Thursday, May 17, 2012

france Grape Expectations

China’s fast-growing thirst for prestige wine has made wineries in Bordeaux some of the hottest real estate on the planet. Over the past year or so, Chinese buyers have snapped up more than a dozen wineries, most of them in a region called Entre-deux-Mers, which is known for producing fruity, easy-to-drink wines that suit the Chinese palette.

The latest to turn over is Chateau Grand Moueys, a 425-acre estate along the Garonne River in the village of Capian. The estate, which has been producing wines since before the French Revolution, had previously been owned by a German company.

Chateau Grand Moueys’ new owner, Zhang Jinshan, is the principal of Ningxiahong Zhongning Wolfberry Products Company, which has been described as “the world’s largest producer of alcohol from goji berries.”

Zhang also owns a travel agency, which will come in handy in his effort to help turn his winery into a vacation spot for Chinese tourists. “From 2013, we hope to welcome around 10,000 Chinese visitors a year,” he told at the time of the sale.

Chateau Grand Moueys currently has only about half of its property under cultivation, which means that Zhang has plenty of opportunities for development. He plans to overhaul the property’s 18th-century estate, add an upscale Chinese restaurant, and build a nine-hole golf course. And if his projected tourism numbers pan out, he’ll turn the estate’s guest rooms into a hotel with a spa.

Various reports from France say that more sales are in process. “For some chateaux that struggle to sell their wine,” a winery owner told Decanter in late 2011, “China really is a get-out-of-jail-free card.”

Some information in this post originally appeared in the March 2012 issue of the World Edition of the Golf Course Report.
READ MORE - france Grape Expectations

Monday, May 14, 2012

The Week That Was, may 13, 2012

united states Back in the Swing of Things?

Slowly but surely, the bad-news stories about our business are disappearing. While the Great Recession isn’t yet completely dead and buried, it appears that happier days are here again for the owners and operators of U.S. golf properties.

The evidence is still mostly anecdotal, and better times haven’t arrived in every U.S. market, but there’s no disputing the essential fact: Courses from coast to coast are ringing up more rounds this year. You can chalk up the increase to an unusually warm winter, to an improving economy, to pent-up demand, or to all of the above. No matter how you slice it, however, things are definitely looking up.

Here are three illustrations:

-- The Fort Myers News-Press reports that Southwest Florida’s golf operators “are hopeful that the local market has stabilized and might even be on the rebound.” The newspaper singles out San Carlos Golf Club in Fort Myers, which recorded “at least a dozen” 300-round days in the first quarter of 2012. “It’s been unbelievable this winter. The traffic has been exceptional,” says the track’s pro. “They’re playing some golf this winter.”

-- The Pittsburgh Tribune reports that “with few exceptions,” public and semi-private golf courses in Western Pennsylvania are seeing increases of “between 20 percent to 50 percent” in rounds and revenues. The newspaper singles out Hickory Heights Golf Course in Bridgeville, which is said to be “busier than it’s been in more than a decade.” One of the course’s owners says, “We are up substantially from last year. . . . It’s like night and day.”

-- The Gainesville Times reports that while “the economy may be depressed” in northeastern Georgia, the golf business “is swinging.” The newspaper singles out Royal Lakes Country Club in Flowery Branch, where rounds are up by 25 percent over 2011. “Is [our business] back to where it was in 2007?” asks the course’s director of golf. “No, it’s not quite there, but it’s certainly improved since it started derailing in 2008 or 2009.”

To be sure, the U.S. golf business isn’t out of the woods yet, and plenty of dark clouds remain on the horizon. Lots of cities still have way more courses than they need. Many courses that were built primarily to sell houses continue to struggle. Courses that have been selling rounds at deep discounts won’t be able to generate significant profits even if they can increase play. The industry isn’t creating new players. And scores of private clubs haven’t been able to replace the members they’ve lost since the economy crashed.

Still, it’s okay to look on the bright side every once in a while. We deserve it. We’ve been through a lot.

And in Other News . . .

 . . . mexico  The race to build the planet’s first Tiger Woods-designed golf course is apparently being contested in Mexico. Just weeks after Golf Vacation Insider claimed that Woods has “signed a contract” to design a course at Diamante Cabo San Lucas in Los Cabos, a press release from Punta Brava says that its Woods-designed course could open “as early as September of 2013.” Clearly, reports of Woods’ demise as a designer were premature. The question now is, Which tony community will be first to cross the finish line?

Some information in the previous post originally appeared in the November 2008 and the April 2012 issues of the World Edition of the Golf Course Report.

. . . united states How much would you pay for a 10,000-acre resort community that features six golf courses designed by Jack Nicklaus, Tom Fazio, Bob Cupp, Rees Jones, and Jim Engh? The courses, assuming you haven’t already guessed, are the featured attractions of Reynolds Landing, the financially troubled spread on Lake Oconee in Georgia. Sometime this summer, the whole place -- including a Ritz-Carlton hotel, four marinas, plans for a Pete Dye-designed golf course, and, perhaps most important, 5,000 acres of undeveloped land -- will belong to MetLife, the largest insurance company in the United States. MetLife, which reportedly has a real estate portfolio worth $50 million, hasn’t yet revealed the sales price. But if you’re wondering, 3,600 home owners passed on an opportunity to buy Reynolds Plantation for $45 million.

. . . sweden Johan Edfors, a Swedish golf pro, has purchased Hills Golf Club in suburban Gothenburg. The club’s eight-year-old course, co-designed by Arthur Hills and Steve Forrest, has its admirers (among them Bill Clinton and Alice Cooper), but it’s frustrated too many potential customers and, as a result, fell into bankruptcy late last year. A reviewer from CNBC has called it “a basket case of a course -- by turns beautiful, infuriating, impossibly difficult, and enormous fun.” The “impossibly difficult” reputation hangs like a dead weight on the 7,500-yard layout, and Edfors and his partners must change it for the course to become profitable. To that end, two holes will be redesigned, and the course will be made “more compact,” according to Golf Course Architecture. “Hills has been too hard for the average golfer,” says Edfors. “We will change that without making it too easy for Tour players.”

. . . wild card click Where there’s a Will, there’s a way.
READ MORE - The Week That Was, may 13, 2012

Saturday, May 12, 2012

talking points Lee Trevino, Design Critic

“The Merry Mex” isn’t very happy about the current state of golf design.

Lee Trevino thinks today’s golf courses are too long, too hard, and too expensive to maintain. He thinks designers and developers have regrettably strayed from traditional values, and now an entire industry is paying the price.

To be sure, Trevino isn’t breaking any new ground here. Still, it’s nice to hear a winner of six majors and a member of the World Golf Hall of Fame stand up for the average golfer.

Here’s some of what Trevino had to say about golf design in a recent interview with the Golf Channel: 

I think [the game] is in trouble. I know that it’s very exciting on [the PGA] Tour, but it’s not exciting for a lot of people to have to play these courses that they’re building for the Tour players. They build these hard golf courses, and now they’re talking about playing the forward tees. They should have never built those back tees in the first place. Why do you want a golf course that's 7,400 yards long? . . .

Guys feel like they’re going to the ladies tees when you push them up forward. They don’t like that. Golfers want to be macho. . . .

We build hundreds and hundreds of golf courses in this country that most people can’t play. They take too long to play because they’re too difficult. And also, it costs too much for maintenance. And that, in return, sends the dues (and green fees) up, and people are dropping out. We’re in a lot of trouble right now.

These new modern courses they’ve built in the last 30 years are all carry. There are a lot of people who can’t get [the ball] in the air, or they get it in the air and it’s low, and they don’t have a chance to run the ball to the green. They’ve got to carry bunkers and false fronts. We’ve really gone the wrong way. . . .

If people wanted some re-dos, I’d go back to traditional. If you hire me to re-do your golf course and you’ve got bunkers in front of your greens, I’m going to take them out. . . . All these forced carries are stupid. . . .

People don’t understand: At a public course, time is money. . . .
READ MORE - talking points Lee Trevino, Design Critic

Thursday, May 10, 2012

china A Moratorium To Dye For

A question regarding China’s moratorium on golf construction: Exactly how meaningless is it?

I ask because Dye Designs Group recently secured permission to start building not just one but two golf courses in the People’s Republic. “Two of our China projects have been green-lighted to break ground as soon as possible,” reports O’Brien McGarey, one of the firm’s principals, in an e-mail.

For the record, China’s moratorium is still in force. But developers are obviously finding ways to circumvent it.

As a result, McGarey’s firm is moving ahead with Guilin Sports, Tourism & Leisure Center in Guilin (in the GuangXi Zhuang Autonomous Region) and Minqi International Golf Club in Ruili, an outpost in western Yunnan Province. The courses will be designed by McGarey’s wife, Cynthia Dye-McGarey, who maintains offices in Englewood, Colorado and Shenzhen, China.

In Guilin, the couple is working for Guilin XinChang Investment Group, which owns a spread near the Karst Mountains that will eventually include 100 villas, a hotel with a conference center, and a hot-spring day spa. The site may not be ideal for golf, but it sure does catch the eye, as it features both karst landforms and natural springs.

“Of all the properties that I have walked in my lifetime,” Dye-McGarey said in a press release, “this is the most surreal setting.”

Construction on Dye-McGarey’s 18-hole, championship-caliber golf course is supposed to begin in July.

The course in Ruili will likely be more of a challenge. Ruili is located along China’s border with Myanmar (formerly Burma), and, like many of the world’s border cities, it’s a hot-bed of criminal activity. Last year, an architect employed by Joe Obringer, an Atlanta, Georgia-based designer, was kidnapped in the area while working on a golf project. His captors held him for four days, until they got the ransom they demanded.

Minqi International, which is being developed by Minqi Estate Company, Ltd., will consist of tourist-friendly attractions including housing, a resort-style hotel, and an 18-hole golf course. With luck, McGarey believes, the developers could break ground on the course before construction commences in Guilin.

These two courses are among nearly a dozen that Dye Designs has in various states of design and construction in the People’s Republic. The group includes Sky Oasis Golf Club in Yunnan Province, Xing Ning Golf Club in Xing Ning in Guandong Province, and two courses in the vicinity of Kunming City: Lin Da Fu Golden Beach Resort and Kunming Caiyunwan Lake.

For the better part of the past year, the moratorium has put most of the firm’s dozen or so Chinese projects on ice. But if every one of them got approved tomorrow, I honestly wouldn’t be surprised.

Some information in this post originally appeared in the October 2011 and March 2012 issues of the World Edition of the Golf Course Report.
READ MORE - china A Moratorium To Dye For

Monday, May 7, 2012

The Week That Was, may 6, 2012

scotland The Verdict on Trump’s “Irish-style” Links

Trump International Golf Links Scotland opens in just two months, and one of golf architecture’s foremost opinion-makers has concluded that it’s “one of the most polarizing courses in all of golf.”

Donald Trump may wince when he reads that phrase. For years, he’s predicted that his much-discussed track in Aberdeenshire would be “the world’s greatest golf course.” Its unveiling was supposed to be a personal triumph, one that cements his golf bona fides.

But that’s not how Darius Oliver sees it. Oliver, the architecture editor of Australian Golf Digest, likes the site -- heck, he gushes over it -- but not the “Irish-style links” that’s been laid upon it.

“While there is obvious quality here and literally dozens of gorgeous vantage points across Trump Scotland,” Oliver reckons, “the big issue purists will have with this layout is the lack of truly outstanding design and the number of awkward architectural features.”

It’s hard to imagine a verdict that would sting an architect worse. What Oliver is saying is that Trump has been let down by the hired help.

In this case, the help is Martin Hawtree, the course’s British designer. The way Oliver sees it, Hawtree hasn’t done the property justice. Oliver manages to muster some faint praise for Hawtree’s layout -- “on a superficial level, at least, he succeeded” -- but he suggests that “pushing some of the golf out onto the flatter surrounding land might have yielded a more playable course.”

Of course, Trump might have rejected such a suggestion. So if Hawtree gets a pass, it’s found in this sentence: Given the client and his early proclamations about this being the world’s best golf course, it might have been difficult for the designer to sacrifice scenery for the sake of routing balance.

Clearly, Oliver was underwhelmed by Trump’s course. But Trump has always had trouble with people who believe that beauty should be more than skin deep.

And in Other News . . .

. . . ireland  Is Mike Keiser looking to invest in a golf resort in Northern Ireland? This summer, the Chicago-based developer recently told Golf Digest, he’s going to size up a pair of potential sites in places where golf began. One of them is on the Inch Peninsula in southwestern Ireland, and the other is “Bushmills Dunes in the north.” I presume Keiser is referring to Bushmills Dunes Golf Resort & Spa in County Antrim, where a New York City-based developer, Alistair Hanna, recently secured permission to build a David McLay Kidd-designed golf course. This is the course about which Kidd famously said to Hanna, “If I can’t get your course into the top 50 of the world, you should shoot me.” If I’m right -- and I’m willing to bet that I am -- this will be the second time that Keiser and Kidd have worked together. Kidd, you’ll remember, designed the first course at Bandon Dunes, the one that put Keiser’s property in remote Oregon on the proverbial map.

Some information in this post originally appeared in the October 2011, November 2011, and December 2011 issues of the World Edition of the Golf Course Report.

. . . england  Regarding those Asian and Malaysian investors who were ready to pounce on the famed Belfry resort in suburban Birmingham: Much ado about nothing. It turns out that a U.S. company, KSL Capital Partners, is “close” to buying the 550-acre property, which features a luxurious hotel, three Dave Thomas-designed golf courses (two of them in collaboration with Peter Alliss), and a spectacular heritage, as it’s hosted the Ryder Cup matches four times. This is a distress sale, as the Belfry is controlled by the banks and insurance companies to which Sean Quinn’s investor group was beholden. The Belfry will unquestionably be a sweet addition to KSL’s portfolio, which includes ClubCorp and some highly regarded U.S. golf properties, including the Homestead in Hot Springs, Virginia and La Costa Resort & Spa in Carlsbad, California. And it comes at bargain price: According to the Sunday Independent, KSL will likely pay “less than half” of the $38 million (or so) that the now-bankrupt billionaire once known as “the Mighty Quinn” shelled out in 2005.

. . . talking points  Sad but true: A new driver may impress your friends, but it isn’t likely to improve your game. If you need proof, consider that U.S. golfers spend ungodly amounts of money on golf equipment every year -- nearly $4 billion in 2011 -- and they haven’t lowered their scores a bit. “Despite all of the mind-bending technology that has revolutionized golf in the past decade, golfers aren’t getting any better,” writes the Newark Star-Ledger. “The average golf score still remains at around 100, according to the National Golf Foundation, and that number hasn’t changed since your grandpa was knocking balls around with hickory sticks.” Here’s another noteworthy but distressing stat from the article: The number of rounds played in the United States has fallen from 518 million in 2000 to 475 million in 2010. Do all these facts add up to a story? You tell me.

. . . wild card click  Shall we cut to the chase?
READ MORE - The Week That Was, may 6, 2012

Saturday, May 5, 2012

india Unhappy Days Are Here Again

More and more people in India now have money in their pockets, but it isn’t making them happy.

Despite a solid economy, a Gallup poll has determined that Indians have become “much more unhappy about their lives” over the past four years. As a result, they don’t smile and laugh as much as they used to. They feel less financially secure. They get more stressed-out. They’ve lost their optimism about the future. Nearly one-third of them -- 240 million people -- now consider themselves to be “suffering.”

This personal unhappiness has wider ramifications. “The sense that the 21st century belonged to India has begun to evaporate,” says a story in the Washington Post, “replaced by a deepening sense of malaise.”

Reading the Post’s story, I began to worry that a declining happiness quotient could put the squeeze on India’s prospects for golf development. In recent years people have been predicting that India, thanks to its ever more affluent middle class, would be the golf industry’s next big thing. But people who believe that they’ve reached a personal, social, or economic plateau don’t continue to aspire to the good life. They may no longer dream of joining a golf club or moving into a golf community. And when that happens, your golf development dreams disappear.

There are other possible ramifications, too, worse ones. The Post’s story raises the possibility that personal unhappiness might lead to social unrest -- “the sort of upheavals,” the newspaper writes, “that roiled Tunisia and Egypt last year.”

If you think such a suggestion is far-fetched, remember this: One-third of world’s poorest people live in India. Like you and me, they’ve seen pictures of rich Indian businessmen playing golf, eating in expensive restaurants, and driving Mercedes. Don’t you think it’s likely that, at one time or another, the idea of a revolution has crossed their minds?

Here’s a distilled version of the Post’s story:

Indians have become much more unhappy about their lives in the past four years, despite one of the world’s fastest rates of economic growth, a survey by the Gallup polling organization showed Monday.

The deterioration appears to have been driven partly by the expectation, created by politicians and the media, that India’s boom would dramatically improve its citizens’ standard of living. When many Indians realized that the boom was not significantly benefiting them, their sense of well-being and optimism about the future seemed to collapse.

“It is very dangerous to create expectations and not meet them,” said Rajesh Srinivasan, Gallup’s regional research director for Asia and the Middle East.

The number of Indians who rated their lives poorly enough to be considered “suffering” rose this year to 31 percent, equivalent to 240 million people, a dramatic rise from just 7 percent in 2008. . . .

Gallup classifies respondents as “thriving,” “struggling,” or “suffering,” according to how they rate their current and future lives. While 74 percent of Danes said they were “thriving,” the highest percentage anywhere in the world, just 13 percent of Indians said the same thing.

The global average is 24 percent.

India’s self-image has taken a battering in the past few years. Corruption scandals dominate the headlines on a daily basis, the government seems paralyzed and unable to take even simple steps to reform the economy, and growth has been slowing.

The sense that the 21st century belonged to India has begun to evaporate, replaced by a deepening sense of malaise. Business confidence and investment have also declined. 

Massive government welfare and rural employment programs have helped drive down poverty levels, the Gallup survey found. The share of people saying they did not have enough money for food dropped to 13 percent in 2012 from 35 percent in 2006.

But high levels of inflation have helped depress Indians’ sense of financial well-being. Stress levels have risen, and the number of people who can count on social support and help has fallen.

The percentage of those saying they had smiled or laughed the previous day fell to 52 percent in 2012 from 62 percent in 2006. . . .

The findings also raise the possibility of the sort of social unrest that struck Los Angeles 20 years ago, after police officers were filmed beating Rodney King, or the sort of upheavals that roiled Tunisia and Egypt last year, said Jim Clifton, Gallup’s chairman and chief executive.

“All you need is a matchstick event,” he said. . . .
READ MORE - india Unhappy Days Are Here Again

Thursday, May 3, 2012

wales A Makeover for Brynhill

In an attempt to shore up its balance sheet, one of the oldest golf clubs in Wales has decided to give itself a dramatic makeover.

Brynhill Golf Club, a fixture in Barry since 1921, plans to sell part of its property to a residential developer intent on building 180 houses. With the proceeds from the sale, the club will redesign its 18-hole golf course and build a modern, multi-purpose clubhouse.

Brynhill’s officials hope the revitalization will attract new, sorely needed members. “As with many traditional members’ clubs across the U.K., Brynhill is experiencing significant financial difficulties,” noted the club’s captain, Stephen Jones, in a statement posted on the club’s website.

The club’s 6,516-yard golf course, which was redesigned by Dave Thomas in the late 1990s, needs what Jones has described as “vital improvements.” A master plan created by Surrey, England-based Weller McEvoy calls for the construction of three new holes and substantial upgrades to all the rest.

Weller McEvoy is a partnership between Bruce Weller and Peter McEvoy. Weller apprenticed with Bernhard Langer’s design firm and has been involved in numerous golf projects all over the United Kingdom. In 2005 he entered into an occasional partnership with McEvoy, one of Great Britain’s most celebrated amateur golfers. Together, the duo has worked on golf projects in the United Kingdom, Thailand, South Africa, France, and Italy.

As an architect, McEvoy is probably best-known as a co-designer (with Christy O’Connor) of the 18-hole track at Fota Island Golf Course in Cork City, Ireland. The course hosted the Irish Open in 2001 and 2002, after some of its holes were redesigned by Jeff Howes. These days McEvoy spends much of his time helping to develop junior golfers, primarily as a promoter for PowerPlay Golf.

If the area’s residents react favorably to Brynhill’s proposal, the club and Flintshire-based Redrow Homes will submit a development application to local officials later this year.

Some information in this post originally appeared in the February 2012 issue of the World Edition of the Golf Course Report.
READ MORE - wales A Makeover for Brynhill