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.