Winter project: Breathing new life into Bonnie Doon

Friday, Nov. 16 – Louis Pin, The Sarnia Observer

A 20-year-old entrepreneur thinks he can reopen the Bonnie Doon clubhouse by next summer.

That does not mean golfers will get another crack at the long-running, recently closed Camlachie course — not for the foreseeable future, anyway. Matt Ferguson’s hope, instead, is to transform the vast clubhouse into an ideal rustic getaway wedding venture, one for people from Sarnia-Lambton and London alike.

It’s not an easy task. In three years the clubhouse transformed from a bustling weekend destination to a mostly abandoned space with only a few lasting, golf-related motifs, like the wall stickers in the hall outside the gift store.

“We’re doing the renovations. We have to remove some minor wall, redo the roof,” Ferguson said. “Just a little TLC.”

Those renovations aren’t cheap. Ferguson says they’ll need more than $100,000 worth of repairs before the country clubhouse is ready to operate, even after purchasing the land itself.

The good news: he has a lot to work with. The back of the clubhouse overlooks rolling hills and picture-perfect collections of trees and waterways, easy to recognize as a one-time golf course. Even the clubhouse has some transferrable gems, like the polished wood bar Ferguson says he intends to keep once they start to host weddings.

Jumping back into the golf game, on the other hand, would be challenging. The relatively small area already boasts two other courses, Sawmill Creek and the Camlachie Golf and Coutry Club, both which continue to operate in the picturesque area.

There’s no interest in biting off more than he can chew, Ferguson said.

“We’re not planning on bringing back any of the gold course,” Ferguson said. “Maybe (we’ll bring it back) but as of right now, no. There’s no time for that.”

Ferguson is a farmer’s son months removed from big-city graduation, a business-minded hospitality management student from Toronto’s Humber College with a small-town, do-it-yourself mindset. He bought the east Lambton property with help from his family after seeing the old course for the first time.

It’s encouraging news for the rural communities of Camlachie and Warwick. Less farmland — and bigger, more-expensive farms — has all-but dissuaded most young people from becoming farmers, leading to populations across rural Ontario shrinking at an unprecedented rate.

And while some young people are able to make it work, a more sustainable solution to maintaining small town Southwestern Ontario includes outside-the-box business models like Feguson’s. Another solution is a twist on ownership transfer, from ownership to staff instead of the classic ownership to offspring.

If everything stays on track, Ferguson Estates will open in June next year.

“It’s a lot of work. Just working non-stop,” Ferguson said. “We’re aiming for June 15th. That’s the plan. I think we can do it.”

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