Buddy, can you spare a billion? Who will care for the wealthy's piles?
APPEAL to save Mentmore Towers in 1977, before it was sold to the Maharishi, for £220.000 - currently the average house price in England.
IN these troubled economic times, skeptics among us are inclined to snort derision when the prime minister tells us we are all in it together. But spare a thought for the folk who are hard hit by shock, having invested in turning the land into a playground for those who have worked so hard getting us er ...where we are.
Yesterday morning, I was listening to BBC Beds, Bucks and Herts radio's Treasure Quest. The team decided that the cryptic clue they had been given was directing them to Mentmore Towers, the one time home of the Rothschilds, later owned by the Earl of Rosebery, and then sold in 1977 for £220,000 to the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, guru to the rich and famous (most famously the Beatles), becoming home of the Transcendental Meditation organisation, and from 1992 the headquarters of its political wing, the Natural Law Party.
Part of the clue had referred to "floating". Unfortunately, whatever was said about the Maharishi teaching the arts of levitation, his followers could not raise enough money to keep up this stately seat, and in 1997 the place was sold to a company called Mentmore Towers Ltd, owned by a gent called Simon Halabi who had plans to turn it into a luxury hotel and country club.
Alas, promising as the Mentmore guess had seemed yesterday, it was mistaken. The BBC questor arrived at the Towers to find its gates securely shut and no one in sight.
Perhaps that would have been less surprising had they seen this item in the Times back in April:
Hunt for Simon Halabi after tycoon is made bankrupt
More details: ‘Hunt for Simon Halabi after tycoon is made bankrupt‘ [The Times]
Who'll Buy the Bonny Banks of Loch Lomond?
Leaving Buckinghamshire, things are looking just as bad north of the Border. Take this sad story in this morning's Glasgow Herald:
The perilous state of the finances of the exclusive Loch Lomond Golf Club has been laid bare by its latest accounts that show it made a £45.5 million loss in just one year.
The exclusive club, the haven of investment bankers, top lawyers and celebrities such as Sir Sean Connery, is labouring under an estimated net debt of £132m. The bulk of this is owed to Bank of Scotland, now part of Lloyds Banking Group.
Like the rest of the eponymous group of Arizona businessman Lyle Anderson, which Bank of Scotland bankrolled, it is under the control of New York restructuring specialist Marotta Gund Budd & Dzera (MGBD).
The firm agreed last month to sell the Dunbartonshire club to its well-heeled members.
Accounts newly filed with Companies House show that turnover at the club grew 12% to £8.2m in the year ended December 31, 2008.
This translated into a narrowed operating loss of £5.2m, compared to £7.6m the year before.
It struggled under the weight of its debt after finance costs soared from £4.3m to £40.3m, including a £36.1m loss on foreign exchange for its dollar-denominated debt.
This meant a pre-tax loss for the year of £45.5m, up from £11.9m in 2007.
The auditor to the accounts, Deloitte, noted that the group’s total liabilities exceeded its total assets by £109m. “These conditions ... indicate the existence of a material uncertainty which may cast significant doubt about the company’s ability to continue as a going concern,” it said.
The accounts reveal that Loch Lomond had net debt of £132m at the end of 2008, up by £21.8m during the year. Some £78.5m of this is owed to Bank of Scotland.
Sources indicated that Loch Lomond made a further loss in 2009, although this was a lot lower. This would indicate there wasn’t a substantial improvement in the debt position in 2009.
Lloyds is also understood to have provided some additional financing in spring 2010 to help the club prepare for the Scottish Open.
The accounts show that in January 2008, Bank of Scotland declared the club in default of its banking agreement after it missed a repayment at the end of 2007.
Its directors were replaced by MGBD appointees, including principal Stephen Marotta, in October 2008.
Bank of Scotland continued to provide support to the company but refused to give an undertaking that it would back it for more than a year, the accounts show.
The directors of the club agreed in September to sell it to its members.
Alternative Hotel Group, owner of the De Vere chain and prestigious properties such as the Cameron House Hotel, had also tabled a bid. It had been thought that Lloyds preferred the bid of De Vere, in which it has a 50% stake.The sale, sources say, is likely to lead the club, which is thought to charge fees of around £75,000, to go on a membership drive, market its attractions more effectively and operate more efficiently. The Scottish Open venue is a notoriously difficult and expensive course to maintain due to its exposed position.
The Herald understands that Lloyds will continue supporting the club after the buy-out is concluded although there will be some debt repayment.
Loch Lomond Golf Club was set up in 1994 to rival the likes of Augusta and Pine Valley in the United States. It is, however, just a small part of the business empire of Lyle Anderson, who has interests in golf courses and timeshare resorts across the United States. These include the Superstition Mountain Golf and Country Club which boasts courses designed by golf champion Jack Nicklaus.Superstition indeed.
A Scottish friend who drew our attention to the Loch Lomond crisis says: "It's up Drumkinnon Bay without a paddle, the local people don't support it, they can't afford to play anyway, the members won't take on that amount of debt. It has been in trouble since it's started and has gone slowly downhill. It is only a matter of time before the out of business signs go up, it's already closed for the Winter, it may not open again."
Another, Catriona Grant of the Scottish Socialist Party recalls that "This is the golf course that Trump praised when he was trying to successfully con the council into granting him land".
American real estate magnate Donald Trump has promised to build "the greatest golf course in the world" on land north of Aberdeen. There has been controversy over the effect on areas of scientific interest, and on residents who are being hit with compulsory purchase orders if they don't want to move. There is a campaign called 'Tripping up Trump" to oppose the project.
Trump is due to receieve an honorary degree from Aberdeen's Robert Gordon university on Friday, October 8, for his exemplary entepeneurship. A former principal of the university has returned his own degree in protest.
I was going to suggest we need a charity that is prepared to transfer more money from the poor to the rich, and very-rich. Then I remembered, it is the Tory party conference this week, and we have the British government.