CHARLESTON — Three days after a judge rejected arguments by the governor and his son in a lawsuit claiming their coal business reneged on millions of dollars of debt, James Justice III bought a house from golf star Bubba Watson for $2.5 million.
The son of Gov. Jim Justice, Justice III paid almost double the appraised value of the property located at The Greenbrier resort, according to county real estate records, which list the sale date as May 21, 2020. That was less than a year after Justice III conceded in a defense filing that Bluestone Industries Inc. bounced checks to nearly 100 employees, including Justice III.
On the same day as the sale, the governor held a COVID-19 news briefing heralding the fourth week of the state’s comeback from a shutdown over the pandemic.
Federal records show Bluestone Industries is a wholly owned subsidiary of Bluestone Resources, which is owned by the governor and his son. The latter company borrowed $850 million from London-based Greensill Capital, making it one of the lender’s largest clients, according to The Wall Street Journal.
Regulators this week took over the banking unit of Greensill, which filed for insolvency protection Monday. Founded in 2011, the financial services company’s total loans to Bluestone Resources nearly doubled the $436 million in cash a Russian conglomerate paid Justice for the coal outfit in 2009. The governor bought Bluestone back a half-dozen years later for less than 1% of the 2009 total sale price, which included shares of stock.
Lawsuits against Bluestone and its subsidiaries have come from all directions, among them a claim filed by a Canadian steelmaker and another by Bluestone Industries employees whose paychecks bounced. Both lawsuits were settled.
Justice and his son, meanwhile, have continued their various pursuits undeterred. The future governor bought the luxurious, 710-room Greenbrier resort in 2009, the same year he sold Bluestone.
Through the years, Justice applied his skills as a promoter to elevating The Greenbrier resort’s profile through various relationships with professional athletes, most notably Watson.
The Florida-born golfer famed for his booming drives signed an endorsement deal with the resort in August 2013, a month after that year’s Greenbrier Classic PGA Tour event. Financial terms of Watson’s endorsement deal with The Greenbrier were undisclosed. Shortly afterward, however, he took ownership of a piece of property with a mercurial history.
Records show the Greenbrier Sporting Club bought the 7.844-acre lot for $27,505 on March 3, 2004. It was then transferred nine months later to the Greenbrier Hotel Corp. for $1.1 million.
Watson, whose legal name is Gerry Lester Watson Jr., entered the picture Sept. 3, 2013, paying $400,000 for the lot. Construction of a 3,836 square-foot, four-bedroom, four-bathroom house was completed the following spring.
He and his family made use of the house during the tournament, as well as other times throughout the year. The Watsons were at their Greenbrier home in June 2016, when flooding ravaged the area, and they later assisted in the clean-up effort.
Pieces of the arrangement between The Greenbrier and Watson included the club’s logo being placed on Watson’s golf bag. Special “Bubba” tees were installed on the resort’s signature Old White TPC course. Golfers who broke 90 from those tees were then eligible for a raffle to win a round with the two-time Masters champion.
The tournament — which began in 2010 as The Greenbrier Classic — and resort also leveraged the relationship with Watson in various marketing initiatives.
His image became even more prevalent as Watson annually propped up fields that increasingly struggled for big-name relevance. Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson combined for seven appearances from 2011 to 2018. Mickelson’s tie for 20th place in 2017 was the pair’s best showing.
Watson played every year from 2013 to 2019, totaling $371,382.40 in earnings. Rebranded as “A Military Tribute at The Greenbrier,” the event was pushed from July to September on the PGA Tour’s schedule, a tricky spot situated after the major championships and during the start of football season. The move from July 4th to Labor Day was disastrous.
While most events either rescheduled or canceled their 2020 editions because of COVID-19, Greenbrier organizers canceled the final six years of their contract with the PGA Tour in April 2020. In addition to the still-growing pandemic, attendance and sponsorship issues tied to the later date also were problematic.
“We are happy to reach a resolution with the PGA Tour that is mutually beneficial to both parties in this time of crisis,” Greenbrier President Jill Justice, the governor’s daughter, said at the time in a news release.
Thirty-five days later, Justice III purchased Watson’s house.
The golfer declined to comment through text messages from his agent, Jens Beck, of Scottsdale, Arizona-based Prosports Management. A phone call to Charleston attorney Chris Pence, who has represented the Justices in the past, wasn’t returned.