Billionaire Frank McCourt could spend his summers anywhere, but chooses Willowbend as his sanctuary.By Rob Duca | Photography by Dan Cutrona
Frank McCourt arrives at Willowbend with a smile on his face, his black sport jacket flung casually over his shoulder as he saunters up the walkway to greet his visitors. He is wearing designer jeans, black boots, and a black V-neck sweater over a light blue dress shirt. His relaxed demeanor belies a frenetic, demanding lifestyle that has him constantly on the go in a whirlwind of big money business deals.
The billionaire real estate developer and former owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers is stress-free today, back on Cape Cod where he feels at ease, and where he once came as a teenager and later spent idyllic summers raising his four sons. He travels the world – after this interview and photo shoot he will head to the airport for a flight to Florida – but he says he will always return here, where pleasant memories come flooding back.
“I started coming to the Cape in high school, and as I got older and began raising a family we made the decision to spend summers here,” he says. “I have always enjoyed the atmosphere, the water, the light, the beaches, the people. I’ve always associated the Cape with joyful times.”
McCourt has owned a home and been a member at Willowbend in Mashpee since the late 1990s. He is currently renovating a house in Cotuit that he purchased in 2000. This is where he still gathers with his now grown boys, who range in age from 22 to 32. They are scattered around the country, from New York to Los Angeles, but they still make time to be together on the Cape as a family when the calendar turns to summer.
“Willowbend is very family-oriented. It’s a safe, attractive environment with lots to do,” he says.
His two youngest boys, Casey and Gavin, once took tennis lessons from Willowbend pro Andy Berler and became solid players who competed nationally. All four sons are outstanding golfers, which McCourt jokes is “a little annoying because they don’t realize how difficult the sport is.”
McCourt competed on his high school golf team at the Xavier School in Concord and regularly broke 90. He stopped playing once he began his business career, but says the time is right to pick up the clubs again.
“The fact that my boys play is bringing me back to the game,” he says.
McCourt, 60, graduated with a degree in economics from Georgetown University in 1975. Two years later he formed The McCourt Company, specializing in the development of commercial real estate. In the late 1970s he acquired 24 acres on the South Boston waterfront, developed parking lots and built his fortune.
It is no secret that he has experienced more turbulent than joyful times in recent years. His ownership with the Dodgers ended in bankruptcy in 2011, one year after a much-publicized and contentious divorce from his wife of nearly 30 years, Jamie, who was team CEO. McCourt endured withering criticism at the time, but he wound up selling the Dodgers for a record $2.15 billion (he bought the team for $430 million six years earlier) to a group headlined by Magic Johnson.
McCourt has sports in his blood. His grandfather was part owner of the Boston Braves, and he says that sports, along with politics, were common topics for debate around the dinner table. After failing in his bid to buy the Boston Red Sox in 2002, he tried to purchase the Anaheim Angels and Tampa Bay Buccaneers before landing the Dodgers in 2004.
The Dodgers made the postseason in four of his six years of ownership and attendance was high despite the chaos.
“It was a dream come true to own a professional sports franchise, let alone an iconic franchise like the Dodgers,” he says. “There wasn’t a day that went by when I wasn’t grateful. We had the top attendances in the history of the franchise. We were able to make it a financially sound operation. That was proven when we sold the franchise for the greatest number in the history of sports.”
After the sale, McCourt, in his words, “hit the reset button.”
“There was a time after selling the Dodgers when it was important to reflect and figure out what to do next, and not to jump into things,” he says. “Did I reinvent myself? No. I feel like I’m exactly the same person I was when I grew up in Watertown.”
Back on top
He certainly appears to have landed on his feet. He is building a global real estate, sports and media company with offices currently in New York and Los Angeles. A third office is scheduled to open this year in London. Last year, he donated $100 million to establish the McCourt School of Public Policy at his alma mater.
He also remains involved with sports. Earlier this year he landed the Olympic marathon trials for 2016 and he still owns the Los Angeles Marathon.
Last September, his company, McCourt Partners, purchased property on Manhattan’s West Side for $167 million. Plans reportedly call for a 730,000-square-foot tower on the site, which would include both residential and office space.
“It’s an exciting time for our company. We can do anything we want. We have all the benefits of an existing business but have the energy of a start-up,” he says.
He is based in New York City, and also has homes in Los Angeles and Florida. But Cape Cod remains his destination for solace and relaxation.
“I love summers on the Cape,” he says. “I have this dream that someday I’ll be able to spend more than just summers here.”