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Sunday, October 2, 2022
Legal battle ends with ownership change at NOTL Golf Club

North America’s oldest golf course has some new owners.

Control of the Niagara-on-the-Lake Golf Club changed hands suddenly and unexpectedly on Monday after a prolonged legal battle between operators John and Jill Wiens and a group of business partners.

Despite repeated attempts by The Lake Report to contact them, neither the new owners nor the Wienses were talking yet about the switch.

Two heavy bankers boxes at the St. Catharines courthouse contain several thousand pages of documents and offer some insights into the legal saga.

The long-running lawsuits, dating back to at least 2014, pitted the Wiens family against two numbered companies, but also named NOTL businessperson Eva Kessel, Rob DiDomenico, the estate of Jim Forbes and Reif Estate Winery CEO Klaus Reif in some of the civil litigation. 

The complex and bitter battle, which included various claims and counterclaims, was slated to go to trial next Monday, May 16, but the case has been settled, court officials said.

With the trial looming, the two factions came to a mediated settlement that quickly ended the tenure of John and Jill Wiens at the helm.

On Monday, Wiens, a popular Niagara-on-the-Lake municipal councillor, and his wife relinquished control and one of the new operators, St. Catharines businessman Marc Forbes, son of the late Jim Forbes, was on the premises and appeared to be supervising the business.

Marc Forbes, Kessel and DiDomenico, the winemaker at Reif Estate, apparently are the new owners. Klaus Reif does not have a share in the business, The Lake Report was told.

Court documents filed in the case claim that in early 2010, Wiens and his wife took over the golf club, along with their partners, after the business was placed in receivership by Meridian Credit Union.

The bankers were threatening to sell the club at auction in February 2010, the documents say.

Wiens held a 50 per cent stake in the business, the court records show. Within four years, however, the partners were in court, battling over the business.

Members of the golf club were aware of the years-long legal tussles, but it all took place behind the scenes and no details were widely known.

On Monday evening, Forbes, DiDomenico, Reif and Kessel were seen smiling and joking as they posed for informal photos on the first tee, with historic Fort Mississauga in the background.

The lack of information about the change in ownership has led to questions among the staff and the 800 full-time and social members of the club.

Golfers interviewed about the change expressed surprise at the news and said they looked forward to hearing about the new owners’ plans for the club.

Employees this week were tight-lipped and all said they knew little about what was going on.

Some members expressed concerns about what changes – including possible fee increases – the takeover might mean.

It has been a season of upheaval at the popular waterfront golf course, which was founded in 1875.

After 16 years in NOTL, professional Billy Simkin left to become head teaching pro at Peninsula Lakes Golf Club near Fonthill.

He was succeeded by Keith Vant.

The Niagara Falls native, a graduate of Niagara College's professional golf management program, was hired by Wiens after working as an assistant pro at Legends on the Niagara golf club.

As well, a new manager was brought in to supervise the dining room.