Sunday, March 11, 2018

The Week That Was, march 11, 2018

     The rumor mill is working overtime in Charlotte, North Carolina, as presumed insiders believe that McConnell Golf has its eyes on Ballantyne Country Club. John McConnell told the Triangle Business Journal that he has “no money,” but nobody takes such comments seriously. Heck, less than a year ago he put in an offer on Southern Pines Golf Club, in Southern Pines, North Carolina.

     Despite all the sweet talk from the hype-meisters at the National Golf Foundation, evidence continues to indicate that the golf industry is nowhere near firing on all cylinders. The latest underwhelming data comes from the recent Golf Industry Show, which managed to lure just 11,700 attendees – a 14 percent decline from the number counted in 2017 and, according to Turfnet, nearly 1,200 fewer than average number that the show has welcomed over the past five years (12,900). Attendance at the GIS hit its high-water mark in 2008, when more than 25,700 people passed through its turnstiles, but it’s been on a slow decrease ever since. There are lots of reasons to be optimistic about golf’s near-term future, but there are also lots of reasons to remain wary.

     Amazon hasn’t yet committed to the Dallas-Fort Worth area, but the PGA of America has. In a move that’s reportedly been percolating for five years, the West Palm Beach, Florida-based institutional power intends to relocate its headquarters to the Panther Creek master-planned community in Frisco, where it would enjoy a 45-hole golf complex and facilities worthy of hosting events such as the Ryder Cup and the PGA Championship. Although the move hasn’t been officially confirmed, Golf magazine indicates that the PGA has already tabbed Gil Hanse to design the facility’s championship course and Beau Welling to deliver the complementary 18-hole track and the obligatory nine-hole “short” course. The golf complex will eventually be flanked by a resort-style hotel, meeting space, and a PGA-branded golf academy. Again, the PGA hasn’t yet corroborated any of Golf’s reporting, but Hanse’s course is expected to open in 2020.

     Pipeline Overflow – An agency of the Croatian government is looking for investors who might be willing to build a resort community on “neglected land” along Prukljan Lake, near the town of Skradin, The 350-acre site can accommodate a hotel, a water park, a marina, and a 27-hole golf complex, and Total Croatia News says that “several European and U.S. investors” have expressed an interest in the development opportunity. Perhaps more importantly, the news service reports that “all explosive devices have been removed” from the property. . . . By the end of this year, Duros Land Properties expects to wrap up construction on an 18-hole golf course at Northside Beacon, a 500-acre planned community in Cebu Province, Philippines. Duros’ president, Rafaelito Barino, has designed the golf course, which will be accompanied by several thousand houses and condos, the usual commercial and community amenities, and attractions designed to appeal to Japanese vacationers. . . . Some Qatari money is going to help build the slow-developing Mandalika Resort on Lombok Island in Indonesia. Sheikh Faisal bin Qassim al Thani, who’s been described as “Qatar’s top business personality,” hopes to establish a hotel at the 3,000-acre waterfront spread, which has been master-planned to include luxury villas, theme and amusement parks, entertainment venues, conference facilities, shopping areas, a “world-class” marina, and at least one 18-hole golf course.

     David Preisler’s golf company has acquired a flood-prone golf club in Conroe, Texas. On the first day of the new year, Preisler Golf Properties took possession, for an undisclosed amount, of River Plantation Country Club, a nearly 50-year-old venue that features a 27-hole, Jay Riviere-designed golf complex. The seller was an entity called River Plantation Properties, with a reported ownership stake by Arcis Golf. Preisler is probably best known in the Lone Star State as one of Kevin Costner’s playing partners in Tin Cup, but his company also owns Oakhurst Golf Club in Porter, another northern suburb of Houston. News of Preisler’s purchase likely comes as a relief to River Plantation’s home owners, who feared that the golf course would be sold for more residential development.

     Surplus Transactions – The Tom Fazio-designed golf course in Bradenton, Florida, the golf amenity for the Ritz-Carlton Sarasota, is about to change hands. Dallas, Texas-based Ashford Hospitality Prime has agreed to put on the Ritz for $171 million, a price that will deliver a 266-room hotel, meeting space, a beach club, several eateries, and various other attractions, including the Ritz-Carlton Members Club and its 12-year-old, 18-hole track. . . . Can’t say exactly when it happened, but Badin Inn Golf Club has a new owner. The century-old venue outside Albemarle, North Carolina now belongs to Bert Seale, a former professional golfer who aims to redesign its 18-hole, Ed Seay-designed layout and open “a top-level academy that will be recognized worldwide.” Seale is now calling his property the Historic Badin Golf Resort & Inn. . . . Molly Reese has brought Ironwood Golf Course, an 18-hole track in Cookeville, Tennessee, back into her family. Reese’s grandfather, John Stites, designed and built Ironwood in the early 1970s but sold it in the early 1980s. Reese and her husband bought it from its fourth owner, Elaine Garrison, for an undisclosed price.

     A home builder has laid a claim on Carolina Club, the financially challenged, 47-year-old centerpiece of a seniors-only community in metropolitan Miami, Florida. “Even in an age-restricted community,” the president of 13th Floor Homes told the South Florida Business Journal, “it’s not an amenity many buyers are seeking.” A price hasn’t been disclosed. 13th Floor believes that Carolina’s 140 acres, now occupied by an 18-hole, Devlin/Von Hagge golf course, can comfortably accommodate 350 houses and, believe it or not, 80 acres of open space. Pending approvals for its plans, the company will buy the club from J&D Golf Properties, which has owned it since 2002. And it’s worth noting that 13th Floor is looking to buy other golf properties in South Florida as well, as it’s proposed to build houses on two golf courses at the Woodlands community in Tamarac.

     Desolation Row Extended – The homeowners’ group that’s operated Shamrock Golf Club and its 18-hole golf course since 2013 has surrendered. The group won’t extend its lease on Shamrock, and the club, in Burlington, North Carolina, is slated to be sold to a home builder. Shamrock, which opened in 1956, closed in 2011 but was revived when the homeowners decided that they couldn’t live without it. Now, apparently, they can. . . . Art Braswell has pulled the plug on his Robert Trent Jones-designed golf course. The centerpiece of Calimesa Country Club had operated since 1950, but it closed last fall, a victim of a sour golf market in Calimesa, California. Braswell has claimed that the club was losing hundreds of thousands of dollars annually, and he told the Calimesa News Mirror that he “should have closed it years ago.” . . . Time has run out on St. Helens Golf Course, a struggling nine-hole track in suburban Portland, Oregon. The course has been in business since 1959, but Suki Chung, its owner, thinks his 77 acres would be more valuable as an RV park.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

The Week That Was, march 4, 2018

     Never mind that the Trump Organization lost its court battle against some disgruntled members of Trump National Golf Club Jupiter, and never mind that it quit fighting even though it vowed not to. Instead, focus on how the Very Stable Genius’ golf operation so adroitly minimized its losses, a move it’s been perfecting for decades. The judge in the case ordered a payment of $5.77 million, but the plaintiffs have agreed to accept, pending the court’s approval, just $5.44 million. The agreement is easily justifiable for both sides, as it ends the court proceedings and allows the parties to happily go their separate ways. The net result, however, is an extra $330,000 in the president’s pocket, an amount that certainly takes some of the sting out of losing. The plaintiffs’ attorney called the settlement “an exclamation point on a big win.” Doesn’t he realize that his clients got less than the law said they deserve?

     Just weeks after he was rebuffed by a golf club in suburban Minneapolis, Minnesota, Peter Nanula was welcomed by one in Lake Worth, Florida. By an overwhelming margin (405-13), the members of Fountains Country Club, the financially distressed centerpiece of a community that opened in the early 1970s, have agreed to sell their property to Nanula’s Concert Golf Partners. Fountains features a trio of 18-hole, Devlin/Von Hagge golf courses, but only two are currently operating. Although a price hasn’t been officially disclosed, a report on the community’s website indicates that Concert has agreed to assume the club’s debt ($10 million) and promised to make $11 million worth of future capital improvements. (Part of the money – an expected $5 million – will come from the sale of property currently occupied by Fountains’ defunct North Course.) Among other things, Concert has also promised to operate 36 holes for at least two years, after which it reserves the right to close nine holes. Florida has proved itself to be a land of opportunity for Nanula, as his company now owns six golf venues in the Sunshine State. All told, Concert owns 17 properties in 11 states.

     Surplus Transactions – For an undisclosed price, OC Welch has agreed to buy Wilmington Island Club, a venue in Savannah, Georgia that features an 18-hole, Donald Ross-designed golf course. “It’s buying a piece of history,” he told the Savannah Morning News. Welch also manages Bacon Park Golf Course, a municipal track in Savannah that likewise features a Ross course. . . . Also for an undisclosed price, Bill Vaughan has purchased the 1,023-acre Rainmakers community outside Ruidoso, New Mexico. The Texas-based developer told the Ruidoso News that he intends to take the property “to the next level and make it the best resort in New Mexico and the Southwest.” Rainmakers features an 18-hole, Robert Trent Jones, Jr.-designed golf course that opened in 2008. Golf Digest thinks it’s the fourth-best track in the state. . . . For $550,000, Brad Mitchell and Ali Serrani have acquired Milestone Golf Club, a 12-year-old venue in Whitehall, New York. The property features a nine-hole layout that was designed by the seller, Bruce Jones. Serrani told the Rutland Herald that she and Mitchell, her future husband – they plan to get married on the eighth tee in October – plan to revitalize the club but “keep it for the blue-collar guy.”

     An entire catalog of criticisms has been leveled at signature architecture over the years, but one stands out: The biggest names in the business, it’s often said, simply roll out courses on an assembly line, favoring quantity over quality. The signatures have always denied the charge, naturally, but one of their own recently acknowledged its veracity. Thad Layton, a long-time associate at Arnold Palmer Design Company, told Golf Advisor that during the heyday of the development boom, when his firm’s courses were much in demand, he and his colleagues didn’t have enough time to produce “truly great” work. “We had a huge staff, and there were a lot of people who wanted Arnold Palmer-designed golf courses,” Layton confessed. “When you’re doing that much volume, it’s harder to pay attention to the finer details to make a golf course truly great.” Today, of course, the late King’s firm is no longer the factory it used to be, and Layton says “we have the time to spend on site and pay attention to those details.” His new, fresh take may resonate with prospective clients, but it’s probably small consolation to the hundreds who paid top-dollar for the company’s previous work.

     Vietnam is still on pace to meet its goal of opening 96 courses by the year 2020. The socialist republic currently has 60 courses, according to a report from the nation’s ministry of natural resources and environment, and it’s expected to have “around 100” by its self-imposed deadline. The outlook for golf development after 2020 is still anyone’s guess, but it’s hard to imagine the nation’s tourism officials advocating for a complete shut-off.

     It’s back to the drawing board for Darius Oliver, who’s suffered a setback in his plans to design what his clients hoped would be “one of the world’s most spectacular destination golf courses” on Kangaroo Island in Australia. The team that aims to build Cliffs Kangaroo Island – the same team that created the exhilarating Cape Wickham Links on Tasmania’s King Island – had asked to buy some state-owned waterfront property for Oliver’s course, but their request was denied. So Oliver, the publisher of Planet Golf, will have to limit his ambitions to inland property, perhaps to the same area that Greg Norman had identified when he produced his routing for the Cliffs. His course will still be built, but it won’t have the coastal pizazz that helped to make Cape Wickham the #24 track on Golf Digest’s list of the world’s 100 greatest golf courses.

     Pipeline Overflow – Kazakhstan’s 10th golf course could take shape at a Disneyland-inspired amusement park in suburban Almaty, the nation’s largest city. Kazakhstan & Central Asia This Week (sorry, no link available) reports that the park, to be called Happy Land, is being developed by a company called Happylon, and it’ll include a resort-style hotel, a spa, and a golf course. . . . A Ben Davey-designed golf course will be the featured attraction of Baihua Ridge, an emerging resort on Hainan Island. The island is a popular vacation spot – it’s China’s version of Hawaii – but the 18-hole track is likely to frustrate many golfers, as Davey acknowledges that “the steep grades and dense jungle will make retrieving errant shots impossible.” Davey, an Australian architect who apprenticed with Tony Cashmore, expects the course to open next year. . . . Later this year, Putrajaya Holdings hopes to break ground on Putrajaya, an “eco destination township” in Sepang, Malaysia. In addition to “calming waves, soothing sea breezes, and swaying palms,” the 1,678-acre waterfront spread will feature houses, hotels, a 27-hole golf complex.

     Warning to anyone who plans to take a golf holiday in Australia: Beware of angry kangaroos. Last month, a kangaroo attacked a golfer during an otherwise uneventful a round in Queensland, and an expert on marsupials predicts that such assaults will likely become “more common” in the future. The expert is still trying to determine whether the kangaroo was mad at the world in general or at golfers in particular.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

The Week That Was, february 25, 2018

     Reflecting the optimism that’s returned to golf operations, Henry DeLozier of Global Golf Advisors recently declared that “the growing economy” has led to “more participation” at U.S. golf courses. Unfortunately, the data on participation doesn’t support his claim, as the National Golf Foundation reports that the number of rounds played last year fell by 2.7 percent from the numbers posted in 2016. As is its habit, the NGF tried to put some lipstick on this statistical pig by characterizing the decline as “consistent with average weather-related fluctuation.” Maybe that’s true. But the Jupiter, Florida-based booster club also conceded that our industry has, sadly, “given back the gains from the prior two years.” Although the golf economy has most certainly improved, beware of those who view it through rose-colored glasses. It’s hard to find growth in a business that’s lost more than 6 million of its customers since 2006.

     Cuba hasn’t managed to open even one golf course for two decades, but its golf aspirations have gone forth and multiplied. In 2010, the socialist republic’s tourism ministers floated plans to build a dozen courses. Today, the number has swelled to 24, and still, vacationers to the island nation have but one 18-hole golf course to play, the same one Les Furber designed in Varadero in the late 1990s. Let’s face facts: Despite the hype, Cuba is where golf development dreams go to die.

     Slowly but surely, a partnership led by Northview Hotel Group is turning a sweet profit on the golf resorts it bought from Jeld-Wen Holdings. In 2010, the Westport, Connecticut-based company and its financier reportedly paid the window manufacturer $9.5 million for three properties in Oregon: Running Y Ranch in Klamath Falls, Eagle Crest Resort in Redmond, and Brasada Ranch in Powell Butte. Northview sold Running Y in 2014, at a price said to be just over $3 million, and now it’s sold Eagle Crest, a venue that features three 18-hole courses, for $12 million. Northview still owns Brasada Ranch and has said that it isn’t for sale, but business plans are always subject to change. The company says it was created to make “opportunistic hotel investments.” If the sales figures are accurate, it’s succeeding.

     Surplus Transactions – Watermark Properties has agreed to buy its sixth golf course. Come the first of March, the company expects to close on Ravines Golf Club, a 19-year-old property in Saugatuck, Michigan that features an 18-hole, Arnold Palmer-designed track. A price hasn’t been disclosed. Watermark currently owns three properties in Grand Rapids – Watermark Country Club, Thousand Oaks Country Club, and Golf Club at Thornapple Pointe – and two others in nearby suburban communities. . . . Hickory Sticks Golf Club, a 170-acre venue that’s operated in rural northwestern Ohio since 1961, has changed hands. Mark White has given the financially challenged 27-hole, Jim Spear-designed complex to the YMCA of Van Wert County, which hopes to transform it into what Turfnet.com calls “a regional showcase for golf enthusiasts.” . . . Late last year, Chris Smith paid $850,000 for Pinewood Country Club, an 89-acre property that’s faced financial hardships since Hurricane Katrina blew through Slidell, Louisiana. In part two of the transaction, Luis Ochoa paid $300,000 for Pinewood’s bar, restaurant, ballroom, and other amenities. Pinewood, which features an 18-hole, Bill Bergin-designed golf course, now operates as Pinewood Golf Club.

     Heath Golf & Yacht Club, a resort-style community in suburban Dallas, Texas that was initiated in 2011, if not before, is finally under construction. The featured attraction of the 787-acre spread will be an 18-hole golf course that Roy Bechtol, its designer, says will be “fun and beautiful.” Bechtol, who formerly co-designed with Randy Russell, has worked mostly in Texas (Bechtol Russell Golf Design created Club at Comanche Trace in Kerrville and Golf Club of Texas in San Antonio, among others) but also in Oklahoma (Gaillardia Country Club in Oklahoma City) and Louisiana (Black Bear Golf Club in Delhi). Most recently, Bechtol helped Jordan Spieth design a six-hole, par-3 track at University of Texas Golf Club. The course at Heath, described in a press release as “a blend of a links and parkland design,” is expected to open next summer.

     Pipeline Overflow – The government of Dubai aims to open what might be Montenegro’s first golf course. The Investment Corporation of Dubai, which manages the emirate’s sovereign wealth fund, says that it wants to build “golf courses” in the beautiful Balkan nation, one of which may take shape in a forthcoming resort community called Porto Montenegro. Of course, the ICI is currently running in second place, because Luštica Bay, a slow-developing community along the nation’s Adriatic coast, aims to debut its Gary Player-designed layout in 2020. . . . If it can secure some tax advantages, Jacoby Development intends to build a master-planned community on 1,150 acres south of Cartersville, Georgia. The community, called Villages at Red Top, will include 1,400 single-family houses, 600 multi-family units, a commercial area, and a golf course. . . . Callaly Leisure, Ltd. has set out to build what appears to be an RV park on a former coal mine in Northumberland, England, the nation’s “Blue Sky County.” According to the Northumberland Gazette, the Chevington Castle Holiday Park will offer 200 lots for land yachts, 275 lots for “static caravans,” 475 lots for permanent houses, and some recreational attractions, among them a nine-hole golf course.

     Chris, Allison, and James A. Osborne want to pull the plug on one of the two golf courses they own in suburban Louisville, Kentucky. On the brink of extinction is Woodlawn Springs Golf Course, an 18-hole, David Pfaff-designed layout that’s been in business since the mid 1990s. The Osbornes have said that Woodlawn Springs “might just be the best-kept secret in the Louisville area,” but they gave the Kentucky Standard reason to believe that the track is “going broke.” The Osbornes bought Woodlawn Springs and Maywood Golf Course, both part of the Bardstown Country Club community, in 2004. Much to the distress of home owners in the community, they’re now seeking permission to build houses on the 140-acre spread. Local planning officials have approved the Osbornes’ plans, but Nelson County will reportedly have the final say.

     Desolation Row Extended – Salt Creek Golf Club, which the San Diego Union-Tribune says “has lost money since opening in 2000,” will end its short, unhappy life in mid March. The club, in Chula Vista, California, features an 18-hole course that was co-designed by John Cook and Cary Bickler. . . . It appears that one of the oldest golf courses on the Grand Strand will soon bite the dust. A residential developer has agreed to buy Conway Country Club, a 65-year-old venue (only Pine Lakes Country Club and Dunes Golf & Beach Club are older) with a nine-hole, Jimmy Self-designed golf course. The Myrtle Beach Sun-News reports that the club “was for decades a vibrant part of the social life” in Conway, South Carolina, but those days are obviously long gone. The club has been struggling for years, and if the transaction closes its 60 acres will be dotted with houses. . . . A residential developer has laid a claim on nine of the Stephen Kay-designed 27 holes at Blue Fox Run Golf Course in Avon, Connecticut. The complex’s owner, a group called Blue Fox Run Enterprises, will maintain an 18-hole layout on their property, but, pending approval by local elected officials, it’ll be accented by nearly 200 single-family houses and apartments.

     The future of what was supposed to be a “first-rate ecological golf course” in Nova Scotia, Canada is in doubt because its developer was found guilty of violating the province’s Environment Act.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

The Week That Was, february 18, 2018

     A commission that once seemed lost is back in play for Tiger Woods. We’re talking about Two Farms, a community in suburban Nashville, Tennessee that’s being developed by Woods’ most dedicated client, Beacon Land Development. Woods designed the golf course for Beacon’s Bluejack National, in suburban Houston, Texas, and he’s agreed to produce at least one track for Jack’s Bay, the company’s forthcoming community in the Bahamas. Woods had also been pegged to design the golf course at Two Farms, but his participation became doubtful when Beacon took on Discovery Land Company as its development partner. Discovery, as most everyone knows, nowadays works exclusively with Tom Fazio, a proven commodity whose career has been untouched by scandal. But last fall Discovery dropped out of the picture – it expressed concerns about water availability at Two Farms – and Beacon’s replacement partner doesn’t have any architectural prejudices. The result: If the developers can secure the required entitlements, they’ll build 1,180 houses, a retail/commercial area, a waste-water treatment plant, and an 18-hole golf course. According to Beacon’s president, Woods is “looking to take the character of the [Two Farms] land today and enhance it.” The nature of the enhancement hasn’t yet been outlined.

     You wouldn’t think that having a hotel operator for a president would have a negative effect on the U.S. travel business, but it has. Over the past two years, according to the U.S. Travel Association, the U.S. share of inbound international travel has been falling – from 13.6 percent in 2015 to 12.9 percent in 2016 to 11.9 percent last year. What’s more, says the Commercial Observer, the United States is one of only two nations among the world’s top 12 travel destinations that has experienced a significant decline in its share of international travel during that period. (The other, not surprisingly, was Turkey.) “International tourism is definitely down,” acknowledged Chris Muoio, the chief economist for Ten-X, an Irvine, California-based real-estate research firm. In an interview with the Observer, Muoio put the blame squarely on the White House. “As long as this administration is in place,” he said, “I think there’s going to be a tepid, cooler response toward traveling to the U.S. It’s just become a less desirable destination based off the rhetoric and attitude that’s been put out there.” On the campaign trail, the Very Stable Genius promised to be good for business. He never confessed that he was talking about his own.

     The golf course at a community that once bragged of being America’s first fly-in dude ranch was recently sold at a foreclosure auction. Doug and Cindy Stevens, operating as Equalizer Inc., bid $3 million for Flying L Hill Country Resort, a faded, 70-year-old vacation getaway in Bandera, Texas, a town in greater San Antonio that bills itself as “the cowboy capital of the world.” Flying L features a forgettable 18-hole golf course that dates from 1972, and its air strip was long ago replaced by a driving range. Since 2013, it had been in the hands of Jody and Susan Jenkins, who reportedly “lived the ranch life and really supported the cowboy way.” Unfortunately, their Trey West LLC defaulted on a debt and was forced to declare for bankruptcy protection. The new owners have promised to revive the community, but they haven’t said how.

     Surplus Transactions – A bakery owner has acquired a “neglected” par-60 track on Hawaii’s O’ahu island. Kerry Lau, the president of Regal Food, Inc., reportedly paid $5.8 million for Bayview Golf Course, a Robin Nelson-designed track that opened in 1997. Pacific Business News reports that Windward Church of the Nazarene was hoping to get $8.5 million for the 98-acre property. . . . Lake Wissota Golf Course, an under-performing 18-hole track in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin – the birthplace of Annie Hall! – has a new owner. Can’t say who it is, though, because the facilitator of the transaction is keeping his or her identity a secret. For what it’s worth, the Don Stepanik-designed track was being marketed as “a hidden gem” that could “benefit from new ownership with a drive to increase business.” The asking price was $1.5 million. . . . For $850,000, the city of Louisville, Kentucky has assumed control of Quail Chase Golf Club. The 27-hole, David Pfaff-designed complex (it opened in two phases, in 1988 and 1991) is located on city-owned property, and it had been leased by an entity called Golf Development Company, Inc.

     Membership no longer has all of its privileges at Walmer Country Club, a venue in Port Elizabeth, South Africa that’s operated since 1942. In an attempt to cope with the Eastern Cape’s debilitating water crisis, the club has outlawed the use of its showers. According to a local radio station, Walmer has experienced “a marked increase in its water usage” since authorities put residential water restrictions into place.

     Some golf writers have gotten all gloomy and forlorn about the loss of Steve Wynn’s golf course on the Las Vegas Strip, but their discontent isn’t shared by the property’s owner. The Tom Fazio-designed layout at Wynn Golf Club never quite lived up to Wynn’s expectations – he apparently believed it was better than the Fazio-created course he’d built at Shadow Creek, an opinion shared by few others – and he couldn’t shake the idea that its location was worth a fortune. (“I’ve got a billion and a half dollars of real estate under that golf course,” he once said.) So, late last year, the casino mogul and accused sexual harasser pulled the blinds on Wynn Golf Club. No tears need be shed. The course was never anything more than a means to an end. Great golf, by contrast, is always an end in itself.

     Desolation Row Extended – Sandy Woodruff has agreed to sell her Valley Gardens Golf Course, a nine-hole, executive-length track in metropolitan San Jose, California, to a developer. “The numbers have been bad for the past five years,” she told the Santa Cruz Sentinel. Woodruff’s father opened Valley Gardens, a 29-acre, Bob Baldock-designed layout, in 1971. Pending a successful rezoning, the course will be replaced by nearly 200 houses and apartments. . . . Time has run out on Fox Hill Golf Course, an 18-hole, 5,844-yard track in Massena, New York. “The golf business is not lucrative these days,” John Kearns, the course’s owner, told North Country Now. “It was costing me money to stay open.” Kearns, who built the course in 1999, plans to retire and live in Fox Hill’s clubhouse. . . . Pocomoke, Maryland, which dubs itself as “the friendliest town on the Eastern Shore,” has pulled the plug on its golf course. The nine-hole Winter Quarters Golf Course, which had operated since 1934, has reportedly lost about $150,000 annually in recent years.

     This year’s India Golf Expo is going back to where it all started. The networking event, described by its organizers as “an exciting mix of golf and business,” will be held in Bangalore, where it was initiated seven years ago. The R&A has promised to send “a complete delegation,” and “lavish buffet lunches, industry dinners, and entertainment” are guaranteed for all. The dates: April 19 and 20.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

The Week That Was, february 11, 2018

     One of the faces on golf’s Mount Rushmore has turned its eyes in a new direction. Jack Nicklaus, who’s long been arguably the most indispensable person in our industry, has decided to “re-prioritize his time and focus,” he acknowledged in a press release. Acting on a plan that was established a decade ago, the 78-year-old megastar says he’s stepped away from Nicklaus Companies and will devote most of his future to charitable activities and the “many other things I am very interested in.” Nicklaus’ announcement doesn’t come as a great surprise, but it does nonetheless give one pause. In his statement, Nicklaus said that he “didn’t want to make a big deal out of it,” but it’s impossible not to. He’s a fabled professional player, a prolific golf architect, and an internationally known businessman, and though he’s promised not to abandon the world of golf entirely, he leaves a void. From here on in, Nicklaus Companies will be almost completely in the hands of Howard Milstein, the banker who’s largely responsible for turning Nicklaus’ reputation into an empire. Nicklaus Design will continue to operate, but its namesake will only “support the golf course design projects currently under development.” So it’s time to wonder what becomes a legend most, because the handwriting is on the wall: Slowly but surely, our most trusted spokesperson is headed for the exits. An uncertain industry will have to figure out how to manage without him.

     Brent Wadsworth, a seminal figure in modern golf, died last week in suburban Chicago, Illinois, where his Wadsworth Golf Construction Company was headquartered. He was 88. Though he was primarily known as a builder, Wadsworth was also a golf architect, a course owner, a philanthropist, and a dedicated supporter of grow-the-game initiatives through his Links Across America program. There are many ways to measure the impact that he had on our business, and here’s just one: In his lifetime, he won the top honors that can be bestowed by the American Society of Golf Course Architects, the Golf Course Builders Association of America, and the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America. In 1958, he founded what became the first national course construction company, one that could meet any challenge on any terrain in any environment. His company built, renovated, or redesigned hundreds of golf courses, maybe a thousand of them, and when the architects of our times needed a builder, Wadsworth was on their short list. It set the standard for contemporary golf construction. Wadsworth was fundamental to the games golfers play, be they on hometown tracks or on PGA Tour-worthy venues, and he leaves a legacy that will endure.

     The merciless, years-long drought in southern Africa is taking a toll on the region’s golf business. Cape Town, as most everyone knows, has all but exhausted its supply of fresh water, and in just weeks its residents will be forced to survive on just 6.5 gallons a day. Golf courses throughout South Africa are, not surprisingly, turning brown. Some can no longer wash their laundry, and at least one has had to remove the fish from its disappearing ponds. But arguably the biggest impact of the water scarcity has been felt at Royal Cape Golf Club, the longtime host of the Cape Town Open. Royal Cape is no longer in any condition to host a professional golf tournament, let alone one of the continent’s premier events, so the open has been relocated to another course in the city. For most Americans, Cape Town is out of sight and therefore out of mind, but it’s showing us what happens to golf courses that aren’t irrigated with effluent water. And Cape Town isn’t an isolated case. California has suffered through its own drought in recent years, and a British news report says that a quarter of the world’s 500 largest cities are experiencing some form of “water stress.” The cities most at risk include some expected names – São Paulo, Beijing, Cairo, Mexico City – but also some unexpected ones, including London, Tokyo, and Miami.

     Arcis Golf has added to what it calls “our growing collection of one-of-a-kind lifestyle properties.” The Dallas, Texas-based company, one of the largest owner/operators in America, has paid an undisclosed price for TPC Valencia, a 15-year-old private club in suburban Los Angeles, California. TPC Valencia has a golf course that bears the “signature” of Mark O’Meara, and it’s located within earshot of another Arcis-owned property, Valencia Country Club, which has a Robert Trent Jones-designed layout. Although a press release suggests that the properties are “exceptional golf clubs,” neither one has a course that’s ranked among California’s top 30 by Golf Digest. Arcis owns and/or manages 57 golf properties, according to the listing on its website, a collection that consists of 20 private clubs, 28 public courses, and nine municipal facilities. The properties are located in Arizona, California, Illinois, Texas, and 10 other states. With its purchase of TPC Valencia and similar venues, the company claims to be “reinventing the modern club experience.”

     Surplus Transactions – Troon Golf has agreed to buy the Clubs at St. James Plantation, the centerpiece of a 6,000-acre community in Southport, North Carolina that opened in the early 1990s. St. James features a quartet of 18-hole golf courses that were designed by Hale Irwin, P. B. Dye, Tim Cate, and Nicklaus Design, and Troon is intimately familiar with all of them, as it’s managed the club for a dozen years. . . . Late last year, a group of members acquired the struggling Wildwood Golf & Country Club, a century-old venue in Cape May Court House, New Jersey. A price hasn’t been disclosed, but it sounds as if the new owners took possession simply by clearing the club’s debt. Wildwood features an 18-hole, Stiles & Van Kleek-designed layout that dates from 1922. When the club re-opens this spring, it’ll be called the Shore Club. . . . Antioch Golf Course, an 18-hole track in north-suburban Chicago, Illinois that’s reportedly losing $200,000 a year, has a new owner. Unfortunately, all I can tell you about the sale is that the seller was asking for $950,000 and that a nearby community could have had it for $750,000 but passed on the opportunity.

     A Riyadh-based company has secured a contract to produce a golf course in NEOM City, which is promoting itself as “the world’s most ambitious project.” Al Bawani Company hasn’t yet provided any details about the golf course – heck, the track may not even open until 2025 – but the opportunity to help build NEOM City will raise its already high profile in the Middle East. NEOM City, which will take shape on more than 10,000 square miles at northern tip of Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea coast, is fundamentally a vanity project that was conceived by the kingdom’s crown prince, who’s promised to create a “land of the future” that’s “unrivaled in concept” and “unconstrained by history.” The city will be powered by wind and solar energy and filled with armies of robots to make life wonderful, and its not-yet finalized master plan will identify sites for five palaces that will serve as second (or third or fourth) homes for Saudi princes.

     Nearly a year after Muirfield grudgingly solved its woman problem, another ancient Scottish golf venue has come to terms with contemporary times. In a nearly unanimous vote, the all-male members of Royal Aberdeen Golf Club, a venue that’s operated since 1780, have chosen to welcome females into their midst. “I think the days of single-gender clubs are slowly disappearing,” the club’s secretary explained, “and we didn’t want to be left behind.” Those words are misleading, however, because Royal Aberdeen’s decision wasn’t an expression of open-mindedness. The club last hosted the Scottish Open in 2014, and it wasn’t going to get back into the rotation for the event as long as it maintained a single-sex membership. But that’s life. Sometimes people do the right things for the wrong reasons.