Saturday, December 31, 2011

worth reading Nightmare on Elm Street

Not so long ago, golf courses and upscale housing were the yin and yang of U.S. residential development –- a pure, unadulterated expression of the American dream. And nowhere in the nation was the seemingly insatiable hunger for a house alongside a fairway more evident than in the Coachella Valley of California, where dozens of private golf communities took shape around courses designed by some of the world’s most famous architects.

Today, houses in those communities aren’t selling, nor are memberships in their high-priced golf clubs. The bond between golf and real estate has been broken, perhaps forever -– and not just in California.

Mike Perrault of the Desert Sun recently reported on the current relationship between golf and housing in the valley. Here’s a condensed version of his story:

The green-grass playgrounds of Palm Springs, Rancho Mirage, Palm Desert, Indian Wells, and La Quinta -- loved by retiring and relaxing presidents -- are bleeding money and members.

The recession exposed the vulnerability of the business model that created an unbreakable linkage between golf and real estate.

“We’re entering a new normal; we’re in a recasting era,” said Pete Halter, chairman of The Halter Companies, an Atlanta firm that advises developers. “We can’t think that this will be over soon. Things have changed for good.”

Among the forces reshaping the relationship between golf and real estate:

-- Fewer people play golf, and baby boomers don’t have the time, money, or interest in the game their parents did. The number of golfers in the U.S. has fallen by 13 percent in the past five years.

-- A glut of club memberships. There are at least 12,000 openings in the Coachella Valley. Nationally, golf memberships have dropped by a million since the early 1990s.

-- The housing bust. Nearly 25 percent of homes for sale in the Desert Multiple Listing Service are on golf courses.

There’s much at stake, said Robert Borsch, partner at Club Mark Corporation and president of the homeowners association at Desert Mountain in Scottsdale, Arizona, which is touted as the world's largest private golf community.

At a typical country club, a 65-year-old member might spend $95,000 a year on dues and fees, Borsch said. That translates into about $1.4 million across 15 years. So a club with 500 members would take in about $700 million during that period.

For 80 clubs in the valley, that comes out to about $56 billion, Borsch estimated. . . .

Of 3,400 courses built across the country during the past decade, 93 percent are daily fee courses. Private membership courses, predominant in the Coachella Valley, are in competition with courses designed to cut costs and attract cost-conscious golfers.

“The places that are membership-driven have a lot more competition,” said Michael Horne, whose Palm Desert-based real estate firm, the Horne Team, works mainly with clients in Sun City Palm Desert and Sun City Shadow Hills. “Spending membership dues and using a course three or four months -- it's a tough sell versus pay-to-play.” . . .

The chatter nowadays at cocktail parties and driving ranges is often about friends trapped at declining communities where memberships are drying up and homes don’t sell, Borsch said.

Residents at Palm Desert Country Club lived through the nightmare. After its owner filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in 2009, the fairways died and the ponds stagnated. A new owner bought the club in September, promising to restore its luster.

But even when the economy recovers, golf industry analysts are even more concerned about societal changes.

Many younger people would rather spend time with family than hours on a golf course. Or they’re more focused on iPhones and iPads, electronic games, playing tennis, taking yoga and Pilates classes.

Those who are interested in a country club demand that the communities have amenities such as health spas, gardens, tennis courts, and other outdoor pursuits. . . .

Developer William Bone is chairman of Sunrise Company, which has built more than 12,000 homes in the valley at places such as Indian Ridge and Royal Oaks country clubs and Marriott’s Rancho Las Palmas Resort.

Sunrise’s latest project is the upscale Toscana Country Club in Indian Wells, where about half of the proposed 646 homes have been sold since 2004. About 40 million-dollar homes have been sold so far this year, a welcome trend considering as few as a dozen were sold during some previous years.

Bone has seen his share of economic downturns in the valley since he started building in 1973 on large swaths of land in Rancho Mirage. And he has noticed the popularity of golf is cyclical.

Bone said he believes there will be a rebound to this economic slump as well, with the caveat that other, larger forces are at play.

“I think you’re going to see more limited growth going forward,” Bone said. . . .
READ MORE - worth reading Nightmare on Elm Street

Thursday, December 29, 2011

china What’s Next for Retief Goosen?

Retief Goosen’s projects in South Africa may have crashed, but the golf pro’s agents at IMG have ensured that their client gets a soft landing.

The aspiring “signature” designer and vintner, a two-time winner of the U.S. Open championship, will lend his name to a 27-hole complex that’s to be built at Dayi Smokey Mountain resort community in Chengdu, the capital of China’s Sichuan Province.

“We could start construction early next year,” Goosen told the Sunday Times earlier this year.

Let’s hope China’s government agrees.

To date, Goosen has designed just one golf hole, the 18th at Legend Golf & Safari Resort outside Pretoria. He’s been commissioned to design courses at two other golf communities in South Africa, in the suburbs of Johannesburg (Lizard Point) and George (Lagoon Bay), but both have become victims of the global economic collapse.

The site at Dayi Smokey Mountain, Goosen says on his website, is “covered in trees and very steep,” but the golf complex “should have a very open, green, undisturbed look to it.”

The nines will range in length from 3,500 to 3,772 yards, and there could be four of them when all is said and done.

Brit Stenson, the director of design at IMG’s office in Cleveland, Ohio, will serve as Goosen’s “ghost” designer.

Some information in this post originally appeared in the October 2011 issue of the World Edition of the Golf Course Report.
READ MORE - china What’s Next for Retief Goosen?

Sunday, December 25, 2011

The Week That Was, december 25, 2011

. . . united states 2012: A Better Year?

The powers that be at the American Society of Golf Course Architects are feeling optimistic about the industry’s immediate business prospects.

Of course, they’ve lowered their expectations. Nobody at the ASGCA -- or anywhere else in golf, for that matter -- expects a substantive amount of new construction to begin anytime soon. That being said, however, the group expects existing U.S. golf properties to start spending money on upgrades in 2012.

“There are clearly more U.S. clubs talking about renovations, especially at the greens committee level,” said Rick Robbins, the ASGCA’s treasurer, in the current issue of By Design, the house organ.

To be sure, there’s a ton of work in the pipeline. Spending on golf renovations cratered in 2009 and hasn’t improved significantly since. At courses all over the nation, tees need to be leveled, bunkers need to be rebuilt, greens need to be regrassed, and irrigation systems need to be replaced. Course owners can’t delay making improvements forever.

“There is economic stabilization or some growth sparking optimism to begin the planning process,” said Rick Phelps, the ASGCA’s president. “People are saying, If there is six months of good news, we can go to [the] next level.

Phelps indicates that the forthcoming work will mostly come from “that percentage of clubs and public courses which have stabilized bottom lines and are forward thinking -- maybe 30 percent or so. They are optimistic things will be good down the road and want to be ready with something new to bring people back.”

All this talk from the ASGCA is consistent with anecdotal evidence that I’ve gathered, based on my near-daily conversations with owners and managers of golf courses from coast to coast. People are feeling more confident, and more willing to write checks. Over the past few weeks, to cite just one example, I’ve unearthed planned renovations at a half-dozen golf properties in suburban Detroit, Michigan. This is particularly significant to me, because Michigan was among the first markets to fall as a result of the Great Recession, and arguably the one that fell the hardest.

“When you start seeing [renovations] happen in the area,” the general manager of a Detroit-area club told me, “the members [at other clubs] want to keep up with the Joneses.”

I hope the ASGCA’s optimism rests on a solid foundation. The construction end of the golf business can use some good news.

. . . talking points Irish Heartbeat

Jay Flemma, the lawyer and golf blogger, recently posted an interview with Jim Engh, a Colorado-based architect whose style has been inspired by some of the great golf courses in Ireland. Engh’s work includes some well-regarded U.S. courses set in memorable landscapes -– among them Fossil Trace Golf Club in Golden, Colorado and Awarii Dunes in Kearney, Nebraska -– and in recent years he’s been trying to finish a third nine at Carne Golf Club in County Mayo, Ireland.

Here’s part of Engh’s response to a question about his number-one goal as a course architect:

I have recognized over the years that I am in the entertainment business. My focus for any golf course is fun. Certainly that involves many issues when playing within the structure of a game with rules. However, when the game was invented, there was no “fair” and no “unfair.” There was simply the land provided by nature. The joy of the game included the emotional intrigue of challenging nature.

For me, the single most significant lesson has been to determine why I like what I like. I have been in love with playing golf in Ireland since my first visit in 1988, when I was working, in the early stages, on the new course at Portmarnock. I was absolutely smitten by the Irish golfing experience.

However, it was not long before I realized that it is not possible, in most situations, for projects in the U.S. to recreate the seaside landscape of Ireland. How was I going to recreate that wonderful golfing sensation that I so craved from Ireland? Certainly, I knew what I liked about the experience. But that did not solve the issue of how to recreate it. I needed to understand why I liked what I liked.

In May of 1999, while playing the first hole at Carne, I was smiling and looking this way and that way, walking down the fairway trying to absorb everything about this special place. It then occurred to me: I loved this experience because of the emotional feeling, the rush that I got simply from being within this setting. My brain was 100 percent turned on for the entire three hours that I was on the course. Endorphins were firing in my brain, and I was on a little high. I was intrigued, infatuated, and sometimes exasperated by trying to play the game of golf within this amazing setting. It was at that moment that I understood that I have to recreate the emotional feeling of Ireland, not necessarily landscape itself.

Somewhere along the way, the game has become more sterile. We have to some degree lost the open-mindedness of the origins of the game. Golf has in many ways become a game that is purely about the game. It encourages you to turn off your brain and hit the ball straight to the white flag with the perfect technique.

The best way for me to describe my design philosophy is to say that I try to design golf courses that are fun. Of course, finding ways to recapture that fun feeling from Ireland, within lands that are not Ireland, involves some creative design positions that some within the traditional world of golf consider to be strange, off the wall, unfair, or really wild. And that’s okay with me. After all, as long as my courses continue to be playable, with some out-of-the-box thinking at times, I will continue to inspire and provoke the creative emotions of those that play my courses.

Ultimately, what is more traditional than taking the game back to the mindset by which it was founded?

And in Other News . . .

. . . around the world The 10 most corrupt nations on earth, as ranked (from the bottom up) by Transparency International: Somalia, North Korea, Myanmar (Burma), Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Sudan, Iraq, Haiti, and Venezuela. I lifted this list from TI’s 2011 Corruption Perceptions Index, an exercise that aims to encourage the spread of better government by exposing levels of bribery, kickbacks, embezzlement, and other shady practices. The least corrupt nation on the planet, TI says, is New Zealand, followed by a trio of Scandinavian nations – Denmark, Finland, Sweden – and Singapore. Here’s where some other popular golf-development destinations fall on the 182-nation scale: Canada is 10, the United Kingdom is 16, Cuba is 61, Brazil is 73, China is 75, Morocco is 80, India is 95, Mexico is 100, Vietnam is 112, and Russia is 143. If you’re wondering, the United States checks in at number 24, sandwiched between Qatar and France.

. . . wild card click There's no plates like chrome for the hollandaise.
READ MORE - The Week That Was, december 25, 2011

Friday, December 23, 2011

worth reading Smoke and Mirrors in Vietnam

I’ve been arguing for years that Vietnam’s future as a big-time golf destination isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, that the fundamentals of the nation’s golf business simply aren’t solid. Now, thanks to an article by James Hookway of the Wall Street Journal, I know I’m right.

Hookway writes that increasing numbers of wealthy Vietnamese now view golf-club memberships as an investment opportunity, the idea being that they’ll buy low today and cash out merrily tomorrow. And yes, it’s true that the value of golf-club memberships in Vietnam has been increasing of late. But as we all know so well here in the United States, past performance doesn’t necessarily guarantee future results.

Personally, I’m betting that the value of these investments will crash. There’s plenty of precedent. The market for golf memberships crashed in Japan, in Spain, in the United Kingdom, in the United States, and everywhere else that the price of entry was artificially inflated by the newly rich. In the illusory world of phony privilege, what goes up must come down. It’s just a matter of time.

Here’s a condensed version of Hookway’s story:

With property prices sliding and the local stock market in free fall, some people [in Vietnam] are investing in golf club memberships in a last-ditch bid to protect their savings from being ravaged by soaring inflation and a fading currency.

Prices for club memberships around Hanoi have risen from around $6,000 in 2004 to roughly $30,000 now, with some of the plushest, complete with swimming pools, villas, and tennis courts, reaching $130,000. That’s not as expensive as top clubs in Japan or Singapore, but it is still a large slice of change in a country where the average income is around $1,200 a year.

“Buying a membership is better than putting cash in the bank, better than putting it in the stock market, and better than putting it into gold,” said Do Dinh Thuy, a 48-year-old management consultant, amid the steady thwack of balls being driven out onto a local range here in Hanoi’s suburbs. He recently bought a third membership, “and that one’s not for playing -- it’s for investment.”

At first, wealthy Vietnamese hedged against a sliding currency by investing in stocks and, after that market crashed, property. But now a speculative real estate bubble is popping, creating a fresh headache for the country’s new rich as they scramble to hold on to wealth. Hence the new swing to golf. . . .

What makes many Vietnamese think that golf club memberships are a one-way ticket to profit is their leaders’ disdain for the fairways -- and especially Communist Party bosses’ moves to limit new courses.

The supply shock began two years ago. Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung froze plans to build scores of new golf courses across the country. Mr. Dung ruled that golf courses were gobbling up valuable farmland at a time when world food prices were spiking to record highs and many Vietnamese were struggling to find enough to eat. New golf course applications were placed under vigorous scrutiny. Many were turned down. . . .

More recently, Vietnamese officials have taken to banning activities which they feel harm the national interest. Over the past year, for instance, the government has banned lip-syncing to popular songs on television shows and ordered Internet service providers to shut off online video games between the hours of 10 p.m. and 8 a.m. . . .

While the government’s crackdown might be making some golf club members richer, joining a club is a riskier investment than many Vietnamese might realize. The value of memberships in Japan crashed in the 1990s and has slumped elsewhere in Asia over the past decade as golf slowly lost some of its exclusive cachet. And playing the sport doesn't always require a pricey membership.

It is still possible to pay green fees to tee off at many Vietnamese clubs, and at least one bank has a deal whereby customers can deposit money and get free games at golf courses near the main cities, Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City.

Golf market experts here believe the government's abhorrence of the game makes club memberships as valuable as other things the authorities don't much like, such as gold and U.S. dollars, and could spare Vietnamese investors the bogey which others have hit.

“Golf memberships are a rare item; it will stay that way,” predicted Truong Thanh Huyen, a 27-year-old trader. She recently brokered the purchase of a membership in Nha Trang, southern Vietnam, for $19,000. “Now the open market value is up to $25,000,” Ms. Huyen bragged, checking the latest prices on her iPhone.

Back at the Hanoi driving range, Mr. Thuy agreed. “But you've got to get in fast,” he said. “That's one of the key principles of capitalism.”
READ MORE - worth reading Smoke and Mirrors in Vietnam

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

brazil Prelude to a Dream Job?

Jack Nicklaus may not win the commission to design the golf course for the 2016 Olympics, but he’ll nonetheless soon make his mark on Brazil’s golf culture.

The North Palm Beach, Florida-based architect has been hired to produce an 18-hole “signature” golf course for SerrAzul Golf Club, in a northwestern suburb of Sao Paulo. The 7,000-yard layout will anchor Fazenda SerrAzul, an upscale, sports-oriented community that’s been designed, its developers say, for those who seek “quality of life associated with leisure, privacy, and security.”

Fazenda SerrAzul, a gated community with a 24-hour security force, is taking shape in a town called Itupeva. At build-out, it’ll consist of 361 single-family houses (and perhaps some condos), an equestrian center, sports centers for tennis and soccer, parks, lakes, and hiking trails.

The community is being developed by Terras de São José, a long-established home builder that describes itself as having “a rich history and a modern vision.” Terras de São José was spun off from a firm called SENPE, which got its start building roads and other large-scale engineering projects. The companies are responsible for some high-profile commercial landmarks in and around Itupeva, including a hotel, a major shopping mall, a theme park, and a water park.

Terras de São José hopes to break ground on the golf course next year.
READ MORE - brazil Prelude to a Dream Job?

Monday, December 19, 2011

The Week That Was, december 18, 2011

. . . england A Long Shot for Longshot?

Citizens groups in suburban London, England have turned a cold shoulder to a proposed golf course that would be designed by David McLay Kidd.

The 18-hole track is to be the featured attraction of a 370-acre community near Leatherhead in Surrey. Longshot, Ltd., a group led by Joel Cadbury and Ollie Vigors, wants to convert the property’s crumbling manor house, known as Cherkley Court, into a boutique hotel with restaurants, a spa, and a health club. Alongside the hotel, Longshot hopes to build an ultra-luxurious private club featuring Kidd’s 18-hole golf course.

Cadbury told the BBC that Longshot’s goal is “to bring Cherkley back to life.” But some of the area’s residents contend that the company’s proposal runs afoul of local planning regulations and would degrade what’s been described as “an outstanding stretch of beautiful land.”

“A golf course would be artificial and spoil the landscape,” one of them argued.

Cherkley Court is the former home of Max Aitken (also known as Lord Beaverbrook), a Fleet Street press baron whom Kidd describes as “a 19th-century version of Rupert Murdock.” During World War II, Beaverbrook served as England’s minister of aircraft production and was a key member of Winston Churchill’s war cabinet. Before he died, in 1964, he entertained a parade of important historical figures at the estate, among them Churchill, Rudyard Kipling, H. G. Wells, and David Lloyd George.

Cadbury and Vigors bought the estate earlier this year and submitted their development plans to local officials a few months ago. The partners founded Longshot in 1994, as a holding company for their investments in London-area leisure and entertainment venues. Among their creations were the city’s first 24-hour restaurant and several pubs, night clubs, and eateries. They sold many of their holdings in 2007, reportedly for more than $80 million.

Just weeks ago, when I last spoke with Kidd, he said that he hopes to break ground on the course at Cherkley Court in the fall of 2012. The Bend, Oregon-based architect, a proponent of “purist” golf, says the 7,000-yard layout will be “ragged at the edges” and “very natural,” suited more to its members’ talents than to tournament ambitions.

The fate of Longshot’s proposal will likely be known next spring.

Some information in this post originally appeared in the June 2011 and December 2011 issues of the World Edition of the Golf Course Report.

And in Other News . . .

. . . china Moratoriums again be damned: Rick Jacobson reports that construction has wrapped up on his 18-hole golf course at Moganshan Gowin Golf Club near Hangzhou, the capital of Zhejiang Province. A press release issued by the Libertyville, Illinois-based architect states that the track will be the centerpiece of “an environmentally sensitive mixed-use development that includes hotel, residential, and retail elements.” The 7,100-yard course is scheduled to open in the spring of 2012, and it doesn’t sound as if it was designed to be a soft touch for the tourists who beat a trail to Moganshan Mountain. According to the press release, the course “winds through mountains and valleys and boasts water features on 13 of its 18 holes.” What’s more, “dramatic elevation changes” of more than 80 feet will surely tax any vacationers who brave the track on foot, and Jacobson’s “strategic bunkering” -- is there any other kind? -- will provide a challenge even to “the highly skilled international professional.” China’s golf developers have a reputation for building difficult golf courses, and it appears that Jacobson, who’s designed four other courses in the People’s Republic, is cultivating a reputation as an architect who can give them what they want.

Some information in this post originally appeared in the June 2011 issue of the World Edition of the Golf Course Report.

. . . united states Speaking of China, the good times continue to roll for Lee Schmidt and Brian Curley, who’ve been named the architects of the year by Golf magazine. This is the latest in a string of recent accolades for the Scottsdale, Arizona-based partners, who’ve also been recognized as the “best golf course architects” by Asian Golf Monthly and as two of the “most influential” U.S. architects by Golf, Inc. The long-time partners have never won much acclaim for their work in the United States, but they’ve raised their status considerably with a series of high-profile projects in the People's Republic, notably the Mission Hills resorts in Shenzhen and on Hainan Island. As a result, today they’re arguably the busiest architects on the planet. “Since Lee and I founded the firm in 1997, we’ve been devoted to designing fun-to-play golf courses built on time and under budget,” Curley said in a press release. “We're proud of our pioneering ways and very bullish on golf’s future in China and throughout the Pacific Rim.” Golf also put a little icing on the Schmidt-Curley cake: It ranked the duo’s Lava Fields track at Mission Hills Haikou as this year’s the best new international course.

. . . united states Jack Nicklaus, speaking last fall, compared the U.S. economy to the rest of the world’s: “I haven't been to a country in the last year where the outlook is as bad economically as it is here for us.”

. . . wild card click Are you feeling lucky?
READ MORE - The Week That Was, december 18, 2011

Saturday, December 17, 2011

. . . worth reading China's Dirty Business

While doing research on Chinese golf, I occasionally stumble across phrases like “the wonders of fresh, clean air” and “the purifying effects of clean air.” For me, such phrases always went through one eye and out the other. Like most Americans, I take clean air mostly for granted.

The Chinese aren’t so lucky. China’s over-crowded, poorly regulated cities have become a threat to good health.

Sure, I’ve often read often about China’s polluted cities. But the message didn’t hit home with me until a week or so ago, when I read this dispatch in the New York Times:

Capital International Airport in Beijing was forced to cancel hundreds of flights on Monday because of heavy smog and weather conditions. The cancellations were the latest sign that pollution in China’s largest cities, among the worst in the world, is leading to significant economic losses.

That paragraph was my wake-up call. And the next day, the Times followed up with a longer, more detailed account of life unprotected by a Clean Air Act, where government officials mislead and misinform and cover their tracks with deceit.

No wonder China’s golf operators seize every opportunity to tout the quality of their air. A marketing message that focuses on the healthful, therapeutic effects of golf resonates among people who cough their way to work every morning.

Here’s a condensed version of the Times’ follow-up story.

The statement posted online along with a photograph of central Beijing muffled in a miasma of brown haze did not mince words: “The end of the world is imminent.”

The ceaseless churning of factories and automobile engines in and around Beijing has led to this: hundreds of flights canceled since Sunday because of smog, stores sold out of face masks, and many Chinese complaining on the Internet that officials are failing to level with them about air quality or make any improvements to the environment.

Chronic pollution in Beijing, temporarily scrubbed clean for the 2008 Summer Olympics, has made people angry for a long time, but the disruptions it causes to daily life are now raising questions about the economic cost and the government’s ability to ensure the safety of the population.

“As a Chinese citizen, we have been kept in the dark on this issue for too long,” said Yu Ping, the father of a seven-year-old boy, who has started a public campaign to demand that officials report more accurately about Beijing’s air quality. “The government is just so bureaucratic that they don’t seem to care whether we common people live or die.” . . .

The motionless cloud of pollution that has smothered the capital and its surroundings in recent days has frayed tempers. Long stretches of highway have been shut down because of low visibility, hobbling transportation of people and goods. Workers at Capital International Airport have faced crowds of irate travelers whose flights have been grounded. From Sunday to 11 a.m. Tuesday, more than 700 outbound and inbound flights were canceled, one airport official said. . . .

An announcement at the airport made no mention of pollution, attributing the cancellations and delays to “the weather condition.” That has long been the government line: the haze is fog, not fumes.

But increasingly, Chinese know better. . . .

Many people now follow a Twitter feed from the United States Embassy that gives hourly updates on air quality. Gauges on top of the embassy in central Beijing measure, among other things, the amount of fine airborne particles, which are extremely damaging to the lungs. Since Sunday, the air has been rated “very unhealthy” or “hazardous,” meaning that people should avoid any outdoor activity. On Sunday, the particulate measurement exceeded the scale’s maximum of 500, a reading that the embassy once called “crazy bad” on its @BeijingAir Twitter feed.

The fine particles, called PM 2.5 because they are 2.5 microns in diameter or smaller, make up much of the pollution in the city, but they are not included in the air quality ratings issued by the Chinese government. The published ratings take into account only a larger class of particles (up to 10 microns in diameter) called PM 10. As a result, Beijing officials have announced good or excellent air quality nearly 80 percent of the time over the last two years, while the embassy’s assessment says the air was unhealthy more than 80 percent of the time. . . .

In July 2009, a Chinese Foreign Ministry official, Wang Shu’ai, told American diplomats to halt the embassy’s air quality Twitter feed, saying that the data “is not only confusing but also insulting,” according to a State Department cable obtained by WikiLeaks. The embassy’s data, Mr. Wang said, could lead to “social consequences.” . . .

On Tuesday, the English-languag
e China Daily published an article under the headline “Exposure to Smog Is Severe Hazard.” It said the lung cancer rate in Beijing had increased by 60 percent in the last decade even though the smoking rate did not change.
READ MORE - . . . worth reading China's Dirty Business

Friday, December 16, 2011

Shameless Self-Promotion, december 2011

Life, it’s sometimes said, is a beach. And golf development, I’ll tell you right now, is evolving into the search for a perfect beach -– or at least a perfect beachfront property.

Expanses of sandy soil, dunes sprinkled with native grasses, unpredictable ocean breezes -– this is the stuff of minimalist dreams, and minimalists, be they designers or developers, are about the only people working in golf these days. On foot or on Google Earth, they tirelessly search the coasts of our planet for tracts ideally suited for golf. Day after day, night after night, they beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

Okay, I stole most of that last sentence from F. Scott Fitzgerald. My bad.

And while there’s no Great Gatsby in December’s World Edition of the Golf Course Report, we did provide our faithful readers with news about the current activities of golf’s foremost beachcombers. In particular, we revealed which developer has dispatched Tom Doak to size up a coastal site in Argentina, and where in Tasmania the next world-class minimalist golf course is expected to emerge.

Need more sand and water? Well, we also reported on two California-based architects who’ll be spending time next year on sunny beaches in Panama and Puerto Rico.

Of course, sometimes the search for ideal property takes golf development way off the beaten track and far from the madding crowd. (Thomas Hardy, I apologize.) That’s why we also reported on the future of the most historic course on the Isle of Man, on the new life that awaits a course on Pulau Langkawi, on a planned new course at a resort in a dusty, remote part of Australia, and on new courses in Kenya and Nigeria.

We’ve also got stories about golf projects in less sandy, more conventional places, namely the course in Vietnam designed by the world’s premier “signature” architect, the course in England designed by the self-described “purist” architect, and other up-and-coming ventures in China, Tunisia, and other places.

Let’s hope they all get built.

If you'd like your own copy of December’s World Edition, give me a call at 301/680-9460 or send an e-mail to me at
READ MORE - Shameless Self-Promotion, december 2011

Thursday, December 15, 2011

south korea Japan Redux?

Is the golf business in South Korea about to take on the trajectory of the golf business in Japan?

South Korea’s decade-long golf construction spree, fueled by a buoyant economy and surging middle-class aspirations, is losing momentum, and the Korea Times worries that “a slew of bankruptcies” may be “imminent.”

South Korea has 435 existing golf properties, according to the Korea Golf Course Business Association, plus 180 more either in planning or under construction. But play at the nation’s 228 private courses has been “dismal” of late, says the Times. The number of rounds played reportedly peaked at 18.2 million in 2009, dropped to 17.7 million in 2010, and may not hit 16 million this year.

As a result, a growing number of clubs have been pushed to the edge of insolvency.

“At least 20 golf courses appear to be on sale right now, and one could expect a dramatically larger number of owners bailing next year, as profitability continues to deteriorate,” a KGBA official told the Times. “The rapid growth number of golf courses over the years and the sharply declining membership sales continue to raise worries that the country might be headed for a similar path experienced by Japan, which saw a large number of courses topple after the golf boom fizzled.”

South Korea still has an estimated 2 million passionate golfers, but if Japan’s experience is any guide, the number will shrink as its population ages and stops playing golf.

Some of the information in this post originally appeared in the December 2011 issue of the World Edition of the Golf Course Report.
READ MORE - south korea Japan Redux?

Monday, December 12, 2011

The Week That Was, december 11, 2011

oman Ready To Catch the Wave?

The first nine holes of the Greg Norman-designed golf course in Muscat have been opened for play, and the remaining holes are scheduled to debut next spring.

The course will serve as a drawing card for the Wave, a community along the Gulf of Oman whose master plan includes more than 4,000 villas, townhouses, and apartments, four hotels, a marina with slips for 400 yachts, and a shopping area. The Wave’s developers, a group led by government-controlled Waterfront Investments, also plan to someday open a nine-hole, par-3 course.

Norman moved a lot of earth -– 900,000 cubic meters, reportedly –- to build the Wave’s 7,300-yard Al Mouj track, but he believes the results will soon speak for themselves. Until that day comes, however, he’ll do the talking. During a site visit in July, the Florida-based “signature” architect called the links-inspired, soon-to-be floodlit layout “one of the finest golf courses I have ever produced anywhere in the world” and one that will be “worthy of hosting a prestigious world-class tournament, perhaps a European Tour event, in the near future.”

Thanks to such comments, the club’s general manager told the Times of Oman, “we are well on the way to establishing the AlMouj golf course as a top golfing destination in the Gulf.”

Speaking of vacation destinations, I should note that Oman reportedly lured more than 1 million tourists last year, a 12 percent increase over the number recorded in 2009. The Times notes that the emirate has emerged as an attractive vacation spot in part because of the Arab Spring, which has turned Egypt, Libya, Syria, and other Middle Eastern nations into no-go zones.

Some information in this post originally appeared in the December 2011 issue of the World Edition of the Golf Course Report.

And in Other News . . .

. . . india Ground is being cleared for the first golf course in Surat, the capital of the state of Gujarat. The as-yet unnamed 18-hole track will be the featured attraction of a 300-acre community that’s been master-planned to include houses and a sports center. “Our idea is to develop a facility that will cater not only to golf lovers but also to families during the weekends,” says Manish Katargamwala of Shree Hari Corporation, which plans to break ground on the community’s clubhouse in early 2012. Incidentally, Wikipedia identifies Surat as “the third-cleanest city in India.”

. . . ireland A pair of 18-hole golf courses may soon emerge on the site of the Battle of the Boyne in County Louth. The battle, which claimed the lives of an estimated 1,500 Protestants and Catholics, was fought in 1690, on what is now the home of Oldbridge House. The house and its accompanying 550 acres, located in a northern suburb of Dublin, were recently purchased by what the Drogheda Independent describes as “a consortium of national and international businessmen.” The new owners aim to flank the golf courses with a resort-style hotel, some golf and fishing lodges, and an equestrian center. This appears to be an upgrade for the Oldbridge estate, which in recent years had been owned by a fellow identified as a “pig farmer” and was presumably operated as a pig farm.

. . . china Two noteworthy tidbits from the recent China Golf Show in Guangzhou, the city once known as Canton: First, Golf Course Architecture reports that the show had “a smaller representation of golf architects than in previous years.” Do you think that’s a sign of the times, or a harbinger of things to come? Second, the largest group of exhibitors at the event were said to be companies selling golf simulators, a video-game version of golf. John Strawn, the president of Hills & Forrest International Golf Course Architects, takes a benign view of artificial golf’s growing popularity, describing the simulators as “the low-cost entry point for people yearning to play golf -- what they can play until China takes on building daily-fee courses or even municipal courses.” My question: What if China’s 20- and 30-somethings get hooked on video-game golf and conclude that actual golf -- with venues that aren’t nearly so visually appealing and weather that isn’t nearly so ideal -- isn’t nearly as much fun?

. . . abu dhabi Now that Golf Digest has named Yas Links as the best golf course in the Middle East, tourism officials in Abu Dhabi are furiously touting their golf offerings. These days Abu Dhabi boasts three of the best courses in the region, they argue: Yas Links at number one, Abu Dhabi Golf Club at number three, and Saadiyat Beach Golf Club at number six. “These vital recognitions highlight the significant progress Abu Dhabi has made as a world-class golf tourism destination,” claims a tourism official. Really? Not to dis any of the aforementioned courses, but we need to put Golf’s rankings in perspective. According to my best count, there are only about 16 or 17 golf courses in the seven United Arab Emirates, just five of them in Abu Dhabi. The emirate’s tourism boosters can stretch the facts any way they want, but the plain truth is that their golf courses are the proverbial big fish in a very small pond.

. . . united states The Point has been Trumped. Donald Trump, who’s still threatening to become a presidential candidate, has decided that he no longer wishes to buy the Point Lake & Golf Club, a property viewed by his son as having “a lot of potential.” The Trump Organization’s interest in the Point, which is located on Lake Norman in Mooresville, North Carolina, was mentioned in this blog just last week. Eric Trump blames the end of the dream on “a lack of direction” at the club – the ability to identify poor leadership is apparently a family trait -- explaining that his family doesn’t wish “to get bogged down with a deal that has a lot of different parties all moving in different directions.” Unfortunately, democracies are like that.

wild card click No risk, no reward.
READ MORE - The Week That Was, december 11, 2011

Saturday, December 10, 2011

worth reading Arnold Palmer, Now and Forever

Can Arnold Palmer live forever?

The King’s company, Arnold Palmer Enterprises, is doing its best to ensure that he does. Not as a golfer or golf course designer, to be sure -- those days are already gone -- but as a salesman whose pitch can resonate with people who never once saw him smack a Titleist.

Palmer has long been golf’s premier salesman. And now his handlers are developing new marketing programs that will enable him to continue hawking clothes, tea-based drinks, motor oil, and who knows what else long after he sinks his final putt. Men may die, but brands endure.

Advertising Age has given us a preview of Palmer’s next life and the people who are in charge of it. My question: Do these marketing efforts enhance Palmer’s legend or diminish it?

Arnold Palmer did not invent sports marketing. But he nearly perfected it, amassing a global empire of licensing deals and endorsements that seems just as relevant today as it was when he first began building it back in the 1950s.

Now the 82-year-old golfing legend is out to make sure his dynasty outlasts him.

Arnold Palmer Enterprises, which houses marketing ventures from wine to sunscreen, is in the midst of a branding review with the aim of reaching a generation of fans who weren’t even born when he was racking up tour wins.

“We’re at a crucial point in Mr. Palmer’s career,” said Cori Britt, vice president of Arnold Palmer Enterprises. “We're looking forward to ensuring the Arnold Palmer brand is positioned for success 20, 30, 40, 50 years from now.”

As it looks to the future, the group is culling nonstrategic licenses while seeking out new ones that dig deeper into Mr. Palmer’s past, evoking a 1960s-era younger, stronger Arnie in hopes of capitalizing on the retro fever captured by the likes of the hit TV show “Mad Men.” Among the projects in the pipeline are a new clothing line featuring styles Mr. Palmer wore decades ago that seek to recapture the spirit that this year vaulted him onto
GQ magazine's list of “The 25 Coolest Athletes of All Time.” . . .

And he remains a gold mine even at a golden age. Mr. Palmer, who retired from competitive golf in 2006, had $36 million in earnings last year, ranking him No. 3 on
Golf Digest’s “all-encompassing money list,” which includes on-course and off-course revenue such as endorsement and licensing fees. He was superseded by only two active players: Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson.

“The fact that he's still earning $36 million a year is a real testament to the power of his brand,” said Jim Andrews, senior vice president at IEG, a sponsorship, research, and consulting firm.

Indeed, Mr. Palmer’s appeal, as measured by the Marketing Arm’s Davie Brown Index -- which quantifies influence, awareness, and other celebrity attributes -- is more than double that of Luke Donald, today’s No. 1 PGA Tour player, according to the Golfweek/Sagarin Performance Index. . . .

[Mr. Palmer’s] classic cool look will be showcased in a retro clothing line called Arnie, set to launch in February. Three upscale collections will feature styles he wore in the 50s (small collars and short plackets), 60s (wider-legged pants and collars), and 70s (more subdued colors). . . .

Mr. Palmer is also growing his partnership with Arizona Beverages, which is expanding distribution of its recently launched Arnold Palmer Hard Half & Half, a spiked version of the lemonade-tea mixture the golfer made famous long ago. Arizona, which markets Hard though affiliate Hornell Brewing Company, plans to grow distribution to 21 states from five, following the success of the 10-year-old nonalcoholic Half & Half, which has developed a strong base of young consumers.

“His status as `The King’ gives him a charisma that is hard for a young demographic to resist, even if they have never seen him play professionally,” said Arizona spokeswoman Jackie Harrigan. . . .

Mr. Palmer’s marketing machine first gained steam in 1960, when he paired with agent Mark McCormack, who went on to found legendary sports agency IMG. (Mr. McCormack died in 2003, but Mr. Palmer remains with IMG.)

“A brilliant part of Mark’s marketing strategy was never to tie my endorsement of a product to how I was faring on the golf course,” Mr. Palmer says on his website. “His aim was never to position me as a `winner’ because there always comes a day when a winner no longer wins.”

Rather, the strategy touted Mr. Palmer’s endurance, reliability, and integrity. And years later, Mr. Palmer is still finding marketing success based on that philosophy -- along with lucking into the fact that the 60s are in. . . .
READ MORE - worth reading Arnold Palmer, Now and Forever

Thursday, December 8, 2011

argentina Don’t Cry for Jack Nicklaus

These days the associates at Jack Nicklaus’ design firm are spending plenty of time in Argentina, where they have two active projects.

Under construction is a 27-hole complex planned to be the centerpiece of Valle del Golf, an 875-acre community in suburban Cordoba, the nation’s second-largest city. Valle del Golf, which will include 1,685 houses, is being developed by ECIPSA Group, a firm led by Jaime Garbarsky. The first nine of the golf complex, created by North Palm Beach, Florida-based Nicklaus Design, has been grassed, and the second nine is under construction.

In addition, next year construction is expected to begin on an 18-hole Jack Nicklaus Legacy course -– a course to be co-designed by Nicklaus and his son Jack -– at a wine-focused community in Mendoza. The as-yet unnamed community (the working title is Malbec Village) is expected to include houses and vineyards, along with wine-making facilities.

The wines being produced in greater Mendoza, the largest wine-producing region of Latin America, are said to be on a par with those coming from Napa Valley, Tuscany, and Bordeaux.
READ MORE - argentina Don’t Cry for Jack Nicklaus

Monday, December 5, 2011

The Week That Was, december 4, 2011

iceland No Go for Huang Nubo

Authorities in Reykjavik, a city not mentioned nearly enough in this blog, have squelched a wealthy Chinese entrepreneur’s plan to build a golf resort in a remote part of northeastern Iceland.

Huang Nubo, the chairman of Beijing-based Zhongkun Investment Group, Ltd., had hoped to build what’s been described as “an eco-tourism resort” on 74,130 acres near Myvatn Lake and the town of Holssel. Huang, one of China’s richest people (Forbes estimates that he’s worth $890 million), had agreed to pay $8.8 million for the property, on which he planned to build a hotel, an air strip, unspecified sports facilities, and an 18-hole golf course.

The proposal caused considerable distress in Iceland, due mainly to fears about why Huang, who has ties to China’s communist party, needed to buy 0.3 percent of Iceland’s total land mass for a hotel and a golf course.

The sale was blocked, according to Iceland’s interior ministry, because it didn’t meet several legal requirements, in particular one stipulating that purchasers of Icelandic property be Icelandic citizens or permanent residents of Iceland for at least five years.

The decision must have come as a surprise to Huang, seeing as how Iceland’s economic affairs ministry supported the sale.

“The ministry of economic affairs sees no reason to believe that Iceland's interests are in any way threatened by the foreign investment in question,” the economic affairs minister said just days before the final decision was announced.

Maybe that’s why Huang was so ticked off when he got the news.

“If I had known that we were not qualified,” he griped to the Global Times, “I wouldn't have wasted so much time and money on the case.”

He’ll get over it. He has plenty of other irons in the fire.

Huang began his career as a government bureaucrat, in China’s Central Propaganda Department and in its Ministry of Construction. He left public service to create Zhongkun, which is in the business of developing resort-related real estate. Its motto is “let’s do more for society.”

Zhongkun has a global perspective and far-reaching ambitions. In 2006, it opened a golf course in China’s Xinjiang Province, Kashi Zhongkun International Golf Course in Kashi City, and since then its portfolio has grown to include various resort and tourist facilities elsewhere in the People’s Republic. Its most enterprising subsidiary appears to be Hawthorn Vacation Club, which aims to create a network of vacation destinations in Asia, Europe, and the United States. These properties, to be developed over the next decade, include “holiday villages,” a “wine manor,” organic farms, and a bunch of golf courses.

But Huang doesn’t think of himself primarily as a businessman or a developer. He prefers to think of himself as a poet (he’s published several books of poetry) and as an adventurer, in particular a mountain climber. Since 2005, he’s climbed seven of the most challenging peaks on seven continents -- including Mount Everest, Mount McKinley, and Mount Kilimanjaro -- and he’s set foot on both the North and the South poles.

Huang’s visit to the North Pole took place earlier this year. He made it with a group that included one of his long-time Icelandic friends and, perhaps not coincidentally, an Icelandic diplomat who’s stationed in Beijing. Such expeditions, I’m sure you’ll agree, are a nice way to renew old friendships and cement new ones.

Huang hasn’t said whether he’ll appeal the government’s ruling or whether he’ll try to circumvent it in some way. But he clearly believes that Iceland isn’t receptive to Chinese investment.

“The rejection sent a message to Chinese investors that you are welcome to emigrate or to buy properties and luxury goods,” he told the Global Times, “but if you want to engage in anything related with natural resources, you're not welcome.”

Some information in this post originally appeared in the September 2011 issue of the World Edition of the Golf Course Report.

And in Other News . . .

. . . brazil The organizers of Brazil's Olympic games have whittled the golf course design competition to an Elite Eight. Half of the finalists are tried-and-true U.S. architects: Jack Nicklaus (with Annika Sorenstam), Greg Norman (with Lorena Ochoa), Gary Player, and Robert Trent Jones, Jr. There are two international contestants -- Martin Hawtree of England and Peter Thomson (with Ross Perrett) of Australia -- and the committee made two surprise selections: Tom Doak and Gil Hanse. Will there be room for a dark horse on the podium? The winner of the $300,000 commission will be named next month.

. . . united states When he isn’t preparing to host a presidential debate, Donald Trump continues to sniff out undervalued golf properties. The New York-based golf developer has renewed his previous interest in the Point Lake & Golf Club, the centerpiece of a faux-Nantucket community on Lake Norman in Mooresville, North Carolina. The club features a 12-year-old, Greg Norman-designed course that one of Trump’s sons believes “has a lot of potential” and “could be really special” if the family spiffs it up. The talk in the tony, 1,200-acre community is that Trump will submit a formal proposal in February.

. . . china Lee Schmidt and Brian Curley will soon complete work on another golf property on Hainan Island, a place they must by now know like the back of their hands. Since the spring of 2010, the Scottsdale, Arizona-based duo has been overseeing a makeover of Nanlihu International Golf Club, which features a 27-hole complex designed by Wang Zong Qian, a Taiwanese architect. Flagstick Golf Course Construction Management reports that the complex “is shaping up to be one of Hainan Island’s premier golf destinations,” though it can’t possibly out-draw the 10-course (and counting) complex that Schmidt and Curley designed at the massive Mission Hills resort.

. . . united states The discontented 99 percent won’t be focused exclusively on Wall Street anymore. Club & Resort Business reports that the Occupy L.A. protesters, recently scattered from a park near city hall, have vowed to make their presence felt “at locations such as banks, homes of bank executives, or golf courses and country clubs.”

. . . wild card click You have nothing to fear but fear itself.
READ MORE - The Week That Was, december 4, 2011

Saturday, December 3, 2011

worth reading A Rose by any Other Name . . .

I’ve waited way too long to blow a kiss to John Paul Newport of the Wall Street Journal, who several months ago went on an extended riff about golf course names and what he calls “the imaginative power of those who dream up the names.”

Here are some highlights:

The bird is the word. There are, to be precise, 149 U.S. golf courses with eagle in the name, according to a count of nearly 13,000 golf facilities by the National Golf Foundation. They range from the Soaring Eagles Golf Course in Horseheads, New York to the somewhat less inspiringly named Spread Eagle Golf Course in Spread Eagle, Wisconsin. There is an Eagle Point golf course in Oregon and an Eagle Pointe in Indiana. The difference, primarily of interest to marketers, is approximately the same as between shop and shoppe. . . .

Deer in the headlights. The word deer is a convenient naming device because deer are ubiquitous, to the point of actually being a nuisance in many regions, thanks to a fall-off in natural predators. Yet deer still connote woodland innocence. Thus real-estate developers, the primary source of new golf courses for at least the last 40 years, retain plausible credibility when they transform previously featureless tracts of land into golf nirvanas with names such as Deer Park, Deer Creek, Deer Meadow, Deer Run, Deer Ridge, and Deer Trace, not to mention Doe Valley and Fawn Crest. . . .

As times go by. Golf course names, if not the courses themselves, provide a fair gloss on American history. You could start at Plymouth Country Club in Massachusetts and continue to Patriot Hills Golf Club and Rip Van Winkle Country Club in New York. Then, Peace Pipe Country Club in New Jersey, Pocahontas Golf Course in Iowa, the Links at Davy Crockett in Tennessee, Little Bighorn Golf Club in Indiana, Westward Ho Country Club in South Dakota, Oregon Trail Country Club in Idaho, Conestoga Golf Club in Nevada, and, finally, Settlers Bay Golf Course in Wasilla, Alaska (Sarah Palin's town). . . .

The soul of the game. Far too many course names sound like they were lifted from children's books: Candywood, Melody Valley, Happy Hollow, Sunny Meadows, Sugar Isle, Songbird Hills, Kissing Camels, Growling Frog. Luckily, these are countered by a slate of names that seem to get golf's personality just about right: Chagrin Valley, Crab Meadow, Bogey Hills, Grindstone Neck, Murder Rock, Nutters Crossing, Ruffled Feathers, Sourwood Forest, and the Creek at Hard Labor. . . .

The wrong side of the law. To create buzz, developers are using macho names like Horse Thief Country Club in Tehachapi, California, Renegade Golf Course in Wyoming, the Bandit in Texas, the Hombre in Florida, the Devil's Claw in Arizona, and Thunder Canyon -- one each in Idaho and Nevada. . . .

Dark shadows. House Speaker John Boehner was recently caught on an open mic describing his two-under-par round at a remote high-end course in Nebraska called Dismal River. There are a surprising number of similarly dour course names: Stoney Links, Stumpy Lake, Reedy Creek, Useless Bay, Potholes, Charwood, Rainsville, Furnace Creek, and the Pit Golf Links, much less Mold Golf Club in Wales. Maybe the owners are just doing the best with what they have. . . .
READ MORE - worth reading A Rose by any Other Name . . .

Thursday, December 1, 2011

india Drive Time in Tamil Nadu

The state of Tamil Nadu aims to attract Japanese manufacturers with made-to-order industrial enclaves outfitted with golf courses.

One of these enclaves, to be known as Omega, is expected to take shape on 1,450 acres in Mahabalipuram, a town roughly 40 miles south of Chennai. The developers, a group led by Singapore-based Ascendas Group, believe that 60 percent of Omega’s factory space will be leased or purchased by Japanese companies, including auto and auto component manufacturers.

In addition to an industrial zone, Omega will consist of houses, office space, a school, a hospital, and an 18-hole golf course. The developers say that Omega’s 400-acre first phase could be completed in five years or less, the entire project in about 10 years.

Ascendas, one of Asia’s premier commercial developers, operates in more than 30 cities in 10 countries. It’s probably best-known for developing business and industrial parks in Singapore (Singapore Science Park), India (International Tech Park in Bangalore), China (Dalian Ascendas IT Park in Dalian), and the Philippines (Carmelray Industrial Park II in Laguna).

The company is developing Omega with Mizuho Bank and JGC Corporation, a publicly traded engineering services company based in Yokohama, Japan.

Tamil Nadu has become a go-to destination for Japanese companies looking to set up shop in India. Since 2006, the number of Japanese companies operating in the state has grown from 65 to 245, and the number is expected to crack 300 by the end of 2011. Roughly 30 percent of the Japanese firms currently operating in India are located in the port city of Chennai, which they view as a gateway to markets in Europe and Africa, not to mention others in Asia.

Some of the information in this post originally appeared in the September 2011 issue of the World Edition of the Golf Course Report.
READ MORE - india Drive Time in Tamil Nadu

Monday, November 28, 2011

The Week That Was, november 27, 2011

china Illegal Activities Continue

Moratoriums be damned: The first of four planned 18-hole golf courses at a big resort community in Yunnan Province is scheduled to open in early 2012.

That's the word from Troon Golf, which has been tapped to manage the 7,000-yard, Joe Obringer-designed track at Gaoligong Golf Club. Hengyi Group, the club’s developer, has promised that it’ll be “one of China’s finest golf courses.”

To be sure, the track won’t be a pushover. A press release issued earlier this year says it’s been “designed for strategic and creative shot-making, with forced carries and small target areas.”

The club will be part of Gaoligong International Tourist City, which is taking shape in Tengchong, a mountain town 250 miles west of Kunming. The city will eventually consist of “an ecological residential area,” a hotel, an equestrian center, a theme park, and three more 18-hole golf courses.

Obringer, the principal of Atlanta, Georgia-based JFO Design, has has designed more than a half-dozen courses in China. He's been working in the People's Republic for decades -– he served as one of Nicklaus Design’s field architects for nearly 15 years –- and he made news in late 2009, when he agreed to co-design the Mickelson “signature” course that will be part of the massive World community in Tianjin.

In a recent press release, Ryan Walls of Troon Golf characterized golf in China as a “growing game” but noted that development activity “has slowed over the last few months,” probably as a result of that aggravating moratorium on golf construction.

That being said, Walls believes that some “specific parts of Asia” -- Vietnam and Malaysia in particular -- continue to offer “significant development opportunity.”

“A lot of governments are seeing the value in tourism locations like Vietnam and Malaysia,” he said. “That will continue to grow.”

Walls also believes that “there’s a tremendous amount of demand for golf in Korea,” although a recent story in the Korea Times suggests otherwise. The Times reports that economic hard times are putting a financial squeeze on the nation's golf business and that “a slew of bankruptcies among the courses are imminent.”

Some information in this post originally appeared in the May 2011 issue of the World Edition of the Golf Course Report.

united states Will Trump Have a Boston Tee Party?

Donald Trump has kicked the tires on Boston Golf Club and “remains interested in the financially troubled property,” according to an online report.

The reality-TV star and erstwhile presidential candidate already owns posh golf properties in metropolitan New York, Philadelphia, and Washington, DC, so the club in Hingham, Massachusetts, with its well-regarded Gil Hanse-designed golf course, could be the missing piece in an evolving Northeastern puzzle. The parties reportedly exchanged pleasantries earlier this year, but Trump concluded that the asking price ($9 million, it's said) far exceeded his estimate of the property's true value ($5.5 million).

The club's members have already passed on the $9 million price, most likely because of their familiarity with the pinch of the club's annual losses -- between $1.3 million and $2.5 million annually.

Of course, it's possible that Trump believes he can get a price that suits him by simply waiting, as the price of golf properties in New England is expected to continue to fall. “Over the next several years,” a golf consultant tells, “we’ll see several courses not able to survive. It’s unfortunate, but it’s the reality of the economy today.”

Then again, the club's owner, John DeMatteo, isn't putting all his eggs in Trump's basket. According to the Hingham Journal, DeMatteo has agreed agreed to sell the club to another group, with the transaction expected to close sometime this winter.

And in Other News . . .

. . . united kingdom Speaking of imminent bankruptcies, roughly 100 golf properties are up for sale today in the United Kingdom -- a huge number, considering that the region typically sells 30 courses a year. “In the U.K. and other parts of Europe, such as Ireland, Spain, and Portugal, there are too many courses for too few golfers,” a golf course salesman tells the Wall Street Journal. The result: Prices are falling, and it doesn't appear that we'll hit the bottom of the market anytime soon. Says the executive director of the U.K. Golf Course Owners Association: “It's perfectly possible to lose money at every price point in the market.”

. . . isle of man The uncertainty has ended for Castletown Golf Club: The club, which has been in business since 1892 (originally with an Old Tom Morris-designed course), has found an owner who promises to move its 18-hole layout up the ranks of the United Kingdom's top 100. The new owner is Philip Vermeulen, a South African investor who's said to own a home on the island and, now, one of its most famous golf courses. The track, one of nine courses on the island, was redesigned in the late 1920s by Philip Mackenzie Ross, a Scottish architect who's probably best known for creating the Ailsa Course at the Turnberry resort in Ayr, Scotland. What Vermeulen didn't buy (at least not yet) is what a local newspaper calls “the dilapidated and long-closed” hotel that complements the club. But it's hard to imagine him operating Castletown as a stand-alone entity.

. . . canada ClubLink's Florida offensive continues: The Canadian golf operator has purchased yet another golf property, Palm-Aire Country Club in Pompano Beach, reportedly $7.2 million. ClubLink's 44 golf properties, the vast majority of them in the Great White North, are said to have more than 20,000 members, many of whom long to bask in the Sunshine State's warmth while their friends and neighbors hunker down for the winter. To satisfy their golf fix, Palm-Aire offers a trio of 18-hole courses, one designed by William F. Mitchell and two co-designed by George and Tom Fazio. ClubLink's holdings in Florida, all of which have been acquired over the past year or so, includes Woodlands Country Club in Tamarac, Heron Bay Golf Club in Coral Springs, and seven courses in Sun City Center.

wild card click It's like Forrest Gump's box of chocolates. You never know what you're going to get.
READ MORE - The Week That Was, november 27, 2011

Saturday, November 26, 2011

worth reading California Dreaming

I don't have to tell anyone who's landed on this blog that the golf business in the United States is in a world of hurt these days.

The reason, in large part, is that golf communities -- the main driver of golf development in recent decades -- have become an endangered species. When houses can't sell at even depressed prices, the nation's home builders can't afford to build and maintain multimillion-dollar golf courses.

Can U.S. golf construction thrive without a flourishing housing industry? And do home builders still need big-ticket amenities like golf courses to attract buyers?

Those were among the questions floated by home builders and golf consultants at a recent symposium outside Palm Springs, one of the most desirable areas of Southern California. Here's how one of the area's newspapers, the Desert Sun, covered the event:

The future of the Coachella Valley's golf course communities and private clubs is about as certain as a duffer's tee shot. . . .

The economic slump and painfully slow recovery and other factors have sapped club memberships, trimmed golfer rounds, and dramatically knocked down home prices across the valley and nationwide, said Rick Coyne, CEO of Club Mark Corp., which counsels private clubs nationwide from offices in Palm Desert and Dallas.

Somewhere between 8,000 and 12,000 golf club memberships are available valley-wide, which if sold would provide valuable revenue to maintain some 120 desert golf courses and clubs. . . .

The financial slide for many golf communities and clubs is part of a nationwide trend, Coyne said, as 620 golf courses have closed down in the past five years. New course openings have dropped 63 percent.

Among reasons are an aging population and a general “cultural shift,” as members of Generation X think differently from their parents.

“The cracks in the foundation -- they haven't happened overnight,” Coyne said. “We need to look at things differently.” . . .

V. R. “Pete” Halter, chairman of The Halter Companies, which advises clients on strategic planning for home developments, said part of the problem for golf communities and clubs is the loss of the “wealth effect” that is both psychological and very real.

Many second-home buyers who had discretionary or real wealth have lost 30-35 percent of that wealth in stocks or the value of their homes and businesses in recent years, Halter said.

At the same time, home defaults have forced some golf communities to raise maintenance fees even as many homeowners have less ability to pay them.

The changing industry dynamics have forced more developers to rethink whether golf courses are a must for their master-planned communities amid changing buyer demographics. . . .

Speakers said prospective members often walk away from aging clubs that have a feel of the 1960s.

Halter said one of the valley's challenges will be competing with newer resorts and courses and keeping down the “post-purchase shock,” or costs such as club dues, HOA, and maintenance fees.

“How do you reinvent what Palm Springs is in the minds of the consumer?” Halter asked.
READ MORE - worth reading California Dreaming

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

scotland If You Build It . . .

Several months ago, a historic track once described as “the remotest of the remote links courses” found new owners who intend to make it the centerpiece of “one of Scotland’s premier golf destinations.”

I’m talking about Machrie Golf Links, an 18-hole, 6,254-yard course that was designed by Willie Campbell and opened in 1891. The course -– it’s located on the Isle of Islay, west of the Scottish mainland –- is often rated among the nation’s top venues and has long been a bucket-list destination for golfers who seek to play unique, rugged links in out-of-the-way places.

In July, Machrie was purchased by a British power couple, Gavyn Davies and Sue Nye, reportedly for $2.14 million. The price includes an accompanying 16-room hotel and 15 stand-alone cabins.

Davies and Nye have announced that they aim to invest “several million pounds” into the waterfront property. They’ll spiff up the hotel and the cabins and add a spa, and it’s believed that they’ll eventually build a second 18-hole golf course. They haven’t made any statements about the existing course, but, as best I can determine, it was last overhauled by Donald Steel in the late 1970s.

The new owners have more than enough money to revitalize Machrie, which has struggled financially for years and was taken over by its lenders in late 2010. Davies, a former chairman of the BBC and a former managing director of Goldman Sachs, now runs a hedge fund that’s made him one of the U.K.’s richest people. His wife, a baroness, once served as a top aide to Gordon Brown, who succeeded Tony Blair as the U.K.’s prime minister. The couple has coveted Machrie for years. They reportedly tried to buy it the last time it came on the market, in the early 2000s.

To be sure, Davies and Nye need to market Machrie imaginatively if they expect to put it in the black. Islay, the southernmost island in the Inner Hebrides, is too hard to reach for casual vacationers, and its only attractions besides the golf course are its eight distilleries, which are said to produce fine single-malt whiskies. On top of that, according to, the island’s weather “can be horrible.”

Nonetheless, Davies and Nye believe a more upscale Machrie can lure golfers from North America, Scandinavia, and northern Europe, especially if it has two golf courses.
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Monday, November 21, 2011

The Week That Was, november 20, 2011

bhutan Adding to the Happiness Quotient

The people of Bhutan have been given the right happiness -- it's decreed in the national constitution -- but exactly how happy can they be without access to single 18-hole golf course?

The situation could soon be rectified by an unnamed Bhutanese industrialist, working with unnamed foreign investors, who aims to build an 18-hole track in the town of Ura, in the central part of the nation. If it's built, it'll be Bhutan's second golf course.

The area's residents are reportedly divided over the industrialist's proposal, as are government officials. Bhutan's agriculture minister has turned his thumbs down on the idea of turning 165 acres of farmland into a golf course, but the nation's tourism ministers appear to support it. Before they commit, however, the tourism officials want to see the results of a “technical study” that's being conducted by the department of forests and parks.

Bhutan's lone golf course is a nine-hole track at Royal Thimphu Golf Club in Thimphu, its capital city. (Useless factoid: Thimphu, which is located at 7,380 feet above sea level, is the only capital city in the world without stoplights.) In 2003, Golf Digest called the track “perhaps the most remote golf course in the world, tucked away in a gentle fold of the Himalayas.”

If you're wondering, Ura is roughly 80 miles east of Thimphu, within a short drive of eight national parks and wildlife sanctuaries. If I told you that the town was 25 miles east of Trongsa, would it make a difference?

scotland It's All Over but the Shouting

The day of reckoning creeps ever closer: Donald Trump has wrapped up construction on his much-discussed golf course on the Menie Estate in Aberdeenshire, Scotland. The world now breathlessly awaits the course's debut, set for July 2012.

As most everyone knows, Trump has promised that the Martin Hawtree-designed track -- a “world leading architect,” in the opinion of Trump's marketers -- will be the world's greatest golf course. The jury is still out on that vow, but these days Trump still has reason to keep his head in the clouds: A recent head count has determined that more than 1,000 people have signed up to play the course when it opens.

What's more, opinion-makers continue to say nice things about the layout. Richie Ramsay, a local golfer who won the U.S. Amateur Championship in 2006, believes the track will soon host a high-profile professional event. He told a Scottish reporter, “The course the Scottish Open will go to in the future is the new Trump course, as it's just unbelievable.”

australia Are Travel Plans in Order?

If the television coverage of the Presidents Cup has whet your appetite to play the Alister MacKenzie-designed course at Royal Melbourne Golf Club, you may soon have your chance.

In an attempt to cash in on the buzz generated by the Presidents Cup, Royal Melbourne and four other prominent Australian golf properties -- all of them with top-100 venues -- have teamed up to promote Australia as a hot-spot for world-class golf tourism.

The members of what's being called the Great Golf Courses of Australia are spread all over the national map and are already on many golfers' bucket lists. The group consists of Barnbougle Dunes and Barnbougle Lost Farm in Tasmania, Kingston Heath Golf Club in Victoria, New South Wales Golf Course in New South Wales, and Royal Adelaide Golf Club in South Australia.

The alliance's spokesperson is Liz Sattler, who owns the courses in Tasmania. Her goal, she said in a press release, is to “establish Australia as one of the world's truly great golfing destinations.”

The venture is supported by Tourism Australia, the PGA of Australia, and the various state tourism offices. Everyone involved believes other well-regarded courses Down Under will eventually join the alliance.

While we're on the subject of Royal Melbourne, I should note that the club has hired Tom Doak to serve as its design consultant. No renovation plans have yet been announced, but the Traverse City, Michigan-based designer has said that Royal Melbourne's 36-hole complex is “feeling pressure from technology.”

Doak, who wrote the book on MacKenzie (I mean that literally. It's called The Life and Work of Dr. Alister MacKenzie), has said that the club’s West course “might be the place which has influenced my own design style the most.”

One other thing: Before Doak became Royal Melbourne's design consultant, the position was held by Martin Hawtree.

And one final thing: Can anyone explain to me why the term Presidents Cup doesn't have an apostrophe in it, either before or after the s?

Some information in this post originally appeared in the May 2011 issue of the World Edition of the Golf Course Report.

And in Other News . . .

. . . south korea Troon Golf has been tapped to operate a soon-to-open golf complex on Daebu Island in suburban Seoul, South Korea. The 27-hole facility, at Island Country Club, has been designed by David Dale of Santa Rosa, California-based GolfPlan. Troon says that Dale's courses, which are scheduled to open in the spring of 2012, “will provide an unforgettable golf experience” and eventually rank among the nation's of “must-see” and “must-play” courses. The 18-hole course will be reserved for the club's members, but the nine-hole track will be open to the public. For those of you who aren't intimately familiar with South Korean geography, Daebu Island is roughly 40 miles southwest of downtown Seoul.

. . . vietnam Vietnam's tourism ministers and government officials are on track to have nearly 120 golf courses by 2020, it's not just me who believes that's way too many. When Thanh Nien News asked the vice chairman of the Vietnam Construction Federation for his opinion of the national golf goal, Pham Sy Liem replied, “Obviously, it is too high. There isn’t much demand for golf courses among the Vietnamese population. Few of us can afford to pay green fees. We permitted the construction of these golf courses to attract foreign investors, who frequently play golf in their home countries. The golf courses are built mainly to serve them.”

wild card click Go ahead, take a chance. What have you got to lose?
READ MORE - The Week That Was, november 20, 2011

Friday, November 18, 2011

Shameless Self-Promotion, november 2011

What makes the world go round?

Mind you, I'm not wondering about gravitational forces in the cosmos. I'm focused on things that are happening right here on earth, particularly the many pursuits that motivate a man to get up every morning, pour himself a cup of strong coffee, and steel himself to challenge the world.

The November issue of the World Edition of the Golf Course Report is brimming with tales of such pursuits.

We've got developers desperately searching for property that may never be found: I'm looking for the Sand Hills of Nebraska in Ireland.

We've got project managers praying for the phone to ring: I wait every day for someone to call me and tell me to get down there.

We've got designers feeling energized and inspired: This site is a great canvas to create a course that has the potential to rival, if not better, the finest inland courses in Scotland.

We've got government officials seeking to energize and inspire: The Italian golf industry must move faster, build more courses.

And we've got, as we always do, landowners making promises: A two-decade investment could easily see a 559 percent return on the capital that is invested today.

What else? Well, November's World Edition also provides answers to the following questions:

What do Jack Nicklaus and Brad Pitt have in common?

What country has more golf courses, Lithuania or Kazakhstan?

What U.S. golf architect is lucky enough to be designing a course in China on “non-arable, water-scarce land with limited natural resources”?

Speaking of architects, we've also got one who believes that golf should “not be difficult for the sake of being difficult,” another who brags about his ability “to transform less-than-ideal sites into exceptional golf courses,” and a third whose ideal golf course is “created by God, polished by man.”

Still need more?

There's a report on Mike Keiser's recent whereabouts, a preview of the next remote island about to produce a world-class golf course, our speculation about the U.S. casino king who wants to build a “mini Las Vegas Strip” in Spain, and some notes on the national lottery that aims to build a golf course in “the Weeping Prairie.”

To get a copy of November's World Edition, give me a call at 301/680-9460 or send an e-mail to me at
READ MORE - Shameless Self-Promotion, november 2011

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Best golf course needs respect from players

Even the novice golfer will want to play, to the best golf course you can afford, and if you manage that come out on the field you want to not worry about the condition of the plant. As soon as more people are interested in humiliating that games and playing time increases for many public courses that seems conditions than traffic can damage the grass on the Greens and fairways. Even the best golf course can suffer damage from players, if you do not respect the course.

There are little things, the players do, even the least expensive price to one of the best golf courses make, you can to help. Most courses have certain rules to keep you in top condition including replace divots and carts on the shopping cart path to keep, especially during wet conditions. If you ever went to a course have, you have probably seen, the results of the divots behind left and even the best golf course begins to suffer from when players ignore common sense rules with possession.

The tea boxes are often some of the areas that take the most abuse by a few players who believe, have paid for the right to damage the site. If you begin to think that you see not that if a week a little divot is a thousand no difference and removed to share this attitude, even the best golf course will begin stoned to search within a short time.

Takes time and effort to keep courses in top condition

Ownership and maintenance staff will help to keep the best golf course in top condition, but it requires collaboration between the players. Many public golf course somehow remain in top shape, even with the players typically transient nature. These courses golf course is located in a community but chance better survival because the players have a degree of ownership in the property.

Some private courses and country clubs gave people the players follow fining often if you damage the course without the steps to the damage to resolve help you maintain your reputation for offering the best golf course in the local area. The advantage of these courses is that the cost of maintenance is covered by membership fees and better afford the best golf course possible to keep.

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Sunday, February 6, 2011

Superior golf wear accessories

There are many ways in which accessorize can a golf enthusiast through the purchase of various products, improving the quality of the game. These elements contain usually carriers, caddies or novelty items. Not many people consider the garments that could be worn by golfers to receive benefits (both health related and game-like). Here are some of the most popular garments worn by golfers, and why you are so popular. You might get a few good ideas for what the next time that you can carry out are on the golf course. If this is the case, you probably are to see the benefits immediately.

The first goal of Golf clothing accessories should be to save you from the elements of being outside. The Sun is one of the most oppressive element, and there are several ways to fight. The foremost and most effective way to get your game out lined up independently of massive sunlight is to keep a couple of sunglasses wearing as you play. If it has the Sun in your eyes, devastating effects allow your perception, and may not to hit the ball to your maximum potential. Sunglasses protect your eyes from harmful sun rays. However, their eyes are not the only component of the body that require defense against the Sun. Go to the golf course for a day, if your face and arms until in sunscreen can get pretty good to avoid burned slather. It is usually a good idea, even wear a hat for maximum face shading.

Golf shoes are worn by many avid golfers. You are certainly not required, the game to enjoy, but you have some advantages. They are created to it easily from the grass where golf course in the keep of the grass in as healthy as possible to traverse. Walking on the green in regular shoes can be very damaging, but golf shoes that make it so that the grass can easily survive the onslaught of the footprints. Golf shoes are about as expensive as regular shoes, but not much use outside of the golf course. If you plan, at least once a week are golf, a good option would be golf shoes. Otherwise you will be fine with regular shoes for now.

Golfer's most is quite a bit, up to the golfer outfit. You can carry everything, you feel like wearing. However, it is a good option to use the comfortable slacks, you feel OK for a few hours to walk around. If you wear something to formally only at the end to be always a rash on your thigh. Look at what other golf wear and try to emulate it. It is advisable, exactly what do the trend to follow because the chances are that you know and you know what are the most convenient way of clothing. It may take to perfect a trip to the store to your wardrobe but the comfort is the time you will put into it definitely value.

As long as there is no dress code in the golf course, you, you should not worry too much of what you wear. Golf needs a relaxing and enjoyable sport so that any emphasis on the clothes should be taken not too much consideration. Just what are you in comfortable and take what does use a good (e.g. protection from the Sun or preserve the grass the you at the bottom). Of course be different rules for golf tournaments and golf trips with business partners. Make your own discretion to decide what you want to take you on other working days or would use with any other sport. There is no reason to read too far into it. Happy golfing!

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Saturday, February 5, 2011

Selecting ladies golf cart bags

When you reach a new ladies bag to purchase, you can be a little overwhelmed by the variety of choices, the available provided by online providers. Once you know more about what is available, then you can be a better decision about what you want in your pocket and find a bag that is priced.

Colors and styles

For some people in the correct format is probably one of the key features of your sports equipment. Fortunately, most golf bags with a style, and can be monogrammed even if those who prefer on your pocket. Other alternatives provide online providers for style and color as your local shops may as you first check the Internet for your equipment might want.

The colors that you can choose for which they range new equipment golf Fuchsia, mauve and teal from {traditional conventional} grey, black and Brown. Apart from the style and color are still, to ensure that your golf bag one, functional and is one that you can happily use for many years golf.

Features and accessories

You will of course need an electric or push / pull trolley, your shopping bag to carry. Is much higher than the regular carry bags by nature and can therefore take more golf gear. So you have plenty of room for all your golf balls, accessories, etc., and of course your jacket waterproof golf.

You can also order the various accessories that you can keep, browse, so that you can you delivered, once you have sent your bag. Since you save, now more than likely some rain gear or shoe bag pick up the optimum time is lingerie for your golf shoes, so much of online shopping. After all of the accessories available that will help you if you are set for an impromptu game of golf, so you can collect all your belongings and walk just a few minutes.

Online shopping and money

If you are in the Web shop, you able to save tons of money, and the quality and style you're looking in a women's cart golf bag. Easily find top quality golf cart bags go for fifty pounds and upwards. Obviously the brand, and the more features you have, by the price increases are, the better and listed.

You can usually buy a new electric trolley for 100-300 pounds (depending on models), a massive savings when the when is locally equated with purchase of equipment. This type of trolley will also help you improve your game, how you bear the burden and you allow to stay energetic for the game.

If you want an electric trolley, then you also to ensure you the longest warranty offered by the site, so that the engine must be removed they are captured. The majority of these trolleys go with 12 months warranty, however often additional coverage online you can buy.

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