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.
READ MORE - scotland If You Build It . . .

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