Sunday, August 13, 2017

The Week That Was, august 13, 2017

     With apologies to Jon Landau: I have seen the future of golf, and it's Topgolf.
     Bruce Springsteen references aside, it’s become clear that a new center of power is emerging in a weakened, demoralized golf industry. Topgolf, which has opened nearly three dozen U.S. venues that cleverly combine golf with food, music, and a casual, fun vibe, is being offered new opportunities for growth in conventional golf operations. While Topgolf and its new-found partners always talk about being in win-win situations, at least for now traditional golf is doing more for Topgolf than Topgolf is doing for traditional golf.
     Just weeks ago, one of our industry’s true powerhouses – ClubCorp, the self-described “World Leader in Private Clubs” – announced a “strategic alliance” with Topgolf, as part of an effort to establish “the connections that bring people together for unforgettable good times.” The nature of the relationship between the parties hasn’t been spelled out, but it appears that Topgolf will install its ball-tracking technology at some ClubCorp-owned driving ranges, presumably to inject a little life into otherwise dull practice sessions.
     Last week, it was revealed that Topgolf may soon make a move into municipal golf operations. The city of Honolulu is looking for a private-sector group to take over management of the under-performing driving range at Ala Wai Golf Course, and Topgolf has reportedly expressed interest.
     In addition, last week Topgolf found its highest-profile partner to date, as the PGA of America has acknowledged that it’s persuaded Topgolf to do some things it apparently can no longer do for itself, namely find jobs for the nation’s PGA’s professionals and attract an audience for PGA-sponsored tournaments and development programs. We’ll get a sample of what’s to come as soon as tomorrow, when a Topgolf venue in Las Vegas is scheduled to host an “unforgettable” equipment demonstration for a PGA-organized event.
     Topgolf has operated in the United States since 2005 – a mere 12 years. It was dismissed at first, and even ignored. But today it looks young and exciting, while traditional golf looks old and tired. Which side would you rather be on? Topgolf could lose its appeal tomorrow, given the speed at which tastes change nowadays, but it’s clear that the Powers That Be in our business aren’t betting on it.

     Brown Golf Management has been sold, but it’s remaining in the Brown family. The sale was prompted by the retirement of John A. Brown, Jr., the family patriarch, who’s sold his majority interest in the firm to his sons, John M. and Todd, and Jason Harshbarger, all of whom have been principals in the firm since it was founded in 2011. A price hasn’t been announced. Brown Golf owns, leases, or manages 21 golf properties (29 total courses) in South Carolina, Florida, Georgia, and three other states. The group includes Palmetto Hall Plantation, a 36-hole venue on Hilton Head Island, Gainesville Country Club in Florida, and three properties owned by the time-share division of Holiday Inn Corporation: Holiday Hills Resort in Branson, Missouri; Apple Mountain Resort in Clarksville, Georgia; and Orange Lake Resort in Kissimmee, Florida.

     Before the end of the year, Tim Lobb hopes to break ground on his third course in Egypt. The 18-hole track will take shape at the massive Somabay resort community, near Hurghada on the Red Sea coast, and it’ll complement the property’s Gary Player-designed Cascades layout, a venue that currently checks in at #2 on Golf Digest’s list of Egypt’s top courses. (When it opened, in 1998, Player called it “the next Pebble Beach.”) Lobb intends to produce a course that’s “player friendly and fun to play,” and the developers expect it to offer “a world-class, enjoyable, and memorable golf experience.” While working as a principal in now-defunct Thomson Perrett & Lobb, Lobb helped to create a course at another Red Sea resort, El Ein Bay, and these days he’s overseeing the construction of a TPL-branded track at New Giza, in suburban Cairo.

     Pipeline Overflow – A Vietnamese developer that aims “to touch people’s lives positively” is preparing to break ground on its third multi-course golf venue. PPC An Thinh Vietnam Investment & Infrastructure JSC – PPCAT for short – wants to build a 36-hole complex at the Bảo Ninh resort community in Quảng Bình Province. PPCAT also has two properties in Vĩnh Phúc Province, the 36-hole Bàn Long Golf Course and the 54-hole Gia Khau Golf Course. . . . Sometime next summer, Jonathan Davison expects to debut his second solo design in the Czech Republic. The par-3 track will take shape at Golf Park Lhotka, outside Ostrava in the northeastern part of the nation, and Davison, one of Europe’s up-and-coming architects, thinks it’s “exactly the type of facility” that nascent golf markets need “to help introduce people to the game.” Previously, Davison completed a pair of nine-hole tracks for the Heipark resort in Odry. . . . The design firm founded by Arthur Hills has opened its second golf course in Russia. First came Forest Hills Golf & Country Club, in suburban Moscow. Now Hills and Steve Forrest, the principals of Hills Forrest International Golf Course Architects, have unveiled Peterhof Golf Club, outside St. Petersburg. Peterhof has been in progress since 2011, if not before.

     Over the past decade, Great Britain has lost more than a quarter of its golfers. Sports Marketing Surveys counted 4.1 million British golfers in 2007 but fewer than 3 million last year.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

The Week That Was, august 6, 2017

     As we count down the days to this year’s Farmfoods British Par 3 Championship, Tony Jacklin has lots of wonderful things to say about par-3 golf. The British golf legend justifiably maintains that shorter holes lend themselves to a “more accessible” version of golf, one that can equally engage “golfers at all levels” and make the game “fun for the whole family.” In fact, he believes that par-3 golf can “give new life to the game.” Regrettably, however, Jacklin may not be a credible witness. He’s the host of the Farmfoods championship, and he serves as an “ambassador” to the event, so he’s being paid to promote par-3 golf. It would have been nice if Golf Punk, which published Jacklin’s comments, had acknowledged Jacklin’s role. And it also would have been nice if Golf Punk had mentioned that it’s the event’s “official media partner.”

     Golf Canada has enlisted Jack Nicklaus to help it find a property that can serve as the home of the Canadian Open. Canada’s national golf championship has been played 29 times at Glen Abbey Golf Club, a Nicklaus-designed venue in suburban Toronto, but Glen Abbey’s days as a golf venue are numbered. The Hamilton Spectator reports that Golf Canada is considering three replacement sites in the Toronto area and gave Nicklaus a look-see while this year’s Canadian Open was being contested. Nicklaus hasn’t commented on the quality of the properties and hasn’t officially been offered a design contract, but Golf Canada officials consider him to be “a valued opinion” and “a very valued and trusted sounding board.” Given the sensitivities that inevitably affect such high-profile projects, however, one would think that a Canadian designer should also be considered for the job. Is it possible that Nicklaus would consider doing a co-design, perhaps with a Canadian professional golfer? Hey, Mike Weir: Are you still itching to become a “signature” architect?

     Pipeline Overflow – A British group has announced plans to build a 1,250-acre resort community, including a golf course, in Bà Rịa-Vũng Tàu Province, an area of Vietnam known for its unspoiled beaches. The community doesn’t yet have a name, but London, England-based WCG Worldwide Holdings has master-planned it to include villas and apartments, a pair of hotels, a convention center, a marina, a terminal for cruise ships, indoor and outdoor water parks, a safari park, a shopping mall, a medical center, an ice-skating rink, a spa, and other attractions. The province is already home to one of the nation’s best-known courses, the Greg Norman-designed track at the Bluffs Hồ Tràm Strip. . . . Bauchi State, in northeastern Nigeria, is building an 18-hole golf course in Yankari National Park, the nation’s most popular vacation destination. “We want to showcase the tourism potential of Bauchi State through golf,” one of the project’s organizers recently said. Yankari, which occupies roughly 866 square miles, has been described as “the country’s richest wildlife oasis,” with large populations of elephants, lions, hippos, and other big game. . . . Mike Keiser is expected to file his development plans for Coul Links soon, perhaps by sometime next month. It doesn’t appear that Keiser and his development partner, Todd Warnock, have won over conservationists in the Scottish Highlands, but the application was supposed to have been submitted earlier this year and it’s apparently now time to fish or cut bait. Bill Coore anxiously awaits, as he believes the site “might be the best ever.”

     A Chicago-based merchant bank has acquired Jon Huntsman, Sr.’s golf community outside Jackson Hole, Wyoming. BDT Capital Partners has paid an undisclosed price for Huntsman Springs, a 1,350-acre spread that the Jackson Hole News & Guide says “was built on the eve of the Great Recession and has suffered the effects of the crash ever since.” Huntsman Springs, which has an address in Driggs, Idaho, features an 18-hole, David McLay Kidd-designed golf course, hundreds of undeveloped lots, a restaurant, a spa, and sites for a hotel and a clubhouse, both of which are forthcoming. Huntsman, a billionaire who made his money in chemical manufacturing (he’s also the father of the future ambassador to Russia), has said that the sale was “required” due to “challenging” health issues. He’s 80, and he’s said to be a four-time cancer survivor.

     Surplus Transactions – Regarding John McConnell’s prospective purchase of Southern Pines Golf Club, outside Pinehurst, North Carolina: It’s off, at least for the time being. McConnell reportedly “walked away from the deal” when he and the club’s owner couldn’t agree on terms. Let’s be clear, however: Just because a fellow takes a walk doesn’t mean he’s taking a hike. . . . Regarding the expected sale of Las Vegas Country Club: It’s off, apparently definitely. Discovery Land Company and its purchasing partner, Wolff Company, have reportedly told the club’s members that they’re “backing out of the deal” for financial and water-related reasons. The club isn’t likely to be left high and dry, though, as other prospective buyers are said to be “waiting in the wings.” . . . The owner of Double JJ Resort, in Rothbury, Michigan, has acquired a second golf property. Antler Bar Amusements, a group led by Matthew Halbower, now owns Grand View Golf Course, a 23-year-old track in nearby New Era. Grand View’s 18-hole layout will complement Double JJ’s Arthur Hills-designed course.

     In Kalamazoo, Michigan, a golf venue founded by marijuana traffickers is about to go under. John Brussee has agreed to sell Thornapple Creek Golf Club to Daniel Scheffers, the president of a local construction company, for an undisclosed amount. “I had an offer and I took it,” Brussee told the Kalamazoo Gazette, adding: “People don't play golf as much as they used to.” Brussee, who acquired Thornapple Creek in 1998, is reportedly the property’s fourth owner. The club was established in 1979, by a trio who were, according to the Gazette, “linked to a multimillion-dollar drug trafficking network.” Following convictions, the U.S. Department of Justice took possession of the property in 1986 and sold it the following year. Scheffers hasn’t announced his intentions for the 194-acre club, but it appears that he’s going to use it for hunting and fishing.

     Desolation Row Extended – Just four years short of celebrating its 100th birthday, Hillcrest Golf Club is about to go belly up. The club, in St. Paul, Minnesota, will close at the end of the current golf season, as it no longer has enough members to make ends meet. Hillcrest’s owner, Steamfitters Pipefitters Local 455, has described the club’s continuing annual losses “untenable.” . . . On the third of July, Legacy Golf Club, in suburban Las Vegas, Nevada, was sold and immediately closed. A group called Par Excellence Drive Trust LLC reportedly offered $5.6 million for the club and its 18-hole, Arthur Hills-designed golf course, and an entity related to Pacific Life Insurance Company accepted. The new owners aim to build what they call “a planned use development” on the club’s 177 acres, but residents in the area intend to fight the proposal. . . . A nine-hole golf course in Westcliffe, Colorado didn’t open this year, and it may be closed for good. A lender has reportedly foreclosed on St. Andrews Golf Course, a venue that opened in 1990, and a public auction will likely be held.

     Only 26 new golf facilities have opened in Canada since 2010, and these days our northern neighbor has just 22 of those awkwardly designated “18-hole equivalent facilities” in the pipeline. So there’s no reason to expect a near-term increase in the supply of golf venues in Canada, which trails only the United States when it comes to a total count of golf courses. (If you’re wondering, the United States wins in a blowout, 15,014 to 2,298. Japan comes in third, with 2,290.) Those who are intrigued by such factoids are advised to check out “Golf Facilities in Canada 2017,” which has been published jointly by Golf Canada and the PGA of Canada and claims to be “a comprehensive snapshot of the Canadian golf landscape.” For those whose thirst for such knowledge hasn’t yet been quenched, the report also points out that 90 percent of Canada’s courses are open to the public and that 36 percent of them are nine-hole tracks.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

The Week That Was, july 30, 2017

     This year’s Open Championship set a laudable attendance mark, but the achievement may not be everything the R&A is touting it to be. For the record, the 146th edition of the magisterial event, held at Royal Birkdale just weeks ago, attracted 235,000 men, women, and children – a number greater than any venue aside from St. Andrews has ever recorded. The thing is, the R&A’s figures indicate that 15,000 of the 2017 attendees were juniors who got free passes as part of a grow-the-game initiative. So where does that leave us? The outcome is still worth bragging about – even if we eliminate the freeloaders, the Open lured 220,000 people, which would tie it for fourth on the all-time list – but the R&A should only be distributing attendance from paying customers. Be that as it may, the leader on the big board is the 2000 Open at St. Andrews, which counted 239,000 attendees. Next in line is the 2015 Open at St. Andrews (237,000), followed by Royal Birkdale this month.

     John McConnell, who’s always on the prowl for attractive golf properties in the Carolinas, may soon add another to his collection. The founder of McConnell Golf, who advertises his properties as “pure golf for the true golfer,” is the leading candidate to bag Southern Pines Golf Club, which is being sold by the Elks Club in Southern Pines, North Carolina. The club features an 18-hole, Donald Ross-designed course that’s said to rank “near the top of best courses to play in North Carolina.” A deal hasn’t officially been struck, but McConnell has advantages over the other suitors for the property. He has deeper pockets and a profound appreciation for Ross courses, and he needs a property in the Pinehurst area to give his membership sales some zing. His company owns 11 private clubs, and at least four of them feature Ross courses. The Elks are eager to find a buyer quickly, because they need a new lodge.

     The Republican Governors Association, the Republican Party of Virginia, and various GOP campaigns and committees are generously lining the U.S. president’s pockets, but the public at large isn’t giving a vote of confidence to Trump National Golf Club Los Angeles. Since June 2015, when Donald Trump made his grand entrance into the presidential campaign, the daily-fee course in Rancho Palos Verdes, California has been feeling a financial pinch. “It’s under-performed the market since 2015,” the executive director of the Southern Californian Golf Association told the Washington Post. “Just at the time when the rest of the industry was starting to see some upticks . . . it seems to have gone into a decline.” The numbers tell the story: Revenues from greens fees and cart rentals at the $300-a-round golf course (which, according to an appraiser, is “way overpriced”) have fallen by 12 percent, A dozen golf tournaments and golf-related charity events that once made regular appearances at the club have departed, the newspaper says, taking with them an estimated $250,000 in spending. The club, which once banked income from an average of 17 weddings a year, hasn’t hosted even one since November 2016. The number of movies, television shows, and commercials filmed on the property has fallen by nearly two-thirds. Given this accounting, it’s legitimate to wonder if Trump Golf might eventually put the property on the market.

     Golf’s institutional leaders may act as if they control our business, but the leverage is really in hands of their business partners. Women are, for example, members of the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews and other former all-men’s clubs in Great Britain because HSBC all but demanded it as a condition of its continuing sponsorship. And now Trump Golf is feeling a corporate snub, from the company that sponsors the Scottish Open. Citing “clear issues” related to “politics,” Aberdeen Asset Management currently has no desire to host the Open at Trump International Golf Links Scotland. “Politics aside, Trump would be an ideal venue,” the company’s CEO told the Scotsman, “but you can’t put politics aside.” AAM’s sentiment is shared by the R&A, which months ago turned its back on Trump Turnberry as a site for the Open Championship. So it’s time to ask: How long before the sponsors of top-flight professional events in the United States stop putting politics aside and give Trump-owned venues the cold shoulder?

     Darius Oliver, the co-designer of Cape Wickham Links, has a second solo architectural commission: The publisher of Planet Golf is creating a nine-hole, par-3 track for the Hills, New Zealand’s most exclusive private club. The course, to be called the Farm, won’t have any tees, so golfers will be free to start from wherever they please, and it won’t have any bunkers, so it’ll be easier to play and maintain. “It’s the perfect venue to introduce children to our great game and an even better place to retreat before or after a beating on the tournament course,” Oliver said in a press release. He also noted, “I will have failed if members don’t play the course regularly.” As construction proceeds on the Farm, Oliver can hardly wait to get started on an 18-hole layout that’s expected to be built on Australia’s Kangaroo Island. It’s expected to be “one of the world’s most spectacular destination golf courses.” 

     Pipeline Overflow – The members of the National Golf Club, one of Australia’s most famous golf venues, have approved Tom Doak’s proposed $4.8 million overhaul of their Ocean course. Darius Oliver of Planet Golf describes the track, a product of Peter Thomson’s company, as “the lowliest ranked and least popular” of the club’s three courses. He thinks the club “is almost certain to see an under-performing golf course made more generous and enjoyable for the masses.” . . . A golf course will be among the attractions at an entertainment destination that’s expected to take shape in the Mekong Delta region of southern Vietnam. The Phú Cường Kiên Giang Ocean Urban Complex will occupy 420 coastal acres outside Rạch Giá, the capital of Kiên Giang Province, and it’s been master-planned to include a marina, a water park, a sports center, swimming pools, an international school, a shopping area, a hospital, a helicopter pad, and other attractions. Phú Cường Kiên Giang Investment JSC, which is primarily a seafood processor, began construction earlier this year and expects to debut phase one in 2020. . . . An unidentified local development groups want to build a golf course in a “satellite city” that’s taking shape outside Bulawayo, the second-largest city in Zimbabwe. According to Jonathan Thompson of Thompson Properties, who’s overseeing the construction, the unnamed city will also feature 20,000 houses (“plush and affluent houses,” no less), office space, an industrial park, shopping areas, schools, health-care facilities, recreational facilities, and other attractions.

     A trio of investors in Lake Havasu City, Arizona has paid $3 million for the Courses at the London Bridge, a 36-hole complex that dates from the mid 1960s. Dan Esse, Jeff Gilbert, and Craig Adams plan to spend millions more to redesign and refresh the courses, which, they believe, have been “driven down by corporations” who’ve owned the property in recent decades. The partners bought London Bridge from Arcis Golf, which has been lightening its portfolio of late. They aim to make the complex, to be renamed as Lake Havasu Golf Club, a place that local residents will be “proud to bring their families and friends to.”

     For sale: America’s most-liked least-played golf course. Wolf Point Ranch, which features an 18-hole, Mike Nuzzo-designed layout that makes critics swoon – “one of the greatest courses I have ever seen,” one of them has gushed – is being offered for $7.7 million. The track is outside Port Lavaca, Texas, and it’s hardly been played, as it was built for the personal use of the wealthy Texans who own the ranch. Nuzzo’s course is the centerpiece of a 475-acre spread that includes a 7,200-square-foot mansion, a 2,000-square-foot clubhouse, and undeveloped that could, in the words of a real estate agent, “potentially be developed.” Wouldn’t that be exciting!

Sunday, July 23, 2017

The Week That Was, july 23, 2017

     Cape Wickham Links, one of the golf industry’s true trophy properties, now belongs to an investor who’s said to be based in Hà Nội, Vietnam. The Australian Financial Review reports that Ekaterina Kolmakova – sounds like a Russian woman, no? – paid “almost” $16 million for Cape Wickham, a 330-acre oceanfront spread on King Island in Tasmania. Duncan Andrews put the course, ranked #24 in the world by Golf Digest and #1 in Australia by Golf Australia, on the market in February. News of the sale was announced earlier this month, but the name of the seller wasn’t revealed until this morning. Kolmakova, who has no discernable presence on the internets, is expected to begin operating the course, a co-design by Mike DeVries and Darius Oliver, next month.

     Steve Smyers has designed one of the world’s toughest golf courses, perhaps the toughest. Maridoe Golf Club, a just-opened 18-hole track in Carrollton, Texas, has a rating of 80.5 and the U.S. Golf Association’s maximum slope, 155, thanks to what the Dallas Morning News describes as “consistently narrow and sloping fairways, deep rough, and water in play on 14 holes.” Maridoe’s gaudy numbers put it ahead of the most difficult course on an ESPN ranking, the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island, which checks in at 79.6 and 155. Smyers, a Lakeland, Florida-based architect, built Maridoe for Albert Huddleston, who’s reportedly looking to host a U.S. Open. But Huddleston may be having second thoughts about having created such a monster, as the newspaper notes that “subtle alterations are likely,” specifically “wider, more accessible fairways.” The club’s president has acknowledged that he wants to “try to make it better.”

     Nicklaus Design’s first golf course in Denmark, a track that’s said to be “very fun and rewarding to play,” has opened after a lengthy and unexplained delay. Great Northern Golf Course, a 27-hole complex in the town of Kerteminde, is the first golf venture for Thomas Kirk Kristiansen, an heir to the Lego fortune who also reportedly breeds Arabian horses. Kristiansen is rich – according to Bloomberg, he’s worth $4.04 billion – and a press release says that he has “great enthusiasm” for golf. Great Northern’s drawing card is an 18-hole, Dirk Bouts-designed layout that was supposed to open in 2015. Years ago, Kristiansen promised it would be “one of Scandinavia best golf courses.”

     Some information in the preceding post first appeared in the April 2015 issue of the World Edition of the Golf Course Report.

     Pipeline Overflow -- A Hong Kong-based company wants to build a horse-racing center, including a hotel and a golf course, outside Can Tho, in Vietnam’s Mekong Delta. The city’s people’s committee believes that SIBC International Limited’s to-be-named, 375-acre venue would serve to boost tourism in the area, but it wants to hear what the central government thinks before it commits to the proposal. . . . As part of an effort to popularize golf, the Nigeria Golf Federation has set out to build a half-dozen driving ranges. “We want [a] golf presence in all the states in Nigeria,” a spokesperson for the NGF said. “The gospel of the sport will be spread through the grass roots.” The NGF is currently trying to identify sites for the facilities. . . . Kevin Ramsey, California-based architect, is overseeing the construction of the second nine at what’s said to be Turkey’s first public golf course. The first nine at Samsun Municipal Metropolitan Golf Club opened last summer, on “an artificial island” in Samsun Province. The new nine, a possible collaboration with Jeffrey Danner, is scheduled to open in 2018.

     A Canadian resident who owns two golf courses in China has reportedly put a “degraded” U.S. golf course “on the road to recovery.” Coco Luo, the principal of Bald Eagle Valley Resort Holdings, Ltd., reportedly paid $4.45 million – it was an all-cash transaction – for Point Roberts Golf & Country Club, in Point Roberts, Washington. The seller, Kenji Nose, couldn’t make ends meet and shuttered the club last year. Point Roberts features an 18-hole, Graham Cooke-designed golf course that opened in 2001, and Luo has hired Wayne Carleton to oversee an improvement program that will cost “a substantial amount of money.” Luo, who’s said to be “a passionate and avid golfer,” expects to re-open the course in early 2018. In China, according to her U.S. representative, she owns unnamed courses designed by Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player.

     Surplus Transactions – An unidentified group has agreed to purchase Harker’s Hollow Golf & Country Club, a historic venue in Phillipsburg, New Jersey. At a public auction, the anonymous prospective buyers bid $800,000 for Harker’s Hollow, which features an 18-hole course designed by Robert White, the first president of the PGA of America. Harker’s Hollow opened in 1929 and has apparently seen better days, because the auctioneer who sold the property told a local newspaper that the new owners “remember it in its heyday and are looking to restore it and bring it back to its old glory.” . . . To preserve their property values, the members of the Cape Royal Homeowners Association, in Cape Royal, Florida, have purchased their community’s defunct 27-hole golf complex. The HOA paid an undisclosed price for the former Royal Tee Golf Club, which, upon re-opening, will be open to the public and operate as Cape Royal Golf Club. Royal Tee’s Gordy Lewis-designed courses will be operated by Green Golf Partners. . . . Speaking of Green Golf Partners, the company is likely out as the operator of Belleview Biltmore Golf Club. A group led by Dan Doyle and Dan Doyle, Jr. has reportedly agreed to pay $3.8 million to the city of Belleair for Belleview Biltmore, and the Doyles plan to buy GGP out of its contract. The club, which features an 18-hole, Donald Ross-designed golf course, describes itself as “an American favorite since 1925” and “the best-conditioned golf course anywhere in Florida.”

Sunday, July 16, 2017

The Week That Was, july 16, 2017

     Apollo Global Management describes itself as a “contrarian” investor that’s willing “to invest in industries that our competitors typically avoid.” Maybe that’s why it’s agreed to pay $1.1 billion for ClubCorp, and to assume the liability for the $1 billion in debt that’s currently being shouldered by “the world leader in private clubs.”
     Apollo has no experience in golf, no record of success or failure. Over the years, it’s created various investment vehicles that today manage assets worth roughly $200 billion, among them ADT Corporation, Redbox, a grocery chain, and a telecom company. ClubCorp is its first true golf acquisition, although last year one of its investment funds bought Diamond Resorts International, a time-share owner and operator that has some golf properties in its portfolio, among them Ridge on Sedona, in beautiful Sedona, Arizona, and Mystic Dunes Golf Club, outside Disney World in Florida.
     ClubCorp’s prospective sale may help to persuade other private-equity firms to make golf investments, but it isn’t a watershed moment for the golf industry, just as KSL Capital Partners’ 2006 acquisition of ClubCorp ultimately wasn’t. Apollo’s purchase doesn’t signify any particular faith in golf from Wall Street or offer any fresh optimism about golf’s economic prospects. It simply indicates that a colossally wealthy private-equity firm has decided to make a monumentally insignificant investment in a company that shows some upside potential.
     News of the sale comes as a surprise only because several months ago ClubCorp declared that it was no longer for sale. The joke, alas, was on us. Almost certainly, ClubCorp’s announcement was a diversion created to give it space to negotiate with Apollo.
     Without question, ClubCorp is about to get a makeover. Two of Apollo’s three principals, Leon Black and Joshua Harris, were key decision-makers in the mergers and acquisition division of Drexel Burnham Lambert before they created Apollo. They’re experts in corporate “restructurings,” which means that in coming months, to reduce debt, they’ll look to sell some of ClubCorp’s poor-performing properties. They’ll also streamline ClubCorp’s operations, which means that expenses will be trimmed and people might be laid off. In a few years – say, three to five – ClubCorp’s balance sheet will look better than it does today, and they’ll look to cash out and deliver value to the investors to whom they ultimately answer.
     To be sure, ClubCorp has likewise been chasing value, in the form of short-term profits, ever since it went public. Some would say that it failed. But in a press release, its chairman said that the sale to Apollo “achieves our goal of enhancing value for shareholders.
     So is ClubCorp’s sale a sign of failure or success? Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference.

     For the fourth time this year, Concert Golf Partners has added a property to its golf portfolio. Peter Nanula’s Newport Beach, California-based investment group has acquired Indian Spring Country Club, a 36-year-old, seniors-only venue in Boynton Beach, Florida. The Palm Beach Post reports that Indian Spring’s financial situation has been “uncertain” for several years, and a club official said that it didn’t wish “to wait until disaster hit” before considering a sale. The purchase price hasn’t been disclosed, but the club’s members reportedly approved the sale by a margin of 221-2. Indian Spring, the centerpiece of a gated, 800-acre, 1,900-house community, describes itself as a place where “you can live the life you’ve always dreamed about, surrounded by friends who make you feel right at home.” Such a life includes the opportunity to play on a pair of 18-hole courses, both of which were co-designed by Bruce Devlin and Robert von Hagge. Indian Spring is Concert’s fifth property in Florida. It joins Legacy Club at Alaqua Lakes in Orlando, Heathrow Country Club in Orlando, Carrollwood Country Club in Tampa, and Golf Club of Amelia Island on Amelia Island, in greater Jacksonville. With the purchase, Nanula’s company owns 16 properties in 10 states.

     During the presidential campaign, when Donald “the Candidate” Trump was fouling political discourse with derisive remarks about Mexicans, Muslims, the handicapped, and women, the United States Golf Association came under pressure to strip this year’s U.S. Women’s Open from Trump National Golf Club Bedminster. Sadly, the USGA declined to do so.
     “We have not wanted to get involved in politics, presidential politics,” the group’s executive director, Mike Davis, said in 2015. He added: “It’s a complicated matter, and we want to get it right.” 
     As it turns out, Davis’ comments were an excuse, not an explanation. The truth is, Trump had threatened to sue the USGA if it relocated the event. “We can’t get out of this,” Davis told the USGA’s executive committee, according to Christine Brennan of USA Today. “He’s going to sue us.”
     Davis hasn’t confirmed Brennan’s report, but he hasn’t denied it. So now he must answer other questions, staring with Why was the USGA so feckless? After all, the PGA of America took the Grand Slam of Golf from Trump’s course in Los Angeles. The Scottish Open, which had been virtually signed, sealed, and delivered to Trump’s resort in Aberdeenshire, found another home. And, according to a British newspaper, the R&A had “privately decided that [Trump’s] reputation is now so toxic” that Trump Turnberry can no longer host the Open Championship.
     Golf’s institutional leaders had been warned. They should have known that their famously litigious partner would take them to court, if necessary, to get what he wants. If there was a clause in the contract for the Women’s Open that gave Trump the right to sue, the USGA should never have signed on the dotted line.
     Even so, however, the USGA could have called Trump’s bluff and allowed the matter to follow its legal course. By doing so, the USGA, the sponsor of the Women’s Open, would have proved itself to be a defender of women’s rights. It could have fought the good fight. No matter how the courts ruled, it would have come out a winner.
     It’s possible that the golf industry will be smarter in the future. Now, finally, everyone in golf should understand what we’re dealing with. Trump isn’t interested in doing what’s good for golf. He’s solely interested in what’s good for him. Time and time again, he blackens the reputation of fundamentally good people.
     Maybe now we can finally end this relationship.

     Chinese investment in Africa is growing by leaps and bounds, as government-supported development groups capitalize on U.S. indifference and expand their global reach. The latest: An entity called Guangdong New South Group, Ltd. has secured permission to co-develop an industrial park, AEZ Pearl River, outside Eldoret, in western Kenya. The forthcoming park has been master-planned to include sites for factories, a science and technology center, a university, a convention center, and other economy boosters, and in the final phase of construction New South expects to build houses and a golf course. New South and its Kenyan partner, Economic Zones, Ltd., recently staged a ceremonial groundbreaking, and they could begin building for real before the end of the year.

     Pipeline Overflow – Construction has all but wrapped up at TPC Colorado, a club in Berthoud (it’s north of Boulder) that’s scheduled to open next summer. The property’s 18-hole, Arthur Schaupeter-designed layout is said to be “the first new golf course built in Colorado this decade” and the PGA Tour’s only venue in the Centennial State. In 2019, the club is expected to begin hosting an annual event on the Web.com Tour. . . . Construction has also been completed on the Nest at Friday Harbour, a Doug Carrick-designed layout in Innisfil, Canada, a town roughly an hour’s drive north of Toronto. The 18-hole course, the centerpiece of a long-delayed, 590-acre resort community, is scheduled to open next spring. Carrick told Golf Course Architecture that the course will be walkable and provide opportunities for three-, six-, nine-, 15-, and 18-hole play. . . . Now open for play is Irie Fields, a 100 percent organic golf course at the Kittitian Hill resort community on St. Kitts. The course, co-designed by Ian Woosnam and Gary Johnston of European Course Design, will, according to its publicists, “transform and elevate the game of golf in the Caribbean” and represent “the future evolution of golf.” We’ll see.