Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Re: Saudi Arabia’s Golf Ambitions

     Next month, some of the golf industry’s best-known course designers – Robert Trent Jones, Jr., David McLay Kidd, Greg Norman, and Gary Player – will serve as drawing cards for the inaugural Golf Saudi Summit, a key event in Saudi Arabia’s campaign to polish its public image and promote itself as one of the world’s hottest markets for golf development.
     As we all know, however, the story of golf development, no matter where it occurs, is always impacted by unpredictable, ever-changing economic, political, and social forces. Some markets skyrocket, as Vietnam has. Others – Cuba prominent among them – never achieve lift-off.
     Care to predict Saudi Arabia’s trajectory?
     The kingdom has seized onto golf in an effort to re-decorate itself for wary Western investors. With its eyes trained on an uncertain post-oil future, it’s funding what it calls “the grandest golf-course development program ever seen,” hosting men’s and women’s professional tournaments and, most ambitiously, laying a foundation for what it believes will be sustainable, home-grown golf operations.
     Mind you, this is a nation whose 34 million people are almost completely unfamiliar with golf. Saudi Arabia has only 220 native registered golfers, according to a Chinese news agency, and a total of just 6,000 golfers.
     Today, Saudi Arabia is home to a dozen nine- and 18-hole courses, a mere handful of them with grassed greens. Over the next decade, though, the Saudi Golf Federation aims to open 13 courses, and it’s assisting private-sector groups that wish to build others. All told, as many as 25 new courses could debut in the kingdom by 2030, according to Majed Al-Sorour, the federation’s CEO.
     Needless to say, building more than two courses a year is a tall order for a nascent golf market. In 2012, Croatia floated a plan to build 50 courses, and it hasn’t added even one of them to its small collection.
     My question is, Has Saudi Arabia likewise bitten off more than it can chew? Although it promotes itself as “the fastest-growing golf destination in the world,” it hasn’t opened a new course since early 2018, when – after more than a decade of delays – it lifted the veil on Royal Greens Golf & Country Club.
     Nor is the kingdom currently a hotbed of construction. The three ballyhooed “giga-projects” expected to take shape along the Red Sea – NEOM City, Amaala and Red Sea, all of which could have multiple courses – aren’t expected to debut until 2025 at the earliest. In an e-mail, Al-Sorour said that his requests for proposals at these mini-cities have elicited “tremendous responses,” but to date he hasn’t announced any contract signings. European Golf Design, the British firm responsible for Royal Greens and one other Saudi course, currently has no work in the kingdom, and although Kidd and Norman have commissions – the former at Red Sea, the latter at the proposed Diriyah Gate community in Riyadh – no construction schedules have been announced.
     And here’s the rub: Even if Saudi Arabia makes good on its construction goal, it’ll still be a mid-sized player in international golf operations, on par with Morocco, Poland, Puerto Rico and Venezuela.
     The kingdom has embraced golf’s respectability to deflect attention from its record of repression and focus the world’s attention on the social reforms it’s vowed to make. But golf’s commercial opportunities are built on a foundation of trust. Without question, Saudi Arabia has the money and the commitment necessary to create a creditable golf eco-system. What it doesn’t have is the confidence of corporate executives who don’t want to wake up some morning and discover that the kingdom has done something that sparks a boycott by their customers. Recent history indicates that it can happen anytime.
     Saudi Arabia has worked hard to prepare a blueprint for its future as a golf-friendly nation. Cementing an enduring relationship with golf may be harder.

Sunday, January 5, 2020

The Decade That Was, january 5, 2020

     For me, last week’s blog was a milestone. Google has been counting my posts, and on December 29, 2019 the number reached 1,000.
     The number had sneaked up on me, and I didn’t realize how much I’d been writing until sometime last fall. When I initially began to publish, in January 2010, I didn’t intend to hit a particular number or to write for a particular length of time. I just set out to cover news about golf development and related matters as best I could, week by week and event by event. Without realizing it, I was posting, on average, 100 times a year.
     So what comes next?
     Post by post, the World Golf Report has told the story of a tumultuous decade for the golf industry. It was, as we all know, a story of decline and the distress, frustration, and heartbreak that always accompany hard times. I’m glad somebody who wasn’t swayed by the advertisers and publicists who’ve perennially shaped golf journalism was around to document it.
     The 2020s will be different. Golf’s next story will be about recovery, restructuring, and the opportunities that present themselves as the industry evolves. It figures to be a more positive, more hopeful decade.
     The story of golf’s next decade could likewise be told week by week, event by event, but it won’t be told by me. After 1,000 posts, I no longer wish to be a weekly blogger. We’ve reached the end of a year as well as the end of a decade, so it seems as good a time as any to step away. Instead, I’ll tweet more often (follow me at @RJVasilakGolf) and will return to the World Golf Report when I have something substantive to say about current events.
     I understand that the World Golf Report served as a valuable news service for some of you. I’m sorry that it won’t be around anymore. If you wish to stay abreast of the news, especially news related to golf development both at home and abroad, I encourage you to subscribe to U.S. or International Construction Clips. They’ve been around even longer than the World Golf Report, and they’re still the most comprehensive sources for news in our business. To learn more, contact me at GolfCourseReport@aol.com.
     That’s all for now. I’m going to restring my guitar.

Sunday, December 29, 2019

The Week That Was, december 29, 2019

     It’s been a great year for Tiger Woods, who exactly a decade ago sunk as low as a legendary athlete can go, and he capped off 2019 by announcing that Pebble Beach Company has commissioned him to redesign its nine-hole Peter Hay course. Admitting to “giddiness,” Pebble Beach called its relationship with Woods “a match made in heaven” and welcomed the opportunity to let once-disgraced star create “a nice legacy” for himself on its revered grounds. Befitting Woods’ rise-fall-rise story, this contract is symbolic. All the doors that had once been closed to Woods are now wide open, and the former serial adulterer and painkiller abuser has been officially forgiven by the golf industry. A reputation that meant so much money to so many people has been fully restored. Make it rain, Tiger!

     Pipeline Overflow – Beckwith Gilbert, a U.S. merchant banker, aims to develop as many as three golf courses on coastal property in Little Harbour, Nova Scotia. According to CBC News, Gilbert’s goal is to build “something similar to the Cabot resort or Bandon Dunes.” Controversies are already bubbling, as local elected officials support idea but environmentalists don't. . . . Wesley Group, a firm based in suburban Detroit, Michigan, has received a “letter of award” that gives it permission to build a 27-hole golf complex outside Bhopal, India. In addition to what’s been described as an “international-level” golf facility, Wesley’s master plan includes a hotel, meeting space, and a helipad, all of which may be difficult to squeeze onto the allotted 175 acres. . . . Widus Group, a Philippine hotelier, aims to build what the Manila Standard calls a “luxury mountain resort” on 1,125 acres in New Clark City. In addition to Banyan Tree, Westin, and Marriott hotels, the Hann Lux property has been master-planned to include a variety of housing types, retail and commercial areas, and three 18-hole, “championship” golf courses.

     Pipeline Overflow Overflow – Golf architects nowadays always try to make the artificial look natural, and Clive Clark has by all accounts hit the nail on the head with Dumbarnie Links, his forthcoming layout in St. Andrews, Scotland. Clark and Paul Kimber reportedly moved 500,000 cubic yards of dirt to shape the 18-hole course, creating 600 man-made dunes in the process, but the result has been described as a course that “looks like it’s been there for 100 years.” Dumbarnie Links is scheduled to open in May. . . . Robert Trent Jones, Jr., has described his recently unveiled Costa Palmas Golf Club, on Mexico’s Baha California Sur, as “a golf symphony composed of three movements and two transitions.” Such comments are music to the ears of Irongate, the community’s developer, which promises that Jones’s course will offer “a one-of-a-kind golf experience.” Irongate, a firm that claims to create “one-of-a-kind opportunities” for upscale buyers, also says that Costa Palmas’s Four Seasons hotel will be accompanied by “one-of-a-kind amenities” and “one-of-a-kind” villas. . . . Barry Ehlert, the developer of the soon-to-open Mickelson National Golf Club, outside Calgary, Alberta, contends that “there’s not another golf course like this in Canada.” Strictly speaking, what he says is true, because all courses are unique, even the largely fabricated ones that anchor subdivisions. We’ll learn more about Phil Mickelson’s track this spring, when the 18-hole “signature” track is expected to make its debut.

     At long last, it appears that we’re going to close the book on the sale of Southern Pines Golf Club, a more than century-old venue outside Pinehurst, North Carolina. A group whose partners include Kelly Miller, a co-owner of the nearby Pine Needles Lodge & Golf Club, has agreed to buy Southern Pines, the home of an 18-hole, Donald Ross course that’s said to rank “near the top of best courses to play in North Carolina.” A price hasn’t been disclosed, but Miller’s Kaveri Investments has presumably made an offer that the local Elks Lodge found more attractive than those made by John McConnell and anonymous others in 2017 and 2018. Assuming that the sale is consummated – the Elks have had trouble crossing the finish line – Miller, a member of the Elks club, will own a trio of Ross-designed tracks, as Pine Needles and his Mid-Pines Inn & Golf Club both feature Ross layouts. The transaction is expected to close in February.

     Surplus Transactions – For an undisclosed price, Jared Brecher and Dan Klein have acquired Seawane Country Club, a 92-year-old facility on the South Shore of New York’s Long Island. The new owners hope to remake Seawane, which features an 18-hole Devereux Emmet-designed golf course, into a resort-style, family-focused club, and they’ll get an infusion of new members next year, when the nearby Woodmere Club closes. . . . Operating as Great Century, a pair of Hong Kong-based investors, Peter Lam and Cym Chan, have likewise paid an undisclosed price for the entity that owns the Fairmont St. Andrews resort in St. Andrews, Scotland. The 520-acre resort features a hotel, meeting space, bars and restaurants, and a pair of 18-hole golf courses, one co-designed by Gene Sarazen and Sam Torrance, the other by Sarazen and Bruce Devlin. . . . After more than 20 tumultuous years, Marise Cipriani no longer dreams of turning her ski area in Granby, Colorado into a destination-worthy venue. To avoid a foreclosure, the Brazilian developer has turned over the title to Granby Ranch to her lender, citing “many ups and downs” and admitting that it’s “time for a new chapter to be written.” Cipriani and her husband bought the 5,000-acre property in 1995, added an 18-hole, Mike Asmundson-designed golf course, and then sprung for a re-do by Nicklaus Design.

     Duly Noted – They weren’t all golfers, but a record number of foreign tourists – 18 million of them – made their way to Vietnam last year, and tourism officials in the socialist republic estimate that the number will exceed 20 million in 2020. Last year’s visitors came mostly from Asia (14.3 million), in particular from China (5.8 million) and South Korea (4.3 million). . . . After losing control of his enviable golf portfolio and lying low for the better part of a decade, Lyle Anderson has resurfaced. The developer who set the bar for luxury golf communities in greater Phoenix has begun selling high-priced houses in Quivira Los Cabos, a tony spread in Mexico. And yes, it’s a happy coincidence that Quivira features a Jack Nicklaus “signature” golf course, seeing as how Nicklaus tracks were once Anderson’s bread and butter. . . . For those who believe that Barack Obama played too much golf – he reportedly averaged 38 rounds a year across his eight years in office – our current president is reportedly playing 83 rounds a year. According to research by the Washington, DC-based Citizens for Responsibility & Ethics, at his current pace Donald Trump will play more golf in one term than Obama played in two.

     Are you wondering how much of a week’s golf news I cover in this blog? The answer, unfortunately, is just a fraction of what passes my way. The golf business, particularly the development side of the golf business, has unquestionably perked up of late, and there’s no way for me to address all of it. So if your business requires a more comprehensive news digest – a weekly compendium of stories collected from newspapers, magazines, and other sources – contact me via e-mail at golfcoursereport@aol.com. I’ll send you a sample issue of either U.S. or International Construction Clips, depending on your needs.

Sunday, December 15, 2019

The Week That Was, december 15, 2019

     It won’t be operated by Universal Studios, but a long-overdue theme park in South Korea “looks set to go ahead,” according to a British news group. So while residents of suburban Seoul won’t be able to mingle with the dinosaurs from Jurassic Park or the great white shark from Jaws, they’ll get to enjoy what CladNews believes will be “a theme park unlike anything else in the world.” That’s a high bar, and few details are available, but the 1,050-acre Hwaseong International Theme Park figures to be the second-largest in Asia (after Shanghai Disney Resort), and it’ll include thrill rides, hotels, houses, stages for K-Poppers and other musical acts, shopping malls, lots of places to eat and drink, and an 18-hole golf course. The venue was originally proposed by Universal in 2007 but flattened by the Great Recession. The new version is being developed by Shinsegae Property Consortium, which consists of companies tied to Lee Myung-hee, the daughter of the fellow who founded Samsung and one of South Korea’s richest people. She owns a pair of golf properties in greater Seoul, Jayu Country Club and Trinity Country Club. If all goes as expected, Shinsegae will break ground on the theme park in 2021 and begin welcoming guests in 2026.

     Pipeline Overflow – A groundbreaking hasn’t been announced, but David McLay Kidd will design a golf course in Saudi Arabia, at the Red Sea giga-project that’s expected to take shape along – you guessed it – the kingdom’s Red Sea coast. I mentioned the project many months ago in a story for Golf Inc., but Kidd couldn’t talk about it then and still won’t now, due to a non-disclosure agreement that he’s signed. For more on the future of golf in the kingdom, look for my story in an upcoming issue of Golf Inc. . . . The People’s Committee in DaNang, Vietnam hopes to secure permission to build a 36-hole golf complex on a 1,240-acre parcel southwest of the city’s international airport. The courses will be accompanied by 2,000 hotel rooms and a variety of tourist-friendly attractions, and a news service in the socialist republic says that construction is supposed to begin “this year.” . . . Fingers crossed, but elected officials in Brisbane, Australia expect a residential developer to break ground on Cannon Hill Community Links early next year. The 18-hole, Phil Ryan-designed track was supposed to be open by now, as its construction was tied to home-building that’s already taking place.

     Bob Richards, the famous former Olympic pole-vaulter, has unloaded Twin Rivers Golf Club, a venue in Waco, Texas that he paid $1.1 million for in 2013. Twin Rivers, which opened in 2001 as Bear Ridge Golf Club, features an 18-hole, Peter Jacobson/Jim Hardy course that’s been a financial drain and is said to be in lousy shape. “I would sell in a heartbeat if we got the right price,” Richards told the Waco Tribune last year, his price guesstimated to be $3 million. The club’s new owner, Tommy Tompkins, hasn’t revealed what he paid for Twin Rivers, but he’s previously said that it isn’t worth $3 million. “Mr. Richards really wanted to do the right thing,” he told the Tribune upon closing the transaction, “but he didn’t have the means to do it.” Tompkins has restored the club’s original name, and he’s promised to restore its reputation.

     Surplus Transactions – Luna Golf LLC, an entity led by Mark White, has purchased Pointe West Country Club, a 20-year-old venue in Vero Beach, Florida. Pointe West’s 18-hole course was designed by John Sanford, who reportedly “moved tons of earth to create a unique mix of elevation changes on an otherwise level piece of land.” . . . At a public auction in October, a pair of hoteliers agreed to buy Cave Valley Golf Club, one of the featured attractions of the Park Mammoth Resort outside Bowling Green, Kentucky. The Bowling Green Daily News reports that the resort is “financially ailing” but notes that David Chandler and Mike Simpson “have a history of finding opportunities.” . . . Speaking of hoteliers, Sameer Ailawadi has placed the winning bid for Lakeview Golf Resort, a 412-acre venue in Morgantown, West Virginia. Ailawadi, who owns at least a half-dozen hotels in the Washington, DC area, offered $2.25 million for Lakeview, which features a 187-room hotel, meeting space, restaurants, and a variety of recreational amenities, including a pair (one by James Harrison, one by Brian Ault) of 18-hole golf courses.

     Duly Noted – The Telegraph, a British newspaper, says that Bali, the most popular vacation spot in Indonesia, is “on the brink of ecological collapse” due to drought. Conservationists put the blame on waves of water-guzzling tourists, but the government is nonetheless committed to increasing its visitor numbers. . . . This one falls into the category of credits we might have anticipated, but Roger Rulewich wants to set the record straight about who designed the golf venues on the Alabama’s Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail. “I really have to let people know how that worked,” Jones’s former top assistant told the Morning Read. “Jones frankly had little to do with it, other than PR.” . . . In its latest newsletter, Golfasian reported that 40 courses are currently open for play in Vietnam, an unofficial and probably inaccurate count. Sadly, no official numbers are available – I found “somewhere in the neighborhood of 40 courses” in 2016 and published a claim of 58 by the socialist republic’s Ministry of Natural Resources & Environment in 2017 – but one fact seems clear: Vietnam isn’t going to meet its goal of having 96 courses by 2020. Nice try, though, and, as always, it’s the thought that counts.

     In compliance with recently issued European laws regarding data collection, I’ve been asked to provide a statement about my use of the data that’s collected about those of you who read the World Golf Report. So here’s what I have to say on the subject: I don’t collect any data, and I don’t put any cookies into your computer. That being said, here’s some language that Google, the company that maintains this slice of cyberspace, would probably approve of: “We and our partners use cookies on this site to improve our service, perform analytics, personalize advertising, measure advertising performance, and remember website preferences. By using the site, you consent to these cookies.”

Sunday, December 8, 2019

The Week That Was, december 8, 2019

     Now that its Vooty Golf County has opened, Dream Valley Group is turning its attention to the other golf ventures on its to-do list. By 2025, the Hyderabad, India-based company aims to be working on three additional golf communities in the metropolis, with Haldi Golf Resort in Medchai likely to be the first to come on line. “We believe people in Hyderabad have the desire and affordability to play golf and buy properties in mixed development projects comprising of a golf course,” the company’s founder, Santoosh Reddy, told Telangana Today. Reddy hasn’t offered any details on his forthcoming communities, but they’ll likely be similar to Vooty, a 240-acre spread whose centerpiece is an 18-hole, Phil Ryan-designed golf course. Dream Valley markets Vooty as “a path-breaking venture that will complement your high-spirited lifestyle.”  

     Pipeline Overflow – In an effort to save some money, government officials in Boca Raton, Florida have decided to re-open their search for a course architect eager to redesign Ocean Breeze Golf Club. Nick Price and Tom Fazio II, who were chosen to oversee the project last spring, had proposed to spend $13 million, an amount now considered to be excessive. . . . Longtime readers of the World Golf Report will be pleased to learn that the development group that set out to build the third golf course in Serbia more than a decade ago “has not given up.” The commission for the all-but-forgotten track in suburban Belgrade, now being described as a tournament-worthy track, was originally given to Peter Harradine. The El Golf partnership now claims to have secured financing and expects construction to begin next year. . . . The slow-developing, 3,000-acre Mandalika resort on Indonesia’s increasingly water-challenged Lombok Island expects to open its racetrack (now a MotoGP track) in 2021, but it’s not made any announcements about its golf course (now appearing to be a single 27-hole complex) for nearly two years. Years ago, Nicklaus Design was angling for the golf commission, but a notice about a contract isn’t listed on the firm’s website.

     When it comes to U.S. course closings, 2019 figures to be another banner year. Here’s the round-up for December, and let me remind you once again that many more of the dearly departed aren’t mentioned.
     – Wesselman Par 3 Golf Course, a municipal track described by the Courier Press as “a place where young golfers can learn the game and where older ones maintain their love for it,” will close when elected officials in Evansville, Indiana decide that winter has officially arrived. A petition urging the city to keep the 18-hole, Ed Ault-designed layout open reportedly received just 75 signatures.
     – Perhaps not surprisingly, Town Park Villas Golf Course, a venue in San Diego, California that’s said to have “brown greens with gopher holes in the middle of them,” has gone belly up. The track’s fate is reportedly uncertain, but here’s a clue: The nine-hole, par-3 layout is owned by an apartment developer.
     – Time has run out on Rosemont Country Club, a venue in suburban Akron, Ohio that was established in 1920. The club, which features an 18-hole, Tom Bendelow-designed golf course, claims to have suffered losses of more than $500,000 over the past two years, and its board has decided to end operations at the end of 2019 “unless an unforeseen opportunity presents itself.”
     – Pearl Golf Links, a 36-hole complex across the North Carolina state line from Myrtle Beach, will draw the curtains on nine of its holes before the end of the year. Odell Williamson, Jr., a member of the family that owns the Pearl’s Dan Maples-designed golf courses, told the Sun News that the lost holes will probably be developed.
     – The final rounds have been played at Bridgewood Golf Course, a nine-hole track outside Appleton, Wisconsin. Citing comments from Bridgewood’s owner, the Appleton Post-Crescent says that the course, which once had 18 holes, closed as a result of “competition, unpredictable Wisconsin weather, and shortened playing seasons.”
     – Citing losses of up to $300,000 annually, Washoe County, Nevada has pulled the plug on one of the two tracks at Wildcreek Golf Course, a venue in suburban Reno that opened in the 1970s. Wildcreek’s 18-hole, Dick Phelps/Brad Benz co-design will be razed to make way for a high school, but its nine-hole, executive-length course will continue to operate.
     – Oak Shadows Golf Club, outside Canton, Ohio, is likely to soon become the site of new elementary and secondary schools. The New Philadelphia Board of Education has agreed to buy Oak Shadows’ 280 acres for $3 million, pending the passage of a bond issue that would finance the school construction.
     – The fate of Weddington Golf & Tennis, a 60-year-old venue in Studio City, California, has been sealed. Harvard-Westlake School, which bought Weddington and its nine-hole course two years ago, plans to build what’s been described as “state-of-the-art athletic facilities” on the club’s 16-acre property. The course will operate until the school green-lights the redevelopment, which could be as long as two years.
     – Hollydale Golf Course, an 18-hole, 55-year-old track outside Minneapolis, Minnesota, will close at the end of this year’s golf season. Hollydale’s owners, Rick and Lynette Deziel, will likely sell their 160 acres to a residential developer.
     – The lights have been turned off at Eagle Crest Golf Course, a 22-year-old venue outside Fort Smith, Arkansas. The 18-hole track, described by a local television station as “one of the premier golf courses in the River Valley,” was designed by former professional golfer Mark Hays.
     – Sinnissippi Park Golf Club, despite having been recommended for “permanent closure” by park district officials in Rockford, Illinois, will open for the 2020 season. Sinnissippi’s pending demise reportedly led to a show of ardent support that persuaded the board to give the course a one-year reprieve.  

     Duly Noted – Michael Featherston, described by the Irish Times as “a low-profile Dublin nursing homes operator and hotelier,” has agreed to acquire one of Ireland’s highest-profile golf properties. For a price believed to be in the vicinity of €70 million ($77.4 million), Featherston has agreed to buy the K Club, the site of the Ryder Cup competition in 2006. The property, currently owned by Michael Smurfit, features a pair of Arnold Palmer-designed golf courses. . . . Once again, there’s reason for me to say something nice about Tiger Woods. For the second consecutive year, he’s passed on a chance to play in the Saudi International and pocket an appearance fee of more than $3 million. . . . The bad news is that in 2018, for the fifth consecutive year, the slowly eroding Trump International Golf Links Doonbeg again failed to turn a profit, this time posting a loss of $1.7 million. The good news is that Doonbeg’s financial picture is improving, as it lost $2.1 million in 2017.

     In compliance with recently issued European laws regarding data collection, I’ve been asked to provide a statement about my use of the data that’s collected about those of you who read the World Golf Report. So here’s what I have to say on the subject: I don’t collect any data, and I don’t put any cookies into your computer. That being said, here’s some language that Google, the company that maintains this slice of cyberspace, would probably approve of: “We and our partners use cookies on this site to improve our service, perform analytics, personalize advertising, measure advertising performance, and remember website preferences. By using the site, you consent to these cookies.”