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.