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.