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