Story & photos by Mike Besa
It’s tough to see any golf course, let alone one that you call home, fall into disrepair. Such is the case at the Eagle Ridge Golf and Country Club in General Trias, Cavite.
Eagle Ridge was the magnum opus of real-estate giant Santa Lucia Realty Corp. Four golf courses, three clubhouses, plus a full sports club complete with multiple swimming pools, a bowling alley, basketball and tennis courts, a fitness gym, billiard tables and multiple restaurants. It was a statement.
It opened to great fanfare in the late-1990s just before the great club share crisis decimated the golf industry. Eagle Ridge was the showpiece golf property of the country and a statement of the progressiveness and vitality of the industry. Shares were being snatched up by Filipinos in blocks and share prices soared.
Unfortunately, this didn’t last and when the market finally corrected, many of the golf courses floundered. Eagle Ridge, with its expansive facilities, was perhaps hit the hardest. Then as Cavite continued to develop and traffic in the province worsened, members stopped making the trip to General Trias, preferring to play at clubs in closer proximity to the city.
As the income streams of the club dwindled, the club began to cut costs to remain viable. Unfortunately, since maintaining four golf courses was horrendously expensive, the club started to cut maintenance costs. As the condition of the golf courses worsened, more and more golfers stayed away.
I first joined Eagle Ridge in the late 1990s. There were only 36 holes of golf that were playable back then—The Aoki was the first of the four golf courses that was completed and had its own clubhouse. The other 18 consisted of the front nine of the Dye and the front nine of the Faldo. We used to start on the Dye then walk across the street and continue our round on the eighth hole of the Faldo Course and finish up our round on seven.
The golf courses were pristine then. The greens were quick and the fairways devoid of weeds. The bunkers were difficult but as they were still fresh and they were fair tests. We were ecstatic when the Dye and Faldo golf courses were finally completed. We were proud of the fact that we had two of the toughest and most beautiful golf courses in the country at our club.
It took a while but the Greg Norman Course was finally completed and the main clubhouse along with it. The members had long been looking forward to the completion of the first Philippine mega golf club and, finally, it had come to pass. The courses were full, particularly on the weekends. I remember that at its peak, Eagle Ridge had from 600 to 800 golfers a day plying its fairways during peak season. That’s a sensational number.
But sadly, it didn’t last. As the years rolled by, fewer and fewer made the trip to General Trias to play Eagle Ridge’s four championship golf courses. A shame really. Especially considering the quality of the said courses. I used to offer my guests at the club a free dinner if they could find two holes on the entire property that were similar to each other. I never paid on that bet. The variety of golf on offer at Eagle Ridge was supreme.
Not even the completion of the Microtel on the property could stem the downward trend. Pity. It was a great way to spend the weekend. Stay over at the club for one or two nights and play as much golf as your body could stand. I spend many nights there and even organized events for both the hotel and the golf club. All loved the golf but, eventually, the masses stopped coming.
As the club continued to cut costs, the condition of the golf courses worsened. To stem the bleeding, the club shut down the Dye clubhouse. Patrons that wanted to play the most feared golf course in the land started from the main clubhouse on the seventh hole. Not the ideal situation since the first three holes you had to navigate were three of the toughest on an already very difficult track.
The club seemed to finally move in the right direction when it hired Raymund Bunquin away from neighboring Sherwood Hills Golf Club. A graduate of the San Diego Golf Academy, Bunquin was known for his congenial management style and his passion for the game. Bunquin got right to work, making the golf courses’ condition his top priority. He announced a mid- to long-term plan for their rehabilitation. He made other key changes to help the club run more smoothly and increase satisfaction among its members.
The BusinessMirror followed his progress at the club in a series of articles. He managed to land several big tournaments for the club, including the Ateneo-La Salle Golf Classic and the BRAFE; both large tournaments that used multiple golf courses and earned the club good money. Under his watch, the club became profitable once again and went into the black for the first time in many years. The surplus income was to be plowed back into the maintenance program. Things were looking up.
We were then most surprised to hear that Bunquin had resigned his position at Eagle Ridge at the beginning of 2017 over issues concerning the club’s maintenance. It was a shock to everyone concerned. This was a major step backward. The club is currently looking for a new general manager but finding a new one doesn’t seem to be the solution to the club’s problems.
Maintenance issues remain at the center of Eagle Ridge’s problems. The golf courses continue to deteriorate. Golfers continue to stay away. Rehabilitating the four golf courses will now take more money than ever. Money the club doesn’t have and money that the owners and developer seem unwilling to invest in the club. It’s a real catch-22 situation.
In the meanwhile, club continues to hemorrhage money. It will be expensive but there seems to be little choice in the matter—Eagle Ridge is going to have bite the bullet and raise the money somehow. Things will worsen further if they do not. Alternatives are few. The owners could sell the property or to find an angel investor that can put up the capital needed to bring the club back to where golfers want to go play and, perhaps, invest in the club. But this seems unlikely given the circumstances.
Personally, I can’t bear to see the club in this state. This is where I honed my game, bonded with my friends and spent many hours working on my game. I love this club. I was proud to be a member and even happier to show off its four distinctly different layouts to my friends. I was utterly distraught on my last visit here. Weeds were everywhere. The greens were bumpy and there was barely any sand in most bunkers. When there was sand, it was seldom raked properly. There was trash and cigarette butts everywhere. It was depressing. I must confess that I haven’t been back since.
It’s exceedingly difficult to watch a golf club of this size and stature go down this road. That I am a member makes it doubly difficult. Whatever the path Eagle Ridge Golf and Country Club’s board and management choose, we can only hope they do right by their members and investors.
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