Monday, January 30, 2012

The Week That Was, january 29, 2012

malaysia A Spring Opening for 99 East

Ross Watson’s fifth golf course in Malaysia, the centerpiece of a resort community in Jalan Bukit Malut on Pulau Langkawi, will debut its full 18 holes in the spring of 2012.

The new 99 East Golf Club is taking shape on property that was formerly home to Langkawi Golf Club, which has been razed and redesigned with stylistic touches borrowed from both Scottish links and the local landscape: billowing native grasses, layers of rice terraces, and views of a dense rain forest.

The 7,330-yard track will be surrounded by a low-density waterfront community that includes villas and bungalows, boutique hotels, restaurants, and what’s being called the Royal Lodge, a residence for Malaysia’s head of state, His Royal Highness the Sultan of Kedah.

Watson, an Australian architect (he’s based in Robina, Queensland), has previously designed three courses in suburban Kuala Lumpur (including one of Malaysia’a premier courses, at Kota Permai Golf & Country Club) and another in suburban Johor Baharu (Horizon Hills Golf Club). His goal for the track at 99 East, which opened its first nine in June 2011, is to “challenge the pros while remaining fair to the recreational golfers.”

One other thing: 99 East is the first course in Malaysia to be managed by Troon Golf.

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 . . .

. . . canada Owen Sound Golf & Country Club has found a buyer. The club, a fixture in Ontario since 1921, closed last summer, a victim of declining membership and resulting falling revenues. Its new owner, presuming the transaction closes successfully, will be Guelph-based Balnar Management, Ltd., a residential real estate manager that owns a nearby course, Stone Tree Golf & Fitness Club. Balnar hasn’t spelled out any improvements it plans to make at Owen Sound, but a new name is forthcoming. “We want to choose an identity that recognizes the club’s long history in the Owen Sound area but also asserts a new and exciting chapter in that history,” said Michael Balnar, the firm’s CEO, in a press release. Owen Sound’s centerpiece is an 18-hole, 6,145-yard course whose design is usually attributed to Stanley Thompson. However, as I noted last summer, the layout’s second nine opened in 1975, more than two decades after Thompson died. When it closed, Owen Sound was said to be saddled with $1.1 million in debt.

. . . bhutan You can turn out the lights, because the party is over for Bhutan’s first 18-hole golf course. As frequent readers may remember (I profiled this project last November), an unidentified Bhutanese “industrialist,” backed by unnamed foreign investors, had hoped to build the course in the town of Ura, in the central part of the nation. His proposal won the support of the national land commission, district officials, agriculture officials, and the tourism ministry, but it was nixed by higher powers who aim to preserve wetlands, grazing lands, and water supplies. A Bhutanese newspaper reports that the developers, confident that approvals would be granted, began construction, and then, when their proposal was rejected, asked the government to compensate them for their losses. That’s what I call moxie. The group is now said to be searching for a suitable golf course site in nearby districts.

. . . united states Bargains galore are available to prospective golf club members in California’s Coachella Valley. “There are some very attractive pricing incentives at some of the most popular private clubs in the desert,” reports Sheri Dettman, a Realtor in Palm Springs. Without question, the area has become a buyer’s market. Initiation fees have fallen to $45,000 at PGA West (from $125,000), to $69,500 at Indian Ridge Country Club (from $110,000), and to $30,000 at Citrus Golf Club (from $100,000). Tradition Golf Club is now said to be offering “market pricing” for its memberships, which are normally $200,000. “Each private club wants to keep its membership ranks as full as possible,” Dettman explains, “and it’s often a balancing act in adjusting prices to meet market conditions.” In her next press release, we hope Dettman tells us how many members these cut-rate prices have attracted.

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READ MORE - The Week That Was, january 29, 2012

Thursday, January 26, 2012

cayman islands To Buy or To Build?

No sales tax, no income tax, no capital gains tax, no property tax, no inheritance tax -– no wonder Grand Cayman Island seems like heaven to the planet’s well-heeled bankers, financiers, and investors, not to mention at least one Republican presidential candidate.

The island isn’t a golf paradise, though, as it has just two golf courses: 18 holes at North South Golf Club and nine holes at the Greg Norman-designed Blue Tip Golf Course. And the future of the course at North Sound is in doubt.

For several years the courses’ owner, a developer named Mike Ryan, has been hoping to downsize North Sound. Specifically, he’s enlisted Norman to shrink it to a nine-hole track and combine it with the nine holes at Blue Tip, in an attempt to create what he hopes would be a destination-worthy golf venue.

But North Sound is bleeding money fast -– it reportedly loses between $60,000 and $100,000 a month –- and Ryan’s plans may have changed. Ryan is reportedly trying to sell the course to Dart Enterprises, a development group led by Mark VanDevelde.

“There’s only one other guy who has the interest and the money to invest in a golf course, and I’m talking to him,” Ryan told a local newspaper late last year. “Have we done anything? No. Do I hope we will do something? I hope so.”

So far, the parties haven’t been able to come to an agreement. It could be that VanDevelde is driving a hard bargain, because he has another option.

Last year one of Dart’s affiliates bought nearly 300 acres along the island’s western coast, a site that had been slated to become a resort featuring houses, a hotel, a marina, and an 18-hole golf course. At the time of the purchase, VanDevelde said that he had no immediate plans to build a golf course on the property. But he knows the game’s appeal.

“We recognise that golf facilities are very important, if not a necessary amenity to a world-class tourism destination such as Grand Cayman,” VanDevelde said last year. “We understand the need to provide our visitors and future home buyers with access to a golf facility.”

One way or another, it appears that golf will be a part of Dart’s future. The only question is whether the company will buy a course or build one.

Some information in this post originally appeared in the May 2009 and October 2011 issues of the World Edition of the Golf Course Report.
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Monday, January 23, 2012

The Week That Was, january 22, 2012

scotland The Wind and Other Blowhards

Donald Trump has threatened to abandon his soon-to-open resort community in Aberdeenshire if government officials approve the construction of an off-shore wind farm that will be visible from his coastal property. And the world is asking, Is Trump bluffing?

I think the answer is fairly apparent, but you can draw your own conclusions. In the meantime, here’s what I believe is a more intriguing question: Is it possible that, given Europe’s unrelenting economic slump, Trump no longer believes his community is viable and is looking for a convenient exit? In other words, is the wind farm simply a red herring that will allow Trump to bail on Scotland?

Such a notion can find plenty of support. After all, Trump has already delayed the start of construction on the community’s high-priced houses, its luxurious hotel, and its recently approved clubhouse -– in other words, all of its revenue-producing amenities. And while the community’s Martin Hawtree-designed course remains on track to open in June, Trump still hasn’t hired an architect for course number two, nor has he announced a construction date for it.

Trump’s character has long been a matter of much debate in Scotland, and his most recent threat has, not surprisingly, aroused additional suspicion about his true intentions. For the record, though, one of his top lieutenants has described any and all speculation about Trump International Golf Club Scotland’s viability as “absolutely ridiculous.”

The sad part is, this latest controversy has degenerated into a case of the proverbial ugly American versus a small nation with a dream of generating low-cost energy from the wind. In such battles, unfortunately, there are no winners.

canada Glenway Shrinks To Fit

A master-planned community is going to eat away half of the 18-hole golf course at Glenway Country Club in Newmarket, Ontario.

Marianneville Developments, a joint venture between the Toronto-based Kerbel Group and Lakeview Homes, bought the 150-acre club in late 2009 and shortly thereafter determined that it wasn’t sustainable in its original form. The partners believe it can survive with a nine-hole course, however, provided that the layout is surrounded by 710 single-family houses, townhouses, condos, and apartments, along with a retail/commercial area and a new 6,000-square-foot clubhouse with banquet space.

“This concept is what we believe could be integrated into the existing neighborhood,” Kerbel’s vice president of planning operations told the Newmarket Era last year.

The task of chopping away at Glenway falls to Doug Carrick, the Ontario-based architect who designed Glenway’s existing 6,200-yard track in the mid 1980s. Carrick’s work isn’t well-known south of the border, but Golfweek recently ranked eight of his designs among the top 30 modern courses in Canada, including two of the top 10: Muskoka Bay Golf Club in Gravenhurst, Ontario and Humber Valley Golf Course in Deer Lake, Newfoundland.

Marianneville plans to submit a formal development application to Newmarket’s planning department as soon as it completes various studies on the impact its project will have on the local community.

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

And in Other News . . .

. . . china China’s population is aging rapidly, and I’m wondering if the nation’s golf developers are looking to cash in on what could be a golden opportunity. In the People’s Republic today, there are 178 million people over the age of 60, according to Frederik Balfour and Alfred Cang of Bloomberg. By 2050, the number is expected to grow to 437 million people –- one-third of the nation’s population. Decades ago on this side of the Pacific, a foresighted developer named Del Webb sized up a similar demographic bubble and created a residential concept that in retrospect appears to be a no-brainer: the Sun City retirement community. Today there are numerous Sun City and Sun City-style spreads all over the nation, most all of them outfitted with activity centers, shopping areas, and medical facilities, not to mention golf courses and other recreational amenities. It seems likely that Sun City-style communities would appeal to seniors in China, provided that they were re-tailored for local tastes. But there’s one caveat: “China’s challenge is similar to that faced by Japan in the 1990s, with one essential difference,” say the authors. “China will grow old before it gets rich.”

. . . united states It’s too soon to bet the mortgage, but the most powerful entity in U.S. golf is spreading the impression that 2012 will be “a banner year” for our industry. In fact, according to Paul Metzler of the PGA of America, the health of our nation’s golf courses has been improving for months, thanks largely to unseasonably warm weather and encouraging economic news. “We already noticed numbers getting stronger during the second half of 2011,” Metzler told the Triangle Business Journal. Of course, this silver lining has a gray cloud: Metzler notes that the price of rounds has also been increasing in recent months, and, as courses become more crowded, will almost certainly continue to increase. (Mind you, I’m not complaining.) It’s important to note that Metzler is the PGA’s senior director of marketing and industry relations, which means that he may simply be spinning a few shreds of shiny cloth into a coat of many colors. I’d feel more confident about such predictions if they were being made by, say, the PGA’s director of research. That being said, I hope Metzler is being prudent and not pulling wool over our eyes.

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READ MORE - The Week That Was, january 22, 2012

Saturday, January 21, 2012

talking points KPMG on Golf’s Future

International golf development has been on life-support for three years and isn’t likely to get healthy in 2012.

That, in a nutshell, is the opinion of Andrea Sartori, the director of KPMG’s Golf Advisory Practice. Sartori, who’s considered by Golf, Inc. to be one of the most powerful people in golf, has outlined his thoughts about the industry’s immediate future in the form of an “interview” -- in reality, it may have been an interview with himself -- that was recently posted at KPMG’s website.

Specifically, Sartori discussed trends in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa, the core areas of the golf practice’s business. However, I think his comments apply to markets all over the planet. I don’t know about you, but wherever I look, the story is always pretty much the same: The outlook is improving, but the big bounce is yet to come.

Here’s a little of what Sartori had to say:

Clearly, with the combination of continued liquidity problems and lack of confidence and financing for both developers and real estate buyers, the climate for golf development remains unfavorable. The increasing equity requirements of financial institutions, the growing cost of debt (especially because of the increased country risk in markets which were previously considered to be relatively safe, such as Greece, Italy, Spain, and Portugal), and the increasing expectations of investors in terms of returns means the market for golf resorts with real estate will continue to suffer for quite some time.

However, there will be a point in time when the international economy recovers, and developers will be looking at markets where there is strong domestic demand and tourism appeal to attract international buyers and golf tourists. . . .

In my opinion, the first markets to bounce back will be those with a potentially strong domestic demand which are also appealing to the international market from a tourism perspective. For example, some countries in the Mediterranean region -- including Italy, France, and Turkey -- have favorable characteristics in this regard. . . .
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Friday, January 20, 2012

Shameless Self-Promotion, january 2011

A new and hopefully better year has arrived, and so has the January 2012 issue of the World Edition of the Golf Course Report. In it, we offer a bounty of news (and perfectly acceptable amounts of comment) about forthcoming new courses in nations from A to S -– from Ajman to Slovakia.

We also provide definitive answers to the following questions. Can you answer them?

1. A high-profile golf official explains the oversupply of golf properties this way: “Instead of building affordable, accessible, short courses around large cities, [developers] flooded the market with championship-style layouts created by big-name designers.” What part of the world was he talking about?

a) United Kingdom
b) United States
c) United Arab Emirates
d) South Africa

2. The Golf Channel has described a soon-to-open course as “definitely the best golf course in Puerto Rico, very likely the top course in the Caribbean, and possibly the most interesting golf course in the world.” Who designed it?

a) Pete Dye
b) Jack Nicklaus
c) Robert Trent Jones
d) David Pfaff

3. A British hotelier aims to transform his golf-focused resort into “the Belfry of the North.” What’s his property’s name?

a) Gosford Park
b) Ramside Hall
c) Monte Hall
d) Downton Abbey

4. Which well-traveled golf architect summed up the current state of golf with this line: “Somewhere along the line, we have lost sight of the soul of the game”?

a) Greg Norman
b) Gary Player
c) Brian Curley
d) Harry Colt

5. Which state in India is looking for developers who’ll build golf courses in four of its cities?

a) Andhra Pradesh
b) Arunachal Pradesh
c) Himachal Pradesh
d) Uttar Pradesh

6. One of the golf industry’s hottest design teams has been tapped to prepare a master plan for renovations at Royal Canberra Golf Club in New South Wales. Name the team.

a) Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw
b) Robert Trent Jones, Jr. and Mario Gonzalez
c) Geoff Ogilvy and Michael Clayton
d) Peter Thomson and Karrie Webb

7. “I had to pinch myself when I first saw the site,” a golf course architect once said of some prospective golf course property. Who said it, and what was the property he was talking about?

a) Tom Doak at Barnbougle Dunes
b) Niall Cameron at Marrakech Golf Club
c) Gil Hanse at Castle Stuart
d) Robert Trent Jones, Jr. at Chambers Bay

In this month’s issue, we also offer reports on the current whereabouts of numerous globe-trotting designers, including Greg Norman, Jonathan Gaunt, Howard Swan, Jim Cervone, Cynthia Dye-McGarey, and Ranjit Nanda. And we provide an added bonus: Further proof of why you really can have too much of a good thing.

If you’d like to create your own multiple-choice quiz from January’s World Edition, give me a call at 301/680-9460 or send an e-mail to me at
READ MORE - Shameless Self-Promotion, january 2011

Thursday, January 19, 2012

ireland The Next World-Class Venue?

A destination-worthy golf course -– one that its creator says will be good enough to “rank inside the world’s top 15” –- may soon take shape on Inishmore, the largest of the Aran Islands off the western coast of Ireland.

Mel Flanagan wants to build the track, currently called Aran Links, on Gregory Sound, on property that he believes lends itself ideally to a venue that would be “created by God, polished by man.” The course would serve to boost the island’s tourism business, and for that reason his proposal has been warmly received by local authorities and the businessmen who’ll fund its construction.

Flanagan is a teaching pro at a club in County Westmeath as well as a course designer. As the principal of Longford-based Irish Golf Course Design, he’s designed several Irish golf courses, among them Dunmurry Springs Golf Club in County Kildare, Abbeyleix Golf Club in County Laois, and Rathcore Golf & Country Club in County Meath.

Flanagan hasn’t described Aran Links as a “minimalist” track, but he clearly thinks it could be built at minimal cost. In a 2011 conversation with the Irish Independent, he said that it’s “99 percent finished, in the sense that the land lends itself to a completely natural golf course.”

Flanagan hopes to open Aran Links in 2013.
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Monday, January 16, 2012

The Week That Was, january 15, 2012

china Hearts and Minds and Golf

Here are two delicious little ironies about golf in China:

One, the People’s Republic lacks golf courses designed for the people. And two, a U.S. architect, one with unquestioned capitalist sympathies, is trying to persuade China’s golf industry to start building modest, price-friendly golf properties that can be enjoyed by everyone, not just the wealthy members of private clubs.

“We have to create a game for the masses,” Brian Curley argued in a story published last month in the South China Morning Post.

Curley knows plenty about golf in China, as he’s designed more golf courses in the nation than any other architect. His primary claims to fame are high-end golf venues. He’s designed, for example, the 10 operating courses at Mission Hills Haikou, the tony resort on Hainan Island, and he’s co-designed the 12 courses at Mission Hills Shenzhen, the equally tony resort on the mainland.

In China, says the Scottsdale, Arizona-based designer, “Everyone wants a big extravaganza. There is a stigma associated with something that isn’t at the upper, upper end.”

His mission: “We need to change that mentality.”

In particular, Curley believes, China needs to start building “affordable” golf properties, namely practice centers and nine-hole courses. Anyone who knows the history of golf understands it’s the only way to go about seriously growing the game.

“You don’t have to build over-the-top courses to get people excited about golf,” Curley argues.

Without question, Curley isn’t the first architect to make such an argument. But he may be the first one who can actually make it stick.

Note: I can’t link this report to an online article, as I found it via a fee-based news service that provides me with stories that can’t always be found by conventional means.

And in Other News . . .

. . . talking points If China isn’t going to deliver as a development hot-spot this year, where on the planet can a serious golf-industry professional go to find meaningful work? The top brass at the American Society of Golf Course Architects offered some possible destinations in a recent issue of By Design, the group’s glossy magazine. “There is some development in India,” notes Lee Schmidt, the group’s secretary, who adds: “Vietnam is inching along, and Thailand is another country where you see a project here and there.” Hmmm. Not much meat on the bone there. And to be honest, the ASGCA isn’t serving up much meat anywhere. Here, for example, is some underwhelming guidance from Rick Robbins, the group’s treasurer: “South America is an up-and-coming market.” My conclusion: The ASGCA, which has no faith in the immediate future of U.S. golf development, has precious little faith in the immediate future of international golf development. And that’s distressing.

. . . egypt Two of the brightest corporate stars in golf have taken a shine to each other. Orascom Development Holdings, a firm controlled by the uber-wealthy Sawiris family, has hired Troon Golf to manage the golf venues at its famed resorts in Egypt: El Gouna, which features a track co-designed by Fred Couples and Gene Bates, and Taba Heights, which has a John Sanford-designed layout generally considered to be among the nation’s best. The contract, announced late last year, may very well turn out to be one of those gifts that keep on giving for Troon, as Orascom has a parade of high-profile projects in its pipeline. The company is currently building a Kurt Rossknecht-designed course at Andermatt, a mountain resort in the Swiss Alps, and it eventually hopes to add a second 18 at El Gouna. (The course, part of a community called Ancient Sands, will be co-designed by Karl Litten and Jeffrey Myers.) Also in the works are Lustica, a waterfront spread along Montenegro’s Adriatic coast, Chbika in southwestern Morocco (with a course by Peter Harradine), and two golf communities in Oman, Salalah Beach (Litten and Myers) and Jebel Sifah (Harradine).

Some information in this post originally appeared in the May 2009 and November 2011issues of the World Edition of the Golf Course Report.

. . . south korea Just last month, I alerted readers of this blog to fears about “a slew of bankruptcies” that may soon rattle South Korea’s golf industry. Now, just weeks later, the Korea Times reports that up to 33 new golf courses -- 18 private, 15 public -- are expected to open in the nation this year, despite the fact that it has a shrinking base of golfers who play fewer rounds as they age. If the newspaper’s estimates are accurate, South Korea will soon have 468 courses, with 155 of them -- 30 percent -- having been added within the past five years. If you think you’re hearing some sort of rattling as you read this, it may be the precursor of a forthcoming shake-out. “We are suffering from aggravating business profits due to overcapacity,” an expert on the nation’s leisure industry told the paper. I’m not sure what that means, exactly, but it doesn’t sound good. And while I’m not looking for trouble, it behooves me to note that South Korea has roughly 150 additional courses in planning or under construction.

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READ MORE - The Week That Was, january 15, 2012

Saturday, January 14, 2012

talking points The Big Money

Mitt Romney won’t speak French in public, but I will: Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

I mention this proverb because Golf Digest has published its annual ranking of the top earners in golf, and this year’s top 10 is pretty much a mirror image of last year’s. Of course, anybody who cashed enough checks to make the list isn’t complaining.

Here’s the magazine’s top 10. The first dollar amount listed is the estimate of the player’s total earnings. The amount he earned off the course is in parentheses.

1. Tiger Woods, $64,067,059 ($62,000,000)
A sure thing if there ever was one: Woods has finished at the top of Golf Digest’s list for nine consecutive years. However, his earnings last year were down by 50 percent from the $122 million he banked in 2009.

2. Phil Mickelson, $41,991,564 ($38,000,000)
Likeability makes him an especially effective corporate spokesman, the magazine says. Also finished #2 last year.

3. Arnold Palmer, $36,000,000 ($36,000,000)
Not bad for an 82-year-old. “The only person on the list to make no money on the course,” notes Golf Digest. Also finished in third place last year.

4. Jack Nicklaus, $28,955,000 ($28,800,000)
The king of the “signature” architects. “Like Palmer,” says Golf Digest, “will always have value.” Up from #5 in 2011.

5. Greg Norman, $22,825,118 ($22,750,000)
Set the standard for professional golfers who desire to become conglomerates. “The most successful businessman ever among ex-players,” says the magazine. Down from #4 in 2011.

6. Luke Donald, $21,683,497 ($8,500,000)
Still making big bucks on the course. Topped the money list on both the PGA Tour and the European Tour. Up from #10 in 2011.

7. Ernie Els, $18,409,442 ($17,000,000)
Greg Norman lite. Is believed to have a design project in Cuba, but nobody at his firm will confirm it. Also ranked #7 in 2011.

8. Gary Player, $16,014,486 ($16,000,000)
Described as “the first of the globe-trotting golfers.” Turns 77 this year. Also ranked #8 in 2011.

9. Sergio Garcia, $15,851,441 ($12,250,000)
Finished #11 last year. Golf Digest’s challenge: “Imagine what he will be worth if he ever wins a major.”

10. Bill Haas, $15,354,785 ($1,000,000)
Wasn’t ranked in 2011. Does that make him a flash in the pan?

The next five: Rory McIlroy (up from #24), Lee Westwood (down from #9), K. J. Choi (“a marketing machine in his homeland”), Adam Scott (“his good looks sell”), and Matt Kuchar (“cashes a check every time he tees it up”).

Rounding out the top 20: Webb Simpson (total: $10,217,934), Dustin Johnson (“another guy with the endorsement world at his feet if he can win a major”), Padraig Harrington (“being a really nice guy with three major championships is a lucrative combination”), Ryo Ishikawa (“one of the biggest endorsement earners in Japan”), and Darren Clarke (“extremely charming at corporate functions”).
READ MORE - talking points The Big Money

Thursday, January 12, 2012

serbia Serbs Up!

After more than three years’ of delays, the first 18-hole golf course in Serbia is expected to break ground in the fall of 2012.

The course, to be designed by Peter Harradine, will take shape in Surcin, a western suburb of Belgrade, the nation’s capital. It’ll be the centerpiece of a 750-acre community along the Sava River that’s been planned to include houses, a hotel, a spa, a retail/commercial area, the usual recreational amenities, and possibly a heliport. A report from a Serbian business group says that the community will also include a nine-hole course.

The community’s name? Well, some sources call it Oasis Golf Club, but Harradine calls it Surcin Golf Club. It’s been described as an “exclusive club of hedonists,” but I’m sure that’s just a glitch in Google’s language translator.

The community is being developed by Belgrade-based El Golf, which is said to be a consortium of investors from Austria, Israel, and the United States. None of the group’s principals has been identified, even though a string of news accounts about the project dates back to 2008. The news trail went cold until the spring of 2011, when the group announced that it’s secured a 99-year lease on the government-owned site where the community will take shape.

Harradine, who’s based Erlen, Switzerland, has been jet-hopping into and out of many European and Middle Eastern cities of late. Last year, he opened a course at the Pravets Golf & Spa Resort near Sofia, Bulgaria, and he’s got a nine-hole course under construction at Meydan City in Dubai. In addition, he’s been commissioned to design a nine-hole course in suburban Kiev, Ukraine and to add nine holes to a course in Russia.

As best I can determine, Harradine’s course in Surcin will be the third in Serbia. The other courses are nine-hole tracks in Belgrade and Novi Sad.

Some information in this post originally appeared in the July 2011 and August 2011 issues of the World Edition of the Golf Course Report.
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Monday, January 9, 2012

The Week That Was, january 8, 2012

united states 2011: A Year To Forget

Jim Koppenhaver has reviewed the events, crunched the numbers, and published his analysis of the past year in the golf business. To be sure, it’s not a year that will have a cherished place in anyone’s memory book.

Although 2011 won’t qualify as one of the worst years in recent history, Koppenhaver writes, we as an industry just can’t seem to shake the nagging lack of growth in players, rounds, and revenue.

And he doesn’t expect to see much improvement in 2012.

True to my nature as a realist, he admits, I don’t see any significant signs of imminent recovery in the broad range of measures which we track.

Koppenhaver made these remarks in the current issue of Outside the Ropes, a newsletter published by his company, Pellucid Corporation. Here’s a little more of what he had to say about 2011:

The more time I spend in this industry, the more I continue to gravitate back to some relatively simple truths about golf and the health of our industry’s consumer base: Golf is a game and industry of discretionary money and time. If one considers that currently the United States as a whole is at a historically low level on both dimensions, it should come as no surprise that the consumer base for golf isn’t growing.

In my opinion, what’s currently most impacting the golf industry is the thinning of the middle class. If you read (and believe) the mainstream media, it’s not the upper class that’s suffering in this current cycle (I’m arbitrarily defining that, for purpose of discussion, as the $200K+ household-income crowd), it’s the middle class that’s getting squeezed, primarily on the employment front as corporations downsize and reduce middle-management, which has long been a staple of our consumer base. . . .

Given that this situation didn’t improve meaningfully in 2011, I’m not optimistic that the consumer base will show growth when the numbers are tallied in the first quarter of 2012. . . .

[Regarding the oversupply of U.S. golf properties,] the good news is that supply levels continue their retreat, albeit at a slower pace than needed by the industry to produce any meaningful relief from the dilutive effects of the period of “irrational exuberance” from 1990-2005. Our quick and inexact analysis suggests that [in 2011] we’ll see a net reduction in supply of roughly 100+ facilities. . . .

This would be a slightly higher pace than we’ve seen in 2009-10, but it’s quite possible that the National Golf Foundation’s more thorough accounting . . . will show that the supply absorption pace continues at about a net loss of 50-75 courses (or an agonizingly slow rate of less than 1 percent per annum). I continue to believe that meaningful stabilization and rounds/revenue health for the average facility will require a roughly 10 percent reduction in supply, which, unfortunately, at the current pace suggests that we still have eight to 10 years “in the woods” due to supply dilution influences. . . .

Note: I can’t link these passages to an online article, as they came to me via e-mail. If you’re interested in reading other Pellucid-produced reports, call Koppenhaver at 847/808-7651 or send him an e-mail at The company’s website is

And in Other News . . .

. . . china Still wondering when China will lift that annoying moratorium on golf construction and let the development dogs loose? Well, it wouldn’t be prudent to expect any new guidelines to be issued anytime soon. A new government will be installed in China later this month, and it may be a while before the nation’s legislators get around to formulating a development program for golf. Here’s an estimated time frame from Rick Robbins, the treasurer of the American Society of Golf Course Architects: “Since golf is not the highest priority on the country’s agenda, it could be six to eight months or longer before a new administration’s rules are in place.” No doubt, this is discouraging news for most everyone who’s been banking on commissions in the People’s Republic to carry them through hard times in their native lands. But here’s the upside: “Once the government comes out with regulations and policies,” says Lee Schmidt, the Scottsdale, Arizona-based architect who knows Asia intimately, “China can be a great market for years.”

. . . sri lanka Tourists continue to flock to Sri Lanka, and golf development in the island nation continues to gain traction. The Lanka Business Report says that Sapphire Bay Resorts Pvt. Ltd., an affiliate of a Canadian development group, hopes to build a golf resort on 400 acres of government-owned property along the island’s northwestern coast. The resort will take shape northwest of the city of Kalpitiya, on an inlet called Uchchimunai -- one of 10 inlets that the government wants to develop through public/private partnerships. If Sapphire Bay can come to terms on a lease agreement, it’ll build three hotels, a hotel school, and a golf course. The Report also notes that Sri Lanka’s tourism business is “booming,” with arrivals expected to be up by roughly 33 percent in 2011. The number of travelers visiting the island isn’t large -- 758,458 through November -- but it’s exceeded the nation’s goal for 2011, which was 750,000.

. . . cuba Cuba may still be waiting for its golf development program to kick in, but in 2011 the nation was expected to attract a record number of tourists -- an estimated 2.7 million of them. The number comes courtesy of Cuba’s ministry of tourism, which hails the result as an indication of “our strong position in the international tourism market amid the changing world situation.” Most of Cuba’s visitors typically come from Canada and Britain, but in recent years the country has been seeing increased traffic from Russia and Argentina, not to mention other nations in Latin America and Europe. Still to come, tourism officials hope, are additional vacationers and sight-seers from the United States, along with a parade of linksmen (and -women) to be lured by the construction of at least five long-simmering golf venues.

. . . nigeria Kudos to the Central Bank of Nigeria, which has decided to fund grass-roots programs intended to popularize golf among the nation’s children. The development effort will begin with a series of bank-sponsored golf clinics, but it won’t end there. “We are also talking to the relevant golf authorities about building mini golf courses and ranges across the states,” a bank official told an African news group. The goal, said a news report, is “to produce a new generation of golfers in the next seven years who will be household names on the international professional golf circuit.”

. . . wild card click As we all know, necessity is the mother of invention.
READ MORE - The Week That Was, january 8, 2012

Saturday, January 7, 2012

worth reading Golf 2012: Where Do We Stand?

Don’t look now, but the U.S. economy continues to improve. The jobs picture has brightened, auto sales are increasing, home builders’ sentiments are improving, and consumer confidence is growing.

But what about golf? Is our industry also poised to rebound, or will it remain stuck where it’s been for well over a decade, in a no-growth economic morass?

Just before Christmas, Larry Bohannan of the Desert Sun addressed the state of the golf business in Southern California’s Coachella Valley. Among his conclusions: There is an upswing in play at public and resort courses in the desert, but many private clubs continue to struggle with declining membership and plunging real estate values.

Bohannan’s article makes several noteworthy points about the U.S. golf business, at least as it operates in Southern California. Here are three of them:

When golf gets sick, the pain spreads everywhere. Golf’s struggles in recent years, from a declining number of players to bankruptcies and foreclosures on public and private courses alike, do more than hurt golfers.

The California Alliance for Golf trade association . . . released a 2008 economic report estimating the game produces $7 billion in direct revenue and $17 billion in indirect revenue, such as retail sales and taxes for the state.

A new report may be compiled in 2012, and [Tom] Addis [of the Southern California PGA] said he's sure the numbers will be down from 2008.

“It's been a huge impact on all of Southern California, from employment to payroll taxes,” Addis said of the economic downturn that has hurt golf. “That’s how important golf is to California, particularly in the Coachella Valley, where, what, 85 to 90 percent of the economy is related to golf in some way.”

“It’s not just our business. It’s everyone,” said Joe Williams, director of golf at the city-owned Indian Wells Golf Resort. “It’s hotels. It’s restaurants. Everyone has been hit. It will take some time to come back.”

Where will future growth come from? Increased rounds of golf would be a reversal of local and national trends. For 2010, the nonprofit National Golf Foundation reported a 2.3 percent drop in rounds played across the country from 2009. But the drop was 3.8 percent in the Palm Springs area, the NGF reported, and 5.4 percent down for all of California.

“Golfers are still playing, they are just paring it back,” said Neil Finch, owner of the daily-fee Indian Springs Golf Club in Indio. “They have less money to spend.” . . .

It hasn’t just been that golfers are playing fewer rounds, but that there are fewer golfers. The NGF estimates that in 2005 there were 30 million golfers in the country, a golfer being anyone at least 6 years old who plays one round of golf a year. In 2010, that number dropped to 26.1 million.

The future is now. There are signs -- some small and some larger -- that the game of golf might be rallying after four or five years of fewer golfers, less revenue, and more golf courses filing for bankruptcy and even closing.

“It seems like the courses are saying they are having a better start to the season than they have had in a few years now,” said Addis. . . .

But as positive as the signs might be at desert golf courses these days, Addis knows too many public and resort courses are still struggling with razor-thin profit margins while trying to retain golfers or attract new players.

“It can’t just be the PGA taking action. It has to be the operators, golf course owners,” Addis said. “We have to say, ‘We are in dire need. We are in survival mode.’ Otherwise, it’s not going to work.

“I do feel that everyone is going to come together to do this,” Addis added. “We have to come together, or we are not going to survive.”
READ MORE - worth reading Golf 2012: Where Do We Stand?

Thursday, January 5, 2012

estonia Scratching Where It Itches

In an effort to grow the game, the capital city of Estonia wants to build a daily-fee golf course in one of its southwestern suburbs.

I don’t know if it’ll be a nine- or an 18-hole course, and I don’t know who’s going to design it. Pretty much all I know this: It’ll be located in the suburb of Nõmme, on property known as the Pääsküla swamp, and construction could begin this year.

I also know that the city is taking some heat as a result of its proposal. The course is expected to cost about $1.6 million, and some residents would rather see the money spent on schools. Also, some animal-rights groups fear that the habitats of reptiles living on the property -– in particular, snakes, frogs, and lizards -– would be endangered.

On the other hand, Estonia is clearly lacking when it comes to public golf. Tallinn has a population of more than 413,000, and it currently has just one public course, a five-hole pitch-’n’-putt at Niitvälja/Tallinna Golfiklubi. Outside Tallinn, as best I can determine, the nation has just two public courses, in Pärnu (Andru Golf Course) and Haapsalu (Haapsalu Golf Course). Both have nine holes.

The situation is somewhat troubling, because Estonia isn’t a golf wasteland. Besides its public course, Niitvälja/Tallinna Golfiklubi has an 18-hole private course, and there are also two private courses within a short drive of the capital: Estonian Golf & Country Club in Jõelähtme (27 holes) and Suuresta Golf Club in Tallinn (18 holes). Elsewhere in the nation, there are private clubs in the cities of Otepää (Otepää Golf Club) and Pärnu (White Beach Golf Club), plus one on the island of Saaremaa (Saare Golf Course).

This may not be the best time for Tallinn to build a course, and the proposed location may not be ideal, but it just may be that Estonia has a golfing itch that needs to be scratched.
READ MORE - estonia Scratching Where It Itches

Monday, January 2, 2012

The Week That Was, january 1, 2012

talking points Gary Player, the Guarded Optimist

Gary Player is feeling confident about the prospects for golf development and construction in 2012.

“It seems to me that we have hit bottom, and things are slowly starting to improve,” the South Carolina-based architect says in a statement posted on his website.

While I generally share this point of view, allow me to cynically note that if we’ve hit bottom, there’s nowhere to go but up. That being said, an industry starved for good news -- me included -- is most certainly hoping that Player is reading the tea leaves correctly.

In particular, Player’s spirits have been lifted by evidence of economic improvement in the United States and “the apparent stabilization of the European debt crisis.” These and other factors lead him to conclude that the global golf market “could be on the rebound.”

The development hot-spots that will drive future growth, Player believes, are Asia, Russia, and Brazil. He singles out India as having “a huge potential for growth,” but, perhaps significantly, doesn’t mention China. In addition, he thinks that dormant projects in the Middle East and Africa will be revived “when the political unrest settles,” but he offers no predictions on when that might occur.

As for the United States and Western Europe, don’t hold your breath. In lieu of new construction in those regions, Player foresees only “course re-designs and improvements to existing facilities to encourage membership growth and real estate sales.”

Player’s bottom line: “I don’t expect to see meteoric growth in real estate development projects, like we did in the late 1990s and early 2000s, but I am definitely encouraged.”

Yes, I wish Player was able (or willing) to make more definitive statements. But as we all know, when you go out on a limb, you run the risk of getting chopped.

And in Other News . . .

. . . united kingdom As evidence of improving fortunes in golf, Player cites a recent survey suggesting that better times are ahead for golf clubs in the United Kingdom. The survey, conducted by a British accounting firm called A4G, determined that over the past year 46 percent of the responding clubs have grown their memberships, 48 percent have sold more rounds of golf, and 71 percent don’t have any cash-flow problems. “The results show that not only are things nowhere near as bad as many people like to think,” A4G’s managing partner concludes, “but that with some pretty simple actions, club managers and decision-makers can start to turn things around and get the kind of results they need to survive and prosper.” This sounds pretty self-serving to me, seeing as how A4G is in the business of selling solutions to struggling companies. Besides, based on these statistics, while the U.K.’s clubs may appear to be “doing better,” they aren’t necessarily doing “well.” After all, couldn’t one easily conclude that 54 percent of the responding clubs haven’t been able to grow their memberships, 52 percent haven’t been able to sell more rounds, and nearly three of every 10 are experiencing cash-flow problems? In order to judge the value of A4G’s results, I need more context. As Mark Twain once said, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.”

. . . scotland Happier days may be on the horizon for the U.K.’s existing golf clubs, but that doesn’t mean many new clubs will be built in Scotland anytime soon. The Scottish Golf Union has taken its measure of the nation’s golf business, and it’s broadcasting its verdict loud and clear: Golf construction must cease immediately. The union’s cease-and-desist order is an effort to maintain a balance between supply and demand, as Scotland’s inventory of golf properties has increased by 20 percent since the early 1990s while the number of golfers has remained flat. “Scotland does not need more courses,” reads a statement from the union. “Instead, investment in existing facilities and innovative programs is necessary to introduce new players and retain existing players.” Donald Trump may not be listening, but my guess is that other developers are. The union intends to publish a full report on the state of golf in Scotland later this year.

. . . united states In this space last week, I singled out Detroit as a market that might be on the verge of a comeback. This week, the Washington Post provided additional evidence, as it identified the Motor City as “a rare bright spot in the nation’s still-abysmal housing market.” Detroit is one of just two U.S. cities that registered housing price increases last year, says the Post, and, believe it or not, “bidding wars are breaking out over desirable homes.” Not surprisingly, the revival has been sparked by the resurgence of the auto industry, which is on track to post another banner year. “Jobs are coming back,” concludes a policy analyst at the Brookings Institution. Let’s not get giddy, however. Thousands of houses in the Detroit area have been abandoned, home prices are still 40 percent below their pre-recession highs, and the city’s government is on the verge of bankruptcy. Still, if things are looking up in Detroit, that’s saying something.

wild card click A toast to 2012!
READ MORE - The Week That Was, january 1, 2012