Monday, February 13, 2012

The Week That Was, february 12, 2012

united states The Cliffs & Other Dangers

The first Tiger Woods-designed golf course in the United States is now officially on the endangered list.

Cliffs Communities, the course’s developer, has decided to file for bankruptcy protection and sell its portfolio of exclusive golf properties in North and South Carolina. The portfolio consists six operating courses, including two designed by Jack Nicklaus and two by Tom Fazio, as well as partially completed courses designed by Woods and Gary Player.

The prospective buyers, Steve and Penny Carlile of Marshall, Texas, have promised to finish the Player-designed course in Travelers Rest, South Carolina (it’s part of a community called Cliffs at Mountain Park) but have done their best to avoid talking about Woods’ course, which is to be the centerpiece of Cliffs at High Carolina in Swannanoa, North Carolina. The Carliles haven’t officially closed the book on the track’s future, but their current lack of commitment must be buzzing in Woods’ ears.

“I don’t want you to think we’re going to start the golf course immediately,” Steve Carlile told a reporter from the Asheville Citizen-Times. “We’re going to [study] ... and determine what’s the best way to develop High Carolina.”

A noteworthy factoid: The Carliles are among the precious few people -- 50, by most estimates -- who’ve purchased lots at High Carolina over the past few years. The community has been master-planned for 1,100 houses.

“This is the first step in an exciting, new future for the Cliffs as a leader among nationally recognized clubs and golf communities,” the sellers said in a letter to the communities’ members.

GSA Business reports that Steve Carlile is the son of the late Quinton Bond Carlile, a Texas oil man, banker, and patron of the arts. In addition to his inheritance, Steve is said to make his money from energy-related investments, commercial real estate, and a home decor supply company.

Steve and Penny, operating as Carlile Group, have so far agreed to buy only the Cliffs’ golf courses and other golf-related amenities. If their purchase is approved by a bankruptcy court, they say, they’ll begin buying the communities’ undeveloped real estate. Various reports say that roughly half of the 10,000 or so lots at the Cliffs communities have been sold.

These days, Steve isn’t the only Carlile looking to buy undervalued U.S. golf properties. His brother, David, the principal of Marshall-based Challenge Golf Group, has in recent years acquired nearly a dozen golf courses in Texas, North Carolina, and South Carolina. He made an especially big splash late last year, when he bought Balsam Mountain Preserve, a Cliffs-like 4,400-acre spread in Sylva, North Carolina that features an Arnold Palmer-designed golf course.

The Cliffs’ sale marks the end of a dream for Jim Anthony, a one-time telephone company lineman who did in the Carolinas what Lyle Anderson did in Arizona and New Mexico: create one of the premier multi-location golf clubs in the United States. Anyone who’s ever toured a Cliffs community knows that Anthony built them to exacting standards.

When Woods declared himself to be a course architect, everyone in our business speculated about where his first U.S. design would take shape. Very few people bet on the Cliffs. For a while, in the glow of the ceremonial groundbreaking, it seemed that High Carolina would be the ne plus ultra of Anthony’s career. Instead, it may be remembered as his coup de grace.

So today, we can again ask the inevitable question: Where will Tiger Woods’ first U.S. course be built?

united states Geoffrey Cornish, RIP

Geoffrey Cornish, one of the last surviving links to the Golden Age of golf architecture, died last week.

If you’ve never heard of him, don’t fret. Though he designed, redesigned, or renovated an estimated 250 golf courses, Cornish never became as famous as a few of his contemporaries or some of those who drew on his work for inspiration.

But that hardly matters. Even if his career as a course designer could be erased, Cornish made an enduring contribution to golf architecture, as he co-wrote (with Ron Whitten) two invaluable reference books on golf design, The Golf Course and The Architects of Golf.

What’s more, Cornish was a fount of first-hand knowledge about the golf business in the 20th century. To give you an idea of how far back he goes, consider this: He was already an industry veteran by the time Jack Nicklaus was born, in 1940.

Cornish was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba on the eve of World War I -- literally a month before the war began, in 1914. He got his start as a designer in 1935, when he went to work for Canada’s most famous architect, Stanley Thompson. I don’t know anything about the circles in which Cornish traveled, but in those days he very well might have rubbed shoulders with some true legends, people who are to most of us merely names in history books: Harry Colt, Donald Ross, C. B. Macdonald, Charles Banks, Wayne Stiles, William F. Mitchell, Devereux Emmet. They were all working when Cornish designed his first courses.

When you live to be 97, this is how far back you go.

Cornish reportedly died at his home in Amherst, Massachusetts. Some part of him will live on through his friends and associates, a group that includes Brian Silva, Mark Mungeam, and Tim Gerrish.

And in Other News . . .

. . . china Ken Chu wakes up every morning at six and, as part of his “golden rule,” goes to bed each night at 11. In between, he exercises for an hour and contemplates pearls of wisdom instilled in him by his late father. Among them: “No pain, no gain” and “You reap what you sow.” Of course, Chu also tends to the family business, which is activated by two of the biggest golf resorts on the planet, the Mission Hills spreads in Shenzhen and on Hainan Island. The latter, it appears, is the focus of Chu’s attention these days. Over the next two years, Mission Hills Group is going to sink nearly $800 million into various projects on Hainan Island, in an effort to make the place, in Chu’s words, “much more entertaining.” “I’m going to fulfill my father’s dream, and make his visions happen,” Chu explained in an interview with a Chinese news service. “That’s something that my father wanted to achieve, and I’m going to complete it.”

. . . canada Like their counterparts in the United States, Canada’s golf courses have in recent years been struggling to find golfers. Should they expect a golf rush to materialize this year? Unfortunately, the answer is no, says a principal of the nation’s largest golf consulting company. “We don’t see the golf industry as having a big decline,” notes Stephen Johnson of Global Golf Advisors, “but we don’t see it having a significant increase, either.” Such analysis may not be what the Canadians want to hear, but they should take heart: South of their border, flat is the new up.

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