Comfortably clad in a dark shirt, dark shorts and sandals, David Southworth looked at out the blue-green waters of Winding Bay on Abaco Island, Bahamas.
“Who thought you could earn a living dressed like this?’’ he said.
The answer is, someone with vision and an understanding of the private club community market. Those definitions certainly fit Southworth, who along with Reebok International founder Paul Fireman, launched Willowbend Development in 1991.
Their first project – Willowbend on Cape Cod, Mass. – remains one of the top private club communities in the Northeast.
In 2005, Southworth went on his own and founded Southworth Development. Based in Newton, Mass., the company owns six highly-acclaimed properties at the moment, including Willowbend, which it bought from Fireman in 2012. The others are Renaissance Golf Club in Haverhill, Mass; The Village at Machrihanish Dunes in Argyll, Scotland; Creighton Farms in Aldie, Va; Meredith Bay in Lake Winnipesaukee, N.H; and The Abaco Club on Winding Bay.
“The vision hasn’t changed, although the timeline always changes a little bit,’’ Southworth said. “I know it takes five or six or seven years to really get the machine going. By that I mean the staff, the memberships and the facilities. And the real estate follows that in earnest.
“You certainly chug along in the meantime. But then you hope to find a rhythm. We are where I thought we would be and where I thought we would be headed. But 20 years ago I thought we could do it two in years.’’
Southworth paused and smiled.
“But I was a lot dumber.’’
Self-deprecating? Yes, but it’s doubtful the Cornell-educated Southworth has ever been considered anything close to dumb.
With that in mind, The Abaco Club on Winding Bay, originally developed by British millionaire Peter de Savary, might be Southworth’s smartest deal to date.
Previously owned and managed by Ritz‐Carlton, The Abaco Club was acquired by Southworth Development, based in Newton, Mass., along with a consortium of Abaco Club members and homeowners, in December, 2014.
This past January, Southworth Development, assumed 100 percent ownership of the 453-acre private community.
“I’ve always loved (de Savary’s) work and loved what he did at Carnegie Abbey (in Portsmouth, R.I.) and at Skibo Castle,’’ now the Carnegie Club near Dornoch, Scotland, Southworth said.
“He’s very flamboyant, so in that regard we’re polar opposites. I have nothing but respect for him.’’
Located on Great Abaco Island, The Abaco Club sits on a 2.5-mile white-sand beach, features accommodations ranging from cabanas to multi-million homes, a spa, and what is generally considered the best golf course in the Bahamas – a Donald Steel gem that might be as close to a true ‘links’’ course you’ll find this side of Scotland. Potential members are allowed one visit to The Abaco Club to decide on membership options.
“When we first looked at The Abaco Club, we knew it was someplace very special,” Southworth said. “The community had everything money can’t buy, and we were delighted to have had the opportunity to help guide the club forward.
“Now, with the full support of the member-investor group, we’ve embarked on the process of adding everything else worth buying—things that we believe will make The Abaco Club the premier private club community anywhere in the tropics. It’s tremendously exciting and we can’t wait to share our vision for the club with the world.”
The next stage of Southworth’s capital improvement plan calls for an immediate investment of $10 million for the club calls for the creation of an on-property market, expanded food and beverage offerings and the building of several new residences, many of which will have outstanding views of Winding Bay and the Atlantic Ocean.
Construction has started on the club’s new marina and boat slips in nearby Little Harbour.
“Our sweet spot is private communities,’’ Southworth said. “It’s just what we do well. I think if were resort owners… that’s a whole different business. A lot of the industry looks the same from the outside, but it’s so different. When the Ritz-Carlton was here, this was a different business. It’s just a different animal.’’
On the subject of animals, is Southworth bullish or bearish on the current state of the luxury private community marketplace?
“Bullish in the sense that Creighton Farms, Willowbend, Abaco Club and Machrihanish are upscale communities,’’ Southworth said. “They are not just communities. A pure middle of the road golf community probably would scare me. These are just kind of living and breathing things. Golf is just part of the story.’’
Photos: Southworth Development