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.

. . . wild card click Go ahead, take a flyer.