Monday, April 23, 2012

The Week That Was, april 22, 2012

First, the good news: The golf population in Vietnam may be growing.

A government official recently told the Vietnam Investment Review that the nation these days has as many as 8,000 players. This feels to me like a somewhat soft number, seeing as how the official didn’t cite its source. But that being said, if the number is solid, it represents a strong increase over the 5,000 golfers that the New York Times estimated were alive and swinging in Vietnam less than a decade ago.

Yes, I realize that 8,000 golfers is a minuscule number, especially in a nation of more than 91 million people. But you’ve got to start somewhere.

Which brings me to the bad news: The number appeared in a story headlined Golf Course Projects Face Growing Criticism.

The golf business in Vietnam has generated a lot of negative press over the years, and clearly, it continues to do so.

For this reason, some senior government officials have begun a media tour, in an effort to rehabilitate golf’s suspect image. Their message: Don’t blame the game. Blame the unscrupulous people who’ve approved and built golf courses on rice fields and, in the process, displaced the families who once lived on them.

“Bad programming is to blame,” one of them opined in a comment reported by Viet Nam News.

What’s happening in Vietnam is emblematic of the problems that golf faces as it begins to establish itself in nations wary of Western values. The plain truth is, a lot of people on our planet simply don’t trust golf and the affluence it typically represents. For them, golf development is just another front in a never-ending class struggle. Their argument: Golf’s economic benefits flow primarily to wealthy developers and powerful businessmen, while the poor and vulnerable are left to suffer from the game’s social and environmental consequences.

The ministers on the advocacy tour believe that golf in Vietnam will eventually be “vindicated,” and they contend that new, stricter regulations will make golf development “cleaner.”

But in Vietnam, there appear to be degrees of cleanliness. “Golf courses,” an official on tour said, “will be only allowed to develop on sandy or fallow land, barren hills, and in places that have really great potentials to develop tourism.”

That isn’t a squeaky-clean statement. It sounds as if agricultural land will be protected unless someone important believes it’s too valuable to be used for farming. If I’m interpreting the statement correctly, I don’t think the vindication tour is going to change very many hearts and minds.

And that’s too bad, because the stakes for golf development in Vietnam are relatively high. The government aims to stock the nation with 90 or more courses by the year 2020, and it can’t succeed if it has to battle with angry citizens every step of the way.

brazil What Happens to a Dream Deferred?

Is golf’s Olympic dream on the verge of turning into a nightmare?

The Associated Press reports that a land-ownership dispute “is threatening the construction of the golf course for the 2016 Summer Games” and that the city of Rio de Janeiro “might have to find a new site.”

And while I don’t wish to add to anyone’s emotional distress, the AP points out that “a final decision on who owns the golf course land could take months or several years.”

Talk about waking up in a cold sweat!

Can you imagine the embarrassment that will be suffered if it turns out that the site in Barra da Tijuca wasn’t fully secured and that the Olympic organizers will have to request a mulligan? We’re talking about one of the biggest Olympic blunders of all time.

Gil Hanse, the course’s designer, expects to break ground on the layout in Barra da Tijuca in October. He put on a brave face for the AP but acknowledged, “If they decided for whatever reason to make changes, you would have to start all over again. Our design is specifically for that site. You can’t just put it someplace else.”

Still to be determined, of course, is how serious the threat to the pending construction may be. Call me cynical, but my guess is that the company causing the hubbub, Elmway Participacoes, would drop its claim to the property in exchange for what might be termed “cash considerations.”

If I’m right, checks will be written and by this time next week all this sound and fury may very well signify nothing. But if Elmway Participacoes wants to give a few Olympic officials some sleepless nights, it’s off to an excellent start.

And in Other News . . . 

. . . united states  If your neighborhood golf course sold recently, this may be why: Since 2006, median prices of 18-hole, stand-alone U.S. golf courses have fallen by 33 percent. The median price through the first nine months of last year was $3 million, according to Marcus & Millichap, down from $4.5 million in 2006. Let me emphasize that these are median prices, and golf properties are selling for much less -- relative peanuts, really -- in cities from coast to coast. “Golf courses may never be as cheap as they are today,” one of the firm’s principals told Bloomberg. The ever-helpful news service used the opportunity to offer a comparable, cheerfully noting that $3 million “is about the threshold for a luxury apartment in Manhattan.”

. . . wild card click  How should we honor the memory of American's oldest teenager? Let's dance!