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Sunday, August 21, 2016

The Week That Was, august 21, 2016

     Mike Keiser’s simmering golf venture on Chicago’s waterfront may get a boost from the First Golfer. Barack Obama’s planned presidential library will be built in Jackson Park, not far from the two money-losing municipal courses that Keiser and Mark Rolfing, an analyst for the Golf Channel, wish to transform into a world-class venue that can accommodate elite professional tournaments. “The library,” Rolfing told the Chicago Tribune, “is going to be a big motivating force in the re-branding and vision of this community.” Elected officials in the Windy City haven’t yet publicly endorsed Keiser’s proposal, but if he and his partners can secure financing and negotiate their way through the city’s political bureaucracy -- matters where the president would certainly be helpful -- their golf course could open in 2021, the same year that the library is scheduled to open.

     Speaking of Mike Keiser, his golf venture in the Scottish Highlands is taking a public-relations beating. The Sunday Herald reports that “a major row is brewing” over the Chicago-based developer’s plans to build Coul Links, and that the venture “is facing angry and concerted opposition.” It’s bad enough that the Herald, drawing upon the views of environmentalists and so-called experts, contends that the property’s Coore & Crenshaw-designed course “will trash a highly protected network of sand dunes treasured for birds, insects, and plants.” What’s worse is that the newspaper is explicitly comparing Keiser to Donald “the Candidate” Trump, who’s persona non grata in Scotland these days, and allowing critics to say that Keiser will do in Dornoch what Trump has done in Aberdeenshire. “Like Trump,” one of them declares, “Keiser has a track record of getting his own way, whatever it takes, and like Trump, he seems to think protected-area laws can be torn up for his own private financial gain.” Another objector believes that Dornoch is witnessing “the Trump golf fiasco all over again.” Public hearings on Keiser’s proposal are to will be held sometime this month. They may not be pretty.

     Bob Cupp, a golf architect for more than 40 years, died last week. He was 76, and a member of the generation of designers who defined high-quality golf architecture in the late 20th and early 21st centuries.
     Like so many others who’ve made important contributions to the art of golf architecture, Cupp was well-known in the business but not so much outside it. I’m sure that many of you reading these words right now have perhaps never heard his name, which is a shame because Cupp’s work -- new courses as well as redesigns and renovations -- can be found in at least 30 U.S. states and four foreign countries. He served a term as the president of the American Society of Golf Course Architects, and he was, in 1992, Golf World’s architect of the year.
     Cupp got his start in the design business as an apprentice for Jack Nicklaus, whom he deeply respected and admired, and went on to collaborate with many “signature” architects, among them Tom Kite, Fred Couples, Sam Snead, Greg Norman, Hubert Green, and Jerry Pate. By my count, he had a hand in at least 70 original works, among them Shoal Creek Golf Club, Liberty National Golf Club, Desert Highlands Golf Club, Old Waverly Golf Club, Legends Club of Tennessee, and Glen Abbey Golf Club. In his final days, he produced a master plan for the forthcoming redesign of Bobby Jones Golf Course in Atlanta.
     What’s more, Cupp had interests beyond golf. He sang and played the guitar, wrote a novel, built furniture, illustrated a book on baseball for Ted Williams, and painted murals that reportedly hang in the state capitol building in Alaska. Greg Martin, the current president of the ASGCA, has called him “a renaissance man.” He also co-wrote Golf’s Grand Design, the companion book to the PBS series on golf architecture.
     Golf architecture will miss Cupp, and so will I. He always picked up the phone when I called and graciously participated in projects that I was working on, no matter how lame. He usually did more than he was asked to do, and he always finished his assignments, much to my relief, a day or two early.
     More importantly, though, Cupp helped to educate me about golf architecture. He was an excellent teacher. And for all his help, I’ll be forever grateful.

     Greg “the Living Brand” Norman is looking to create an income stream in Japan. The West Palm Beach, Florida-based “signature” architect and serial entrepreneur has laid plans to redesign a parade of lackluster, under-performing Japanese golf courses, in the belief that his architectural refreshment will boost their bottom lines. According to Nikkei Asian Review, Norman is targeting “all the courses built in Japan during the 1980s but never modernized,” properties that he views as “dormant assets that can increase in value through redesigns.” He apparently believes he can secure six to eight commissions annually until the river runs dry. The redesigned properties will, naturally, serve to build Norman’s profile in Japan, where new golf development has been at a virtual standstill for years. Norman hasn’t commented on his Japanese venture, but he clearly has a soft spot for Japan. He sells his own brand of “signature” wagyu beef and tweets about his love for sushi, and he’s working with a Japanese home builder on a pair of golf projects in New South Wales, Australia. So far, though, Japan hasn’t shown much love in return. The nation is currently home to just one Norman-designed course, an 18-hole track at Shirasagi Golf Club in suburban Osaka. The course is 20 years old, an age that suggests it may also be in need of an upgrade.

     The original version of the preceding post first appeared in the June 2016 issue of the World Edition of the Golf Course Report.

     History, Napoleon Bonaparte once said, is “the version of past events that people have decided to agree upon.” If that’s the case, Donald “the Candidate” Trump may soon be written out of golf’s history. This week, the PGA Tour officially announced the location of next year’s World Golf Championship: Club de Golf Chapultapec, in suburban Mexico City. In a press release, the tour spells out pretty much everything anyone would want to know about the event -- the dates when it’ll be played, some background information about Chapultapec, the relevant details about the course, even a few notes about previous high-profile tournaments that the club has hosted. The announcement neglects to answer one question, however: Where was last year’s WGC played? The answer to the question is, of course, Trump National Doral. In fact, the tour’s statement doesn’t mention Doral even once, which is curious because the resort had hosted the WGC and its forebears for more than 50 years. If you think I’m reading too much into what is probably just an oversight, consider this: The PGA Tour is extraordinarily sensitive to the needs of its stakeholders, and a lot of well-paid executives sign off on the organization’s press releases before they’re issued. Make no mistake: The PGA Tour always shapes a story the way it sees fit, and these days its version of history doesn’t include Trump.

Friday, August 19, 2016

The Pipeline, august 19, 2016

     Baja California Sur, Mexico. A U.S. development group has set out to build yet another “signature” layout in one of Mexico’s most popular vacation destinations. San Diego, California-based Ohana Real Estate Investors LLC has commissioned Fred Couples to create the golf course for Maravilla Los Cabos, a private community that’s expected to emerge on property located roughly midway between Cabo San Lucas and San Jose del Cabo. The 18-hole track, to be known as Twin Dolphin Golf Course, will feature native landscaping and other water-preserving measures, and it’ll be Couples’ first in Mexico. “Our aim is to build a world-class course that is unparalleled in Cabo with regard to conservation,” Ohana’s vice president of development, Alex Hill, said in a press release. So far, Couples has put his “signature” on close to 20 U.S. courses, most often in collaboration with Gene Bates. At Twin Dolphin, however, he’s working with Todd Eckenrode, an Irvine, California-based architect who has an appreciation for “classic” golf designs and, he’s said, an “unwavering desire to be part of something great.” Ohana hopes to unveil the course in 2018.

     Cartagena, Colombia. Would “the first ecological golf and beach community in Colombia” be complete without a “signature” golf course capable of hosting events on the PGA Tour? Urban Group Colombia doesn’t think so. The Bogota-based company has hired Greg Norman to create the centerpiece for Mar de Indias, which is emerging on a 685-acre waterfront tract roughly 20 miles north of Cartagena. The 18-hole layout will be Norman’s first in Colombia, and it’ll be flanked by up to 2,000 single-family houses, Norman-branded villas, and condos as well as hotels, a town center, meeting space, a spa, and a beach club. “I’ve actually fallen in love with the country,” Norman told Links magazine. “I love the people, I love the culture.” To prove his love, and to ensure that he gets a return on his investment, Norman is also “developing the design aesthetic for the entire project” and providing “marketing and branding support.” The golf course, which was originally supposed to be designed by Ron Garl, is under construction.

     The original version of the preceding post first appeared in the May 2016 issue of the World Edition of the Golf Course Report.

     Roscommon, Michigan. Two 18-hole layouts may not suffice at Forest Dunes Golf Club, even if one of them is Tom Doak’s recently opened “reversible” track. Lew Thompson is thinking about adding some kind of “short” course to his 1,300-acre property, and Doak, Mike DeVries, and Rick Smith -- all of them architects who live, either full or part time, in Michigan -- are being considered for the commission. “I want it to be someone local,” Thompson told Golf Advisor. “Saves you lots of money.” Thompson hasn’t announced a start date for the project.

     East Lothian, Scotland. Is there any upside in Muirfield’s decision to remain a men-only club? Oddly enough, there might be. By denying admission to women, the 272-year-old venue in East Lothian, Scotland has lost the right to host the much-cherished Open Championship, a blow to its finances (not to mention its image) if there ever was one. But in the wake of Muirfield’s narrow vote to preserve the status quo, the club is once again talking about building a second golf course, this one a “lady-friendly” layout that would, in the words of a letter written to members, “offer high-quality golf in a marvelous location and be outstanding in its own right.” No details have been announced and no construction schedule has been set, but the new course would be accompanied by a new clubhouse whose design “would no doubt benefit from female input.” Muirfield’s attempt to open its doors to women fell short by only 16 votes, so it’s easy to envision a future scenario in which the club decides that the Open is worth more to its legacy than its exclusionary traditions.

     The original version of the preceding post first appeared in the June 2016 issue of the World Edition of the Golf Course Report.

     Rome, Wisconsin. A year before it opens, a prominent golf writer in the Midwest is already gushing about Mike Keiser’s Sand Valley resort in central Wisconsin. “I can’t say enough good things about this place,” writes Gary D’Amato of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. Maybe so, but D’Amato nonetheless had plenty of good things to say. He describes the resort’s forthcoming Coore & Crenshaw-designed course as “no-frills golf in an unbelievably beautiful, natural setting” -- similar to the courses that the partners have designed for Keiser in Oregon, Tasmania, and Nova Scotia -- and predicts that it’ll soon be regarded as “one of the best public access courses in America.” He contends that Sand Valley “promises to be as good as anything [Keiser has] done” and believes that it’ll be not only “an international destination” but “a blissful escape from the real world.” Sand Valley’s second course, a David McLay Kidd-designed layout, is also under construction, and Keiser could eventually add as many as three additional courses on his 1,700-acre property. Even at this early stage, however, it doesn’t appear that he has a dire need for a publicist.

     Hà Nội, Vietnam. By late 2017 or early 2018, one of Vietnam’s premier golf developers expects to open its second Nicklaus-branded golf course in greater Hà Nội. BRG Group has broken ground on a Jack Nicklaus II-designed track at Kings Island Golf Resort, a 36-hole complex roughly an hour’s drive outside the capital city. The 18-hole course will complement Kings Island’s existing layouts, which were designed by Robert McFarland (the Lakeside track) and Phil Ryan (the Mountain track). In recent years, BRG and Jack Nicklaus’ design group have established close and mutually beneficial ties. Their relationship began when BRG hired Nicklaus II, the golf legend’s son, to refresh Tam Dao Golf Club, a nondescript venue in the Soc Son District of Hà Nội that now operates as Legend Hill Golf Resort. BRG also recently unveiled a Nicklaus II-designed Nicklaus Academy in Hà Nội, and it plans to build similar facilities in Hải Phòng, Đà Nẵng, and Hồ Chí Minh City. Nguyen Thi Nga, BRG’s chairwoman, thinks the alliance with Nicklaus Design will help her company achieve one of its major golf-related goals, which is to make Vietnam “a major force in international golf.” Incidentally, Golfasian believes that Kings Island is “arguably the most scenic course in North Vietnam.”  

     The original version of the preceding post first appeared in the June 2016 issue of the World Edition of the Golf Course Report.

     County Kerry, Ireland. Robert Trent Jones, Jr. is at work on his first golf project in Ireland. The Palo Alto, California-based architect is overseeing what’s said to be “a total redesign” of the 10-year-old course at Skellig Bay Golf Club, outside Waterville in County Kerry. Skellig Bay, which is currently closed, has been called “the kind of course no one builds anymore.” It was developed by Micheál “Haulie” O’Shea and designed by another U.S. architect, Ron Kirby, a duo who’d worked together previously on the creation of Old Head of Kinsale, in County Cork. At Skellig Bay, according to Travel + Leisure, they fashioned “a rugged and staggeringly beautiful golf course” with “awe-inspiring ocean views.” The course has some issues, however, for it was built on a site that doesn’t drain well. Ted Dwyer Family Business reports that the 18-hole track is expected to re-open in the spring of next year. When it does, it’ll be known as Hog’s Head Golf Course.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Desolation Row, august 12, 2016

     Antioch, California. The rising price of water has forced Jack Roddy to draw the curtain on Roddy Ranch Golf Course. “This isn’t a matter of a lack of golfers,” a spokesperson for the course’s management company told the San Jose Mercury News. “If anything, the number of rounds has been going up.” In fact, Roddy Ranch’s 18-hole track has reportedly attracted roughly 40,000 rounds annually in recent years. But the 16-year-old, J. Michael Poellot-designed layout can’t survive without water, and Roddy believes it’ll soon cost as much as $600,000 a year to quench its thirst. He hasn’t yet decided what to do with his 235-acre property.

     Bloomingdale, Illinois. The end of the current golf season will be the end of the line for the 27-hole Blackhawk Trace Golf Club at the Indian Lakes Resort. The resort’s owners say that the complex, designed by Robert Bruce Harris in the mid 1960s, has lost $5 million since 2011 and must close to ensure the survival of the property’s hotel. “The Indian Lakes Resort had a great run, but a suburban Chicago hotel and golf resort isn’t relevant to the local business community or today’s traveler,” a spokesperson for the resort told the Daily Herald. The Hilton chain has operated the resort’s hotel since 2007, but its contract expires next year.

     Lake Worth, Florida. A home builder has agreed to buy one of the three 18-hole golf courses at Fountains Country Club, an aged venue that’s looking to become, in the words of its president, “a premier country club in South Florida.” Fountains, part of an 865-acre community that’s struggling due to declining membership, will reportedly receive $17 million for its original course, the 44-year-old North course. The track, like the others at the club, was co-designed by Bruce Devlin and Robert Von Hagge. According to the Palm Beach Post, the sale will enable the club to “bring in amenities that homeowners now want,” notably a new swimming pool, and reduce its debt. The transaction is expected to close next year.  

     Massillon, Ohio. Two years short of its 50th anniversary, Rolling Green Golf Course now belongs to a home builder. The seller, Jack Blakney, had owned the 18-hole track since 1996. The new owner expects the bulldozers to arrive sometime this fall.

     Attleboro, Massachusetts. The nine-hole course at Locust Valley Country Club has gone belly up. Various sources say that the club opened in the 1920s or 1930s (perhaps as late as 1939), and the Attleboro Sun Chronicle describes it as “the place golfers who did not belong to a country club could go to play a round of golf at a reasonable price.” As we all know, such venues are at the top of the golf industry’s endangered list. The newspaper reports that Locust Valley had been “losing money for years.” David Bourque, who’s owned the property since 1996, is looking to sell it, most likely to a home builder.

      Mount Carroll, Illinois. The nine-hole golf course at Oakville Country Club didn’t open this season, and chances are that it’s closed for good. Earlier this year, Nancy Woodside divided the Oakville property, a golf course since the mid 1960s, into 46- and 13-acre parcels and sold them. The larger tract (seven holes plus the clubhouse) went to John and Betty Tautz, reportedly for $315,000, and the smaller one went to Jeff and Patty Lessman, for an undisclosed price. Both of the new owners told the Daily Gazette that they’d like someone to revive the golf course, but Jeff Lessman acknowledged that “there doesn’t appear to be anyone who is interested.” Woodside and her late husband had owned Oakville since 1986.

     Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. The clock is ticking on Brookside Golf Course, a nine-hole track that’s been in business since the mid 1950s. The Archdiocese of Oklahoma City bought the course in early 2015, reportedly for $2.1 million, and it plans to eventually build a church on the 53-acre property. The seller, a group that operates as Brookside Golf Club, currently leases the property from the archdiocese. According to the Oklahoman, the club will remain in place for two more years.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

The Week That Was, august 7, 2016

     Pacific Links International has sold yet another golf property, this one to a South Korean company that appears eager to become a major player in Hawaii’s golf business.
     PLI, a Chinese/Canadian company that operates an international network of limited-access membership golf clubs, has agreed to sell Royal Hawaiian Golf Club, on the island of O’ahu, to L.A. Koreana, a California-based affiliate of Seoul-based Koreana Hotels & Resorts. Royal Hawaiian features an 18-hole course -- it’s said to be among the toughest tracks in the state -- that was co-designed by Perry and Pete Dye and opened (as Luana Hills Golf & Country Club) in 1993.
     Presuming the transaction closes, Pacific Business News reports that L.A. Koreana will own four golf properties on O’ahu, the others being Hawaii Kai Golf Course, Mililani Golf Club, and Ewa Beach Golf Club. And as fast as it’s been buying golf properties on the island, PLI has been selling them. Royal Hawaiian will be the third property on O’ahu that PLI has parted with since March 2015 (it previously disposed of Kapolei Golf Club and Olomana Golf Links), leaving it with just two (Makaha Golf Club and Makaha Valley Country Club) that will someday become one.
     It’s also worth noting that PLI isn’t just selling golf properties in Hawaii. In recent months it’s also unloaded DragonRidge Country Club, outside Las Vegas, and Pete Dye Golf Club in Bridgeport, West Virginia, and it’s looking to rid itself of other golf holdings. The company is engaged in what amounts to a fire sale.
     PLI hasn’t revealed the price it accepted for Royal Hawaiian, but late last year L.A. Koreana reportedly paid $20.5 million for Hawaii Kai, a 36-hole facility outside Honolulu.

     By now, you’ve no doubt heard that Nike has decided to stop selling golf clubs, golf balls, and related equipment. Sales were bad, and profits were presumably worse. Or, to put it another way, the marketplace spoke and Nike listened.
     Good for Nike. The company’s top executives made the right decision.
     For those of us in the golf industry, however, there’s a worry: Is Nike’s decision yet another example of lingering troubles that we may never shake?
     Not hardly. Nike’s decision ultimately says far more about them than it does about us. Here’s the bottom line: A marginal player has stopped selling golf equipment. No big deal. The history of the golf business is littered with equipment manufacturers that came and went.
     So don’t lose any sleep over Nike’s decision. In fact, we should all revel in it, because, as corporations go, Nike really isn’t much more than an empty shell. It’s a marketing colossus, most certainly, a triumph of branding, but there’s no genius in its products. Nike is to sports what Ralph Lauren was to fashion: Much ado about nothing. Only the gullible believe that a Nike T-shirt is superior to any other manufacturer’s T-shirt, or that Nike has truly developed advanced technologies that can help us run faster.
     When it began selling golf equipment, Nike confronted a harsh reality: Impressionable consumers can wear Nike shoes and Be Like Mike, but they can’t swing a Nike club and Be Like Tiger. The company’s failure in golf should remind us that hype can only take you so far. If Nike’s clubs really helped golfers hit their balls farther or straighter, the word would have gotten around.
     A year from now, hardly anyone will remember than Nike used to sell golf clubs. Sadly, though, legions of consumers will still be buying Nike golf shirts and shoes. You know what they say: If they’re good enough for Tiger Woods . . .

Friday, August 5, 2016

Transactions, august 5, 2016

     Washoe Valley, Nevada. Just months after he let go of his first Reno-area golf course, Stan Jaksick has found a replacement. Jaksick, who turned over Montrêux Golf & Country Club to its members earlier this year, has acquired Thunder Canyon Golf Club, a 22-year-old property that he’s described as “a great facility with the potential to be a premier golf course.” The seller was Gayle Block, who purchased Thunder Canyon with her late husband in 1999. The club, which features an 18-hole, Robert Muir Graves-designed course, opened in 1994 as Golf Club at Lightning W Ranch. It reportedly rang up roughly 14,000 rounds last year, when it operated as a private club. Jaksick has given the property a new name, Toiyabe Golf Club, and opened it for daily-fee play, a move he believes will attract about 10,000 additional annual rounds.

     Prospect, Kentucky. All the leaves are certainly not brown, but that didn’t stop California Dreamin’ LLC from contracting to buy GlenOaks Country Club, in suburban Louisville. The LLC had expected to close on the transaction last month. The Louisville Courier-Journal reports that the seller, an affiliate of Pacific Life Insurance Company, assumed control of the 23-year-old club when its former owner “ran into financial problems.” GlenOaks features an 18-hole, Tim Liddy-designed golf course, and it claims to “work very hard to maintain a friendly, family oriented, relaxed atmosphere at all times.” California Dreamin’ is led by Jamie Miller, a Florida-based professional golfer who’s reportedly developed and managed golf properties “from California to Florida.” Miller hasn’t revealed what he paid for GlenOaks.

     Milledgeville, Georgia. The members of Milledgeville Country Club, which has apparently seen better days, have voted to sell their property to Ted Smith. “The majority of our members have been older people,” the chairperson of the club’s board told the Milledgeville Union Recorder. “We haven’t had the young families, and that’s what keeps a place viable. That’s been one of our big problems.” According to the chairperson, Smith plans to lengthen the club’s George Cobb-designed course and “do a lot of renovations” to its clubhouse. Milledgeville was established in the late 1950s. Smith expects to close on the transaction on October 31. Trick or treat.

     Boonville, Missouri. The city of Boonville has reluctantly agreed to assume ownership of Hail Ridge Golf Course. The city will operate the 18-hole course this year, but it hopes to have a private-sector operator in place next year. “The preference would be no city involvement,” Boonville’s mayor reportedly said in a press release. “But that was apparently not to be.” Hail Ridge opened in 2005. In 2008, its original owners sold it to Jacob, Philip, and Bill Rapp.

     Flushing, Michigan. Can Motown Golf Group and Flushing Valley Golf Course make beautiful music together? Motown, a group led by Angelo Arca, paid an undisclosed price for the 57-year-old golf course in suburban Flint, promising to “definitely improve the golf course.” Flushing Valley appears to be the only golf property currently operated by Motown, which aims to be “the driving force in leading Michigan golf.”