in the late 1970s, a teenage Sydney Kitson strayed from
his studies of yield curves and made his way onto the playing
fields of Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North
Carolina. There he made a discovery that would shape his
life."I found I was pretty good at blocking" the
former economics major recalls. Kitson became a guard on
Wake Forest's football team and later its captain.
went on to play in the National Football League with the
Green Bay Packers and the Dallas Cowboys before adopting
his current calling of real estate developer.
was one of "the attitudes and lessons" this New
Providence native picked up on the football field and ran
with in his business dealings."To be an offensive guard,
you have to be aggressive but you also have to have a lot
of patience - patiently wait for the kill or get killed.
It's not for the meekhearted. Today, at 42, Kitson is chairman
and CEO of the Florham Park-based Kitson & Partners,
a golf course and residential real estate developer and
was not preordained that Kitson would make a career in real
estate. His football skills helped him lead the Wake Forest
Demon Deacons to the Citrus Bowl in Orlando, Florida, in
1979. After graduating in 1980, he was a third-round draft
choice for the Green Bay Packers. He played there from 1980
to 1985 under Bart Starr. He played one more season with
the Dallas Cowboys under Tom Landry before retiring from
had been physically banged up pretty good," he says,
"and I felt I wanted to move on."
a survivor" says Bart Oates, a friend of Kitson and
another former NFL offensive lineman who has made the transition
into real estate."He's as much of an entrepreneur as
he is a football player" adds Oates, a former lawyer
who played for the Giants and the San Francisco 49ers before
retiring in 1996. Oates, who has watched Kitson's career,
is now eastern regional sales director for Workstage, a
Florham Park-based build-to-suit developer.
Kitson & Partners, the entrepreneur has come to the
fore. The firm owns or manages a dozen 18-hole golf courses
in Florida, two 36-hole courses in Houston, Texas and one
in Princeton. Like many courses, Kitson & Partners'
golf properties are flanked by residential neighborhoods,
a sensible arrangement: both golf courses and residential
real estate are enjoying boom times throughout the country.
will be busy for the next few years. His biggest project
is a 404-acre, $715-million destination resort in Orlando
whose 10-year time line started ticking two months ago.
His firm is responsible for planning, construction and management
of the facility. Another meaty project is Ibis Golf &
Country Club in West Palm Beach, Florida. Upon completion
in 2006 it will feature 1,900 homes and three golf courses,
the last of which will be ready this November. In New Jersey,
the firm is close to buying another 18-hole golf course
in Sussex County. Kitson declines to identify the property.
is in a long-time boom" says Kitson. He has made a
specialty of taking over financially under-performing golf
courses and restoring them to health."The golf industry
has been overbuilt in the last few years, especially in
pockets such as Northern New Jersey" he says."Also,
some real estate investment trusts have overpaid for a lot
of the golf courses and many of these are not performing
well. Therein lies the opportunity."
says his ability to convert somebody else's adversity into
his advantage is a combination of real estate development
expertise, and marketing and management skills. This stands
in contrast, Kitson says, to those who currently manage
most of the 16,000 golf courses in the country."They
are not businessmen - most of them are players or teachers"
has observed another skill of Kitson's. "He has this
ability to create a commonality. He can find a common area
in deals that other people are going to throw up their hands
and walk away from." In addition, Oates suggests that
Kitson's "dogged determination" to complete a
deal ultimately "wears [the other parties] out."
back, Kitson credits an April 1994 assignment for showing
him the opportunity in nursing troubled golf courses back
to health. At the time, Kitson was president and CEO of
Gale, Wentworth & Dillon, part of the larger Florham
Park-based real estate development firm Gale & Wentworth.
He was asked by New York City-based investment firm Dyson-Kissner-Moran
to reverse the fortunes of its Cherry Valley Country Club
helped reposition the Cherry Valley homes, which were seen
as pricey, by introducing a graded pricing structure running
from $325,000 to $500,000. Seven years later, Kitson has
sold the last of Cherry Valley's 485 homes. The ownership
of the golf courses has been transferred to the club's members
and DKM has cashed out with a profit.
tasted opportunity in Cherry Valley, Kitson went for his
next "troubled golf course" project: Ibis Golf
& Country Club. Kitson & Partners bought Ibis for
$41 million from Michigan National Bank in 1996 and found
a partner in New York City-based Blackstone Real Estate
Partners, which has investments in hotels, office buildings
and residential properties worldwide. An additional $60
million has been invested so far in the project. About 400
homes are ready.
courses have been a happy side trip for Kitson but residential
real estate was the area in which he had planned to work.
Before joining Gale, Wentworth & Dillon in 1992 he dabbled
as a developer of residential and office space as head of
his own firm, Bedminster Associates in Berkeley Heights.
He says he learned the real estate ropes the hard way there
as the recession of the early 1990s took hold.
year, Gale, Wentworth & Dillon was split into two separate
groups. One, Kitson & Partners, handles the residential
and golf course business. Kitson is CEO. The other, Gale,
Wentworth & Dillon, headed by Thomas Dillon, concentrates
on urban redevelopment and makes its home in Newark where
renewal projects are all the rage.
job ensures a "very long workday, including weekends,"
Kitson says, but he still finds time for family: wife Diane,
whom Kitson met at Wake Forest, 15-year-old Lauren and 13-year-old
Tyler. Other activities, too, have sprung up in the periphery
of his work. Kitson now serves on the board of the Loxahatchee
Wildlife Preserve, an environmentally sensitive area that
surrounds the Ibis club in West Palm Beach.
there's the special place football has in his life. Kitson
is an active member of the National Football Foundation
and the New Jersey Chapter of Special Olympics. "I
get bored easily" says Kitson." I have the best
job in the world - you cannot get bored with all that I