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Bear Mountain's new owners usher in changes for golf, housing

The new owners of Bear Mountain unveiled a long-term vision for the golf courses, resort and surrounding development lands on Tuesday.
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Ecoasis Developments founder Dan Matthews talks on Tuesday about the improvements coming to The Westin Bear Mountain Golf Resort & Spa.

The new owners of Bear Mountain unveiled a long-term vision for the golf courses, resort and surrounding development lands on Tuesday.

Three months after Ecoasis Developments bought the resort from HSBC Bank Canada, the company announced it will keep both 18-hole golf courses and pour additional investment into the resort.

Plans call for a new outdoor swimming pool and fitness centre, a 25-person hot tub, new hiking and cycling trails and upgrades to public areas. Ecoasis is also exploring a tennis facility.

The Jack Nicklaus-designed golf courses will remain a signature feature, but with minor changes.

“We spent a lot of time looking at the development with the retention of 36 holes and asked could we make it feasible with a [housing] market density that makes sense for southern Vancouver Island,” said Ecoasis founder Dan Matthews. “The answer is we’ve been able to do that.”

The news, which Matthews divulged to course members Monday evening, came as a relief to the membership.

In late 2012, HSBC announced it would be cutting its two 18-hole courses into three nine-hole courses while expanding development on Skirt Mountain. At the time, HSBC noted the courses were overbuilt for existing demand and the increased development opportunity would ensure longterm viability for the resort. Golf members were incensed at the downsizing plan, suggesting that cutting down to 27 holes was tantamount to ripping the heart out of the development.

Matthews heard the concerns. After crunching the numbers, he said Ecoasis can make it work. “We believe this was a good transaction. We got [Bear Mountain] at the right price, so we have an adjusted cost basis that supports the overall theory of going forward with 36 holes,” he said.

HSBC took control of Bear Mountain after an eight-month, court-ordered restructuring in 2010. The resort and development had been under creditor protection and founder Len Barrie was removed as CEO by HSBC, the original financier, which was owed more than $250 million. Ecoasis acquired the golf courses, the Westin Hotel and development land in October for an undisclosed price.

Ecoasis said it has found a way to explore new real estate opportunities around the courses to help make the business case for 36 holes. That will require making modifications to some of the holes on the Mountain Course.

“But these are not big changes,” said Matthews. “We’re talking about making some holes a little bit longer and a couple of holes a little shorter.”

He said that will not happen until there has been consultation with the membership.

Matthews said in addition to retaining all 36 holes they will be improving the courses with an increased budget for course maintenance, including new “comfort stations” with washrooms, food and beverage services and seating areas.

Two of those stations are slated for completion this year and will replace portable washrooms on the Valley Course and the snack shack on the Mountain Course. Two others will be added at a later date.

Later this month, the 10th hole on the Mountain Course will be removed, and the 19th hole will come into play to allow for the build out of the Upper Hedgestone Development. Work on that single-family home development is expected to start the first week of February, meaning new golf-course lots will be on the market this summer.

They are also rejigging the Valley Course so both the front and back nine will finish at the clubhouse in a bid to offer nine-hole rounds and appeal to youth.

The new investment isn’t reserved for the golf courses. Matthews said they intend to establish 4.5-kilometre trails for hiking and cycling around the Valley Course. It is the first of three trails that will eventually connect the two courses, the village and the trails through the surrounding parkland.

There is also a $4-million property improvement plan for the hotel which will include a new outdoor swimming pool and fitness centre. There will be a

25-person hot tub grotto and 1,000-square-foot resort pool, fire pits, enhanced food and beverage service and upgrades to rooms and public areas.

Ecoasis is also considering a tennis facility at the resort. Matthews said any facility would have to match the standard of the golf offering.

Matthews said other than the amenity improvements there are few set-in-stone timelines for modifications.

“Any alterations we make to the Mountain Course, for example, may not be initiated for a decade,” he said. “But the platform has to be set and solid so everyone has complete clarity about what could happen.”

He said that gives potential home buyers certainty over exactly what they are buying into.

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