole club's reputation as a millionaire's playground, however, Willowbend has struggled through the sour economy that has affected courses worldwide. Over the past few years, the club has lost members and cut fees. In 2009, a member paid a $25,000 entry fee -- down from $150,000 in 2004, Willowbend VP David Wood told us in December 2010.

Membership, which at the height of the club's success, peaked at about 490 golfers, had shrunk by last year to some 300 of Boston's one-percenters, according to Eileen Stirling, who worked in membership and real estate sales for the Mashpee, Mass., facility. The club even went so far as top open up its manicured fairways and greens to the paying public.

"We thought it would be a great way to introduce prospective members to the club, increase exposure, get the word out that we have great amenities and it's a great place to be," Stirling told us at the time. "We're trying something different."

This time around, Fireman said the decision to sell was an "emotional" one.

"In the end, it made perfect sense on every level to hand over the reins to David and Joe. Knowing that the club and community will be in their capable hands has made this decision so much easier," he said in a statement. "Now, my family and I will be able to enjoy the club as members, rather than owners. We're looking forward to doing so for many years to come."

Southworth's holdings include Scotland's Machrihanish Dunes and New England Golf Course Owners Association's 2012 Course of the Year, Renaissance Golf Club in Haverhill, Mass.

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