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Friday, December 2, 2016

Vital Signs, december 2, 2016

     It won’t matter to anyone who matters, but there’s more evidence to suggest that women continue to be a giant untapped market for the golf industry. Women currently account for only 24 percent of the world’s golfers, and a Syngenta-commissioned study contends that bringing more of them into the fold could be worth as much as $35 billion annually to the global golf economy. “This is a huge opportunity for the golf industry,” a spokesman for Syngenta said at the just-concluded HSBC Golf Business Forum. But here’s the rub: In his next breath, the spokesman noted that “realizing this opportunity -- engaging and then converting prospects -- requires golf to listen to and address the specific needs of its different customers.” Sounds as if he thinks our industry’s leadership won’t allow that to happen.

     Golf Monthly recently asked one of the golf industry’s recurring questions: “Do we really need to lengthen golf courses?” The short answer: No. Naturally, though, the British magazine provides evidence to support its argument. Drawing from research done by the R&A, and contrary to popular opinion, it reports that the average drive for professionals on the European Tour in 2015 was 288.4 yards, which is just 2.1 yards farther than the average drive measured in 2003. What’s more, during the same period the average driving distance for players on the LPGA Tour, the Ladies European Tour, and the Japan Golf Tour not only didn’t increase but actually declined. Regarding amateurs, nowadays the average drive by a good male player travels 234 yards, while a good female’s goes 205 yards. All these numbers lead the magazine to a logical conclusion: If golf operators want their courses to defend par, they should make them harder, not longer.

     Data from a new survey offers a glimpse into the uncertain future of British golf clubs. Here’s the encouraging news, according to a study commissioned by England Golf: Between 2014 and 2016, 30 percent of the nation’s clubs registered an increase in membership. And even better, the members of England’s golf clubs are, on average, playing at least a bit more frequently. These increases haven’t been large enough to put the clubs back on Easy Street -- today, on average, the clubs have virtually the same number of members that they had in 2014 -- but it gives the industry some traction to build upon. The survey also contains discouraging demographic news, however: Since 2014, the number of club members who are 65 and older has increased by 13 percent. A press release calls this aging “a reflection of the good health of golfers,” but it’s worth mentioning that good health doesn’t last forever.

     England Golf has some other noteworthy things to say about British golf clubs, one of which is that 95 percent of them have vacancies. Another: Only 10 percent of the nation’s clubs have a waiting list in any membership category.

     Speaking of worries about the future, golf clubs Down Under remain mired in a membership funk. Golf Australia reports that the nation’s clubs have lost nearly 50,000 of the 446,428 members that they had in 2006, and it doesn’t appear as though reinforcements are on the way. What’s worse, more than 50 percent of current club members are 55 or older.

     Does Asia have room to grow as a golf destination? The current pace of golf construction suggests that nations across the continent believe it most certainly does, and over the next decade those nations will be easier to get to and more accommodating for longer stays. By 2026, according to data from the World Travel & Tourism Council, $1.5 trillion will be invested in Asian travel and tourism projects -- better airports, for the most part, but also related conveniences including up-to-date banking systems and reliable telephone service. Skift reports that nearly half of the money ($723 billion) will be spent in China and that virtually all of the rest will boost the appeal of Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, and Malaysia. Such expenditures serve as the foundation for a wide variety of traveler-friendly attractions, and the right golf courses in the right locations stand to benefit.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

The Week That Was, november 27, 2016

     Gil Hanse’s golf course in Rio de Janeiro may be a critical success, but it isn’t doing much to grow the game in Brazil. In fact, an international news service suggests that the track has such serious money troubles that it may soon go out of business. Agence France Presse reports that the course, which hosted the golf competition for the 2016 Olympics, attracts only 40 paying customers on an average day and that its operators, who haven’t been paid for two months, and are “set to pull out” as early as next month. This disturbing news should remind us of the many headaches that were involved in getting the course built in the first place. Once again, golf in Brazil is proving itself to be one of the nine circles of hell, and our industry’s leadership may soon be resigned to post the warning that Dante made famous in the Inferno: “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.”

     The members of Las Vegas Country Club have decided to sell their nearly 50-year-old property to Discovery Land Company. If due diligence proceeds without a hitch, DLC and a partner, Wolff Company, will close on the transaction in early 2017. Las Vegas -- Sin City’s first private-equity golf club -- features a colorful history and an 18-hole, Ed Ault-designed golf course. Its members were hoping to get $24 million or more for their 120-acre property, but the Las Vegas Review-Journal says that a proposal from the prospective owners lists an “aggregate consideration,” which sounds suspiciously like a sales price, of $22.5 million. Each of the club’s members will reportedly receive a “net payment” of roughly $29,350. DLC owns close to 20 golf properties in the United States, Mexico, and the Bahamas. Next year, it expects to open a second private golf club in Las Vegas, the Summit Club, a suburban venue it describes as a “private heirloom community.”

     Just two months after Arnold Palmer’s passing, the golf industry has lost another legend.
     Peggy Kirk Bell, described variously as “a tribute to the game of golf,” “an inspirational figure to thousands,” and “the female Arnold Palmer,” died last week at her home in Southern Pines, North Carolina. She was 95, and she’d lived what must have been a truly wonderful life, one dedicated almost entirely to golf in general and women’s golf in particular.
     Bell was an accomplished golfer, a renowned golf instructor, and a tireless ambassador for the sport. “She supported juniors, she helped touring pros, she was there for seniors, she was there for women,” a past president of the U.S. Golf Association said of Bell. “She was there for the game.”
     In the 1940s, before a professional golf tour for women had been established, Bell was one of America’s best-known amateur golfers. She left what’s been called “one of the most impressive amateur records ever compiled,” and she was a member of the 1950 Curtis Cup team. Eventually, she helped to establish the Ladies Professional Golf Association. On occasion, she’d fly to tournaments in her own plane. The news coverage helped to promote the events.
     Bell never tried to make a name for herself in professional golf, however. Instead, she dedicated herself to teaching. She became a nationally recognized instructor and the first woman inducted to the PGA Golf Instructors Hall of Fame. She made instructional videos and wrote a book called A Women’s Way to Better Golf.
     Bell was also a course owner and operator. She and her husband, the late Warren Bell, owned two popular and well-regarded golf properties in the Pinehurst area, Pine Needles Lodge & Golf Club and Mid Pines Inn & Golf Club. The U.S. Women’s Open was played at Pine Needles three times, in 1996, 2001, and 2007. The mayor of Southern Pines believes that Bell “solidified Southern Pines as a golfing destination” and that “golfers from around the world return each year to Pine Needles and Mid Pines because Mrs. Bell treated everyone like royalty and made golf fun.”
     For her contributions to golf, Bell was honored by institutions including the U.S. Golf Association (it gave her the Bob Jones Award), the LPGA (the Patty Berg Award), the National Golf Course Owners Association of America (the Order of Merit), and the National Golf Foundation (the Joe Graffis Award). She was named to at least seven halls of fame, and a golf tour for girls has been named after her.
     “Bell was the personal embodiment of the history of golf,” the Raleigh News & Observer wrote in an appreciation. “She knew everyone, lived through everything, [and] quickly earned the respect of everyone who met her.”
     Few people have done as much for golf as Bell. May her spirit live on.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

The Week That Was, november 20, 2016

     Just three years ago, Pacific Links International bought Dove Canyon Golf Club and told the Los Angeles Times that it planned to buy “two or three more” in Southern California. Well, the spirit may have been willing, but the cash flow was weak. Not only did PLI fail to buy another club in the area, but now it’s sold Dove Canyon. The new owner of the 25-year-old club and its Jack Nicklaus “signature” course is SJS Tomorrow LLC, an entity that appears to be affiliated with a South Korean clothing manufacturer named Sae-A Trading Company. A price hasn’t been reported, but the Orange County Register says that SJS owns Steele Canyon Golf Club in suburban San Diego. Dove Canyon is the fifth U.S. golf property that PLC, a Chinese/Canadian company that operates an international network of limited-access membership golf clubs, has sold since early 2015. Gone from the company’s shrinking portfolio are three properties on Hawaii’s O’ahu Island (Royal Hawaiian Golf Club, Kapolei Golf Club, and Olomana Golf Links) as well as DragonRidge Country Club in suburban Las Vegas, Nevada and Pete Dye Golf Club in Bridgeport, West Virginia. According to the Times, when PLI bought Dove Canyon the club “had never made a profit and had been losing nearly $1 million a year.” No word on how the club is doing today.

     The battle appears to be over, but Christine Brennan is still firing deservedly sharp criticism at the U.S. Golf Association over its insistence on holding next year’s U.S. Women’s Open at Donald “the Educator” Trump’s golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey. Less than a month after she took her first shot, the USA Today columnist skewers the USGA for being “paralyzed by a rich, white man who has ridiculed almost everyone but his cronies and peers” and accuses it of being without “a spine” or “a moral compass.” Like so many other women, she wonders why one of golf’s most important institutions continues to do business with “a man who bragged on video that he sexually assaults women.” For what it’s worth, the USGA responded by saying that it “has not changed its position on the 2017 U.S. Women’s Open at this time.”

     Donald “the President-Elect” Trump isn’t the only wealthy golf-course owner who won an election this month. By a wide margin, the people of West Virginia have selected Jim Justice, the owner of the Greenbrier, to be their governor. “I want us to quit being 50th in everything,” Justice said during his campaign. He ran as a Democrat, though he tried his best to keep his party affiliation a secret.

Friday, November 18, 2016

The Pipeline, november 18, 2016

     Pinar del Rio Province, Cuba. Within the next few weeks, Cuba’s tourism ministers hope to seal the deal on what may be their biggest golf venture. The ministers are negotiating with Spanish investors who aim to develop Punta Colorada Golf & Marina, a waterfront resort community that will reportedly feature 20,000 vacation houses and “luxury apartments,” five hotels (1,060 total rooms), two marinas (1,400 total slips), what’s said to be one of the most pristine beaches on the Guanahacabibes Peninsula, and seven 18-hole golf courses. Punta Colorada is expected to spread across 4,000 acres near the village of La Fe, in the far western part of the island nation. If the community is actually built -- and, as we all know, there are no guarantees in Cuba -- it could end up being Cuba’s version of Pinehurst or Mission Hills Shenzhen.

     Šibenik-Knin County, Croatia. Brad Pitt, the star of movies including Fight Club, Fury, and Moneyball, is the highest-profile partner in a long-percolating community that’s slated to take shape along Croatia’s Adriatic coast. The to-be-named community has been initiated by a Swiss investment group, TFI Holding, and a European newspaper believes it has the potential to “change the image of Croatian tourism.” The community will be built at the site of an existing marina outside the town of Šibenik, and it’ll feature houses for 2,500 residents, a high-end hotel, a shopping area, a medical center, a school, and a golf course. Pitt and his estranged wife, Angelina Jolie, have vacationed in Croatia -- Pitt reportedly thinks it’s “the most beautiful country he has ever visited” -- and in 2012 they became investors in a golf-focused, 2,500-acre resort community that Danko Končar, one of the nation’s richest people, had hoped to build near Pula, along the Istrian coast. Končar has apparently given up on the idea, however, leaving Pitt footloose and fancy free. TFI’s venture has won the support of local elected officials, and the group’s principal is “certain it will be successful.”

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

     New South Wales, Australia. Royal Sydney Golf Club has commissioned Gil Hanse, one of golf’s so-called naturalists, to create a master plan for upgrades to its Championship course. The track has hosted the Australian Open more than a dozen times, but Aussie Golfer believes it’s “slipped down the lists of Australia’s best golf courses,” as it suffers from “poor drainage and a narrow, unimaginative design.” Other critics echo such sentiments. “It’s not a great course,” Darius Oliver of Australian Golf Digest has written, “and some of the green contours feel a little contrived.” Royal Sydney no doubt hopes that Hanse can elevate the course’s status, for the Malvern, Pennsylvania-based architect has proved himself to be adept at creating courses that can test elite golfers while remaining enjoyable for amateurs. The club hasn’t outlined any details about the renovation or set a start date, but Aussie Golfer thinks the work will begin in the first half of next year.

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

     Norwich, England. Royal Norwich Golf Club aims to break ground on its new home before the end of the year, and it hopes the place will become “the region’s most prestigious and talked-about golf facility.” The club, a fixture in suburban Norwich since 1893 (it’s one of only 16 in England with the “royal” designation) will be relocating to a 300-acre property currently occupied by Weston Park Golf Club, seven miles from its current home, where it believes it can establish “a club fit for the 21st century.” Royal Norwich’s members overwhelmingly approved the move two years ago and soon afterwards agreed to sell their 120 acres in Hellesdon to a home builder. The sale became official last summer, when the home builder received permission to raze the club’s well-regarded, James Braid-designed golf course and replace it with roughly 1,000 houses. The new Royal Norwich Golf Club will feature a 7,150-yard, 18-hole golf course and an easy-to-play nine-hole track, both to be designed by Ross McMurray of European Golf Design. McMurray told Golf Course Architecture that the courses “will appeal to golfers of all ages” and help the club create “a warm and friendly environment for their members, families, and guests.”

     Pampanga Province, Philippines. Pradera Verde, a 1,000-acre resort community in suburban Manila, is going to celebrate the opening its first 18-hole golf course with an exhibition “duel” featuring Rory McIlroy and Jason Day. The amateurs and professionals who’ve played the recently opened track say the golf mega-stars will be competing on “a great golf course” that was designed “for champions” and will eventually be viewed as “one of the best in the country.” Such notices must be gratifying to Mike Singgaran, the Malaysian architect responsible for the course. He got his start in the Philippines’ golf business as a shaper for Andy Dye, a U.S. architect, and these days he serves as the in-house designer for the golf division of Sta. Lucia Realty, a Manila-based company that’s developed probably a half-dozen communities with golf courses, including two others in Pampanga Province. Pradera Verde has already broken ground on a second Singgaran-designed layout that’s expected to open sometime next year.

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

     Karnataka, India. Government-owned properties near lakes and reservoirs in Karnataka, India are being eyed for tourism development, and at least one of them could get a golf course. The state’s water resources department believes it can attract vacationers by offering what it calls “adventure sports” -- activities that include boating, rafting, kayaking, water skiing, hiking, and rock climbing -- at more than a half-dozen locations. Working in partnership with private-sector groups, the department aims to outfit the properties, some of which occupy as many as 300 acres, with lodges, mid-priced and budget hotels, floating restaurants, and other attractions. At the Bhadra Reservoir, outside Lakkavalli in the western part of the state, it controls 186 acres that it thinks can accommodate a hotel, a spa, a theme park, a restaurant, and a golf course.

     And in the United States . . . Last month, Tom Fazio put boots on the ground in suburban Las Vegas, Nevada, so he could get a look-see at the 13th golf course he’s designed for Discovery Land Company. The 18-hole track -- “handcrafted,” according to Fazio -- will be the centerpiece of an ultra-exclusive and ultra-expensive community called Summerlin. It’s scheduled to open in the spring of next year. . . . Also in the spring of 2017, Dana Fry and Jason Straka expect to break ground on Arcadia Bluffs Golf Club’s second 18-hole golf course. Fry told Golf Course Architecture that the club, in Arcadia, Michigan, has provided a site that’s “perfect for golf” and that he aims to deliver a track that “exposes golfers to a golfing experience unlike any many of them have had before.” If construction schedules hold, the course will open in the summer of 2018. . . . Phil “the Gambler” Mickelson is overseeing the redesign of the flood-ravaged, Seth Raynor-designed course at the Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia. Mickelson, one of the resort’s “ambassadors,” has reportedly created 10 new holes for the 18-hole layout, which dates from 1929. He’s promised “to stay true to [Raynor’s] design concepts while updating the course to challenge and excite generations to come.”

Friday, November 11, 2016

Desolation Row, november 11, 2016

     Plainville, Massachusetts. What’s been described as a “massive” community for so-called active adults may soon replace the 27-hole golf complex at Heather Hill Country Club. The 225-acre club has been owned by the Poholek family since 1982, but play has declined in recent years and home builders have been knocking at the door. The family accepted an offer when it decided that the 18 holes at their other golf course, nearby Wentworth Hills Golf Club, could satisfy the current demand. Heather Hill’s golf complex will continue to operate until residential construction begins, whenever that day arrives, and it may be closed in nine-hole increments.

     Beaumont, Texas. Time has run out on Bayou Din Golf Club. For George W. Brown III, the club’s owner, the numbers tell the story: In 2005, his 27-hole complex rang up 54,000 rounds, a number that’s slipped under 30,000 in each of the past two years. “My hope was that 2016 would be the year the business turned around,” Brown told the Beaumont Enterprise. “I just don’t see an enthusiasm for golf.” Bayou Din’s original 18-hole track opened in 1959, and Brown added the venue’s “Links Nine” in 1993. The facility will close on the Sunday after Thanksgiving.

     Peterborough, New Hampshire. The end of the 2016 golf season was the end of the line for one of the state’s oldest golf properties. Monadnock Country Club, a going concern since 1901, turned out its lights for the last time on Halloween, a victim, reportedly, of membership losses that led to a loss of revenues. The club, the centerpiece of an artists’ retreat, featured a nine-hole, executive-length course.

     Monroe, Michigan. A health-care company has a prescription for what ails the 40-year-old Raisin River Golf Club: A repurposing. Beginning most likely in 2020, ProMedica plans to build a new hospital on the club’s 250-acre property. The club and its 18-hole, William Maddox-designed golf course is expected to operate at least through 2018.

     Leesburg, Georgia. Speaking of hospitals, Lee County wants to build one on the property currently occupied by Grand Island Golf Course. Selling the course was an easy decision for the county, because Grand Island, which has operated since 1995, is reportedly “losing money.” The blinds will be pulled on the 18-hole layout next month.

     Salem, Oregon. The owners of Creekside Golf Club have delivered an ultimatum to city officials: Reduce our water bill or we’ll close our golf course. It’s what Donald “the President-Elect” Trump would call a negotiating position. But there’s still a ways to go before Larry Tokarski and Terry Kelly, the club’s co-owners, discontinue play on their 18-hole, Peter Jacobsen/Jim Hardy golf course, because the city hasn’t made a final decision and the issue is complicated by a lawsuit filed by an angry, worried group of home owners in the Creekside community. The case goes to trial in January.

     Shreveport, Louisiana. Seven years after a change in ownership, Shreveport Country Club and its 18-hole golf course have gone belly up. “People are so busy these days, they don’t have time to golf like they used to,” the Reverend Denny Duron told the Shreveport Times. He added: “We’re just at a place financially where it’s tough to continue.” Shreveport opened in 1909, and a non-profit group controlled by Duron assumed control of it in 2009. Now that the club has closed, Duron needs to figure out what to do with its 186 acres.

     La Vista, Nebraska. After years of covering losses, weary city officials have pulled the plug on La Vista Falls Golf Course. The nine-hole, executive-length golf course will become a park. The course opened in 1992, and the city has been forced to provide $125,000 to it in each of the past two years.

     Auburn, Washington. After 26 years in business, Jade Greens Golf Course has reached the end of the line. The track will close at the end of the month. “We had a great run as a little nine-hole course out here,” Jim Hawk, the course’s owner, told the Auburn Reporter. “But times change, and things get a little different.” The course was designed by Hawk’s father, on land that’s been in the family since the 1960s. The family still hasn’t decided what to do with the property.