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Sunday, May 13, 2018

The Week That Was, may 13, 2018

     An emerging mega-city in Saudi Arabia has opened its first golf course, an 18-hole track that’s already been touted as the nation’s number-one venue. (Not that the competition is particularly strong.) The course has been designed by Dave Sampson of European Golf Design, and it’s among the featured attractions at King Abdullah Economic City, which is taking shape on a 67-square-mile expanse of desert – a tract roughly the size of Washington, DC – just south of Rabigh, on the Red Sea coast. The Saudi government expects KAEC to become “one of the most important cities” in the world and set a standard for the kingdom’s future. EGD, a British firm that’s best known for its work with “signature” designers, has promised that the track will “embrace the classic strategic elements of the world’s most enduring golf courses,” offer “risk-and-reward choices and opportunities for creative and varied shot making,” and be “challenging, fair, and enjoyable for golfers of all ability.” If KAEC adheres to its master plan, Sampson’s track will eventually be complemented by at least one more 18-hole track.

     Some information in the preceding post first appeared in the June 2014 issue of the World Edition of the Golf Course Report.

     Pipeline Overflow – Greg Norman has convinced elected officials in Vallejo, California that he can turn their Blue Rock Springs golf complex into “a destination” that will “attract golfers from around the world.” If the revitalization project proceeds, “the Living Brand” will reduce the 36-hole venue to 18 regulation-length holes with a short, youth-focused “Shark Bites” track. . . . Some details have emerged on one of the golf ventures that Chinese developers plan to build in Pakistan as part of the Chinese-Pakistan Economic Corridor. It’s a gated, “timeless” community called China Pak Golf Estates that will occupy more than 150 acres in Gwadar, a port city on the Arabian Sea, and set “a new standard to master community development in Pakistan.” The Chinese entity is an affiliate of China Railway Construction Corporation, a major power in international construction circles, which is said to be collaborating with a British company. . . . Cambria Green, the massive forthcoming golf community on Tasmania’s eastern coast, is targeting not just wealthy Chinese travelers but terminally ill ones. The Sydney Morning Herald reports that Cambria Green will be “a nature-based, peaceful environment” that offers palliative care for people who desire “to see something beautiful before they die.”

     Change has come to an ancient New England club that professes to offer “the illusion of changelessness.” Agawam Hunt, a debt-ridden venue that’s operated in suburban Providence, Rhode Island since before the dawn of the 20th century, has been sold to a group of longtime members who believe they’ve forever protected “an oasis in the city.” The sale was completed roughly a year after Agawam Hunt was forced to declare for bankruptcy protection, and it comes largely because the state’s Nature Conservancy was persuaded to pony up $2 million for development rights to roughly two-thirds of the club’s 130 acres. The contribution will likely to fully protect Agawam Hunt’s 18-hole, Donald Ross-designed golf course, but if it doesn’t, the conservancy has an option to purchase development rights to the rest of the property as well. The partners’ primary goal, according to an official of the conservancy, is to have “a viable golf course” that “benefits the environment.” They also hope that their alliance can serve as a model for other struggling clubs that are looking for an economic lifeline.

     Surplus Transactions – Mark Lovell’s Golf Nation LLC has accepted an offer for Stonebridge Golf Club, which made its debut in suburban Memphis, Tennessee in 1972. Grace Construction Company has suggested that it won’t continue golf operations at Stonebridge, which most likely means that the end is near for the club’s 18-hole, George Cobb-designed golf course. . . . Geoffrey Van Epps has agreed to sell Hiawatha Trails Golf Course, acknowledging to a local newspaper that the 60-year-old track is “not economically feasible anymore.” A developer is seeking permission to build apartments and office space on the 18-hole, executive-length track in Guilderland, New York. . . . “It would take a miracle” for Tamaron Golf Course to open this year, its new owner recently told the Toledo Blade. Drewso Ltd. took control of Tamaron earlier this year, and it’s already negotiating to sell nine of the course’s holes to a home builder. The course, which has been around since the mid 1920s, may operate with nine holes in the future, but that’s a best-case scenario.

     Still More Surplus Transactions – For the second time since 2014, the 18-hole, Ed Ault-designed layout in Townsend, Tennessee has a new owner. John Trotter has given Laurel Valley Golf Course a new name, Wild Laurel Golf Course, but the 28-year-old venue has a visibility problem. Specifically, according to a course manager, “a lot of people don’t know it exists” because it’s “off the beaten path.” . . . Dennis Stange, an insurance man in suburban Buffalo, New York, has paid $350,000 for Shawnee Golf Course. The nine-hole track, which was previously known as Shawnee Country Club, opened in 1965 and has been described as “one of Niagara County’s oldest privately owned but public golf courses.” . . . It’s getting to be old news, but last summer Andre Liloc bought the self-described “Best Kept Secret on the Oregon Coast,” an 18-hole venue that has over the years operated as Watson Ranch Golf Course and Coos Country Club. The place is now called Coos Golf Club, but it still features nine holes designed by H. Chandler Egan (they opened in 1923) and nine by Bill Robinson (1998). For what it’s worth, Liloc formerly worked for Amazon and ESPN, according to his LinkedIn profile.

     Duly Noted – The site for Olympic golf in 2020, Japan’s formerly all-male Kasumigaseki Country Club, found three women worthy of membership, as long as they don’t show too much leg. . . . Zach Peed of Dormie Network is following through on his promise to add housing at both Ballyhack and Arbor Links. . . . Golf Advisor has identified what it believes are Greg Norman’s 10 best courses in North America.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

The Week That Was, may 6, 2018

     In the culmination of what’s been called a “three-year wind down,” Lee Schmidt has retired and no longer works for the design firm he co-founded more than two decades ago. Schmidt-Curley Golf Design is now fully in the hands of Brian Curley, who reports via text that the firm’s name will change “at some point,” though the process of doing so is “very complicated.” Whatever it ends up being called, though, the Paradise Valley, Arizona-based firm is almost certain to remain a major force in golf, as Curley is a tireless and effective marketer. The firm’s gushing pipeline in China no longer flows, but Curley says that he currently has “a bunch of work” in Vietnam and Thailand. Schmidt, who’s 70, apprenticed with Pete Dye and Nicklaus Design, and he met Curley during his stint at Landmark Land Design. He didn’t respond to a message, but it appears that he may on occasion take on some solo work.

     One of the club industry’s most coveted venues has found its new owner.
     Benjamin Franklin duPont and Don Wirth have signed what’s said to be “a binding letter of intent” to purchase DuPont Country Club, a nearly century-old venue in Wilmington, Delaware that’s seen better days but is generally regarded as having potential. They hope to “protect the legacy” of the 525-acre spread and establish it as “a state-of-the-art, affordable, and family-focused club.”
     The club went on the market about a year ago, after publicly traded E. I. du Pont de Nemours & Company was pressured into selling under-performing assets. The property attracted offers from what Jeff Woolson of CBRE’s Golf & Resort Group, which facilitated the transaction, characterizes as “a good collection of national and local bidders.” The identities of the bidders are being kept secret, but Concert Golf Partners was among them, and it’s widely believed that ClubCorp was another. “There was a lot of national interest,” Woolson acknowledges.
     DuPont features a 113,000-square-foot clubhouse, more than two dozen tennis courts, and three 18-hole golf courses. As part of the transaction, duPont and Wirth will also acquire the adjacent Brantwyn Estate, which hosts weddings and social events.
     The prospective buyers, both longtime club members, haven’t revealed what they’ve agreed to pay for DuPont, but they’ve announced that they intend to invest an additional $18 million into capital improvements – an indication of the property’s woeful condition.
     “The club needs a lot of capital improvements to be competitive in the marketplace,” Woolson notes.
     In particular, duPont and Wirth aim to completely overhaul the clubhouse, with improved wi-fi and tastier food, make overdue improvements to the golf courses, and add amenities that a state-of-the-art, family-focused club must have to attract members nowadays, namely swimming pools, a fitness center, and a golf practice center. They’re hoping to turn DuPont into a “lifestyle” property, a concept that’s all the rage in the club industry these days. This is an increasingly well-worn path to profitability that was originally beaten by Concert, ClubCorp, Arcis Golf and other deep-pocketed owner/operators.
     The trouble is, I don’t recall Concert, ClubCorp, and Arcis ever spending a veritable king’s ransom – $18 million – on capital improvements to a single club. It’s likely that the prospective owners’ initial outlay will amount to $25 million or more, and that’s before they spend a nickel on salaries, day-to-day maintenance, marketing, all the other expenses that a well-functioning club regularly has to cover.
     In other words, “lifestyle” investments can add up quickly, and as a result they’re accompanied by significant risks. DuPont and Wirth believe that their investment will pay dividends in the form of new members, and they can cite as evidence a string of previous successes elsewhere in America. But nobody can accurately measure the depth of the market for “lifestyle” clubs, especially in an area of the country where there are plenty of attractive options to choose from.
     What’s more, the fresh face that duPont and Wirth plan to put on DuPont will, from the get-go, burden the club with debt that could be difficult to discharge. They’re hoping to double the club’s membership, from 1,750 to 3,500, with “affordable” initiation fees and monthly dues, but pricing is a tricky business for private clubs. Inevitably, pricing is entangled not only with a club’s image but with the image that its members have of themselves. America’s most desirable clubs tend to be aspirational, not affordable.
     All this begs an obvious question: Did the prospective owners overpay? It’s a question that DuPont’s other bidders can’t wait to see answered.

     Robert Trent Jones, Jr.’s first golf course in Vietnam is scheduled to open next year, and its developers have begun to talk about building another. Jones’ 18-hole layout will be a featured attraction for Hoiana, a 2,500-acre waterfront spread south of Đà Nẵng that aims to set “a new benchmark for high-end tourism in Vietnam” and become one of “Asia’s most renowned resort destinations.” Hồ Chí Minh City-based VinaCapital, one of the nation’s best-known golf developers, has master-planned the community to include houses, hotels, entertainment venues, and various other attractions designed to attract vacationers, including a second 18-hole track. VinaCapital hopes to open the course by 2023, though it hasn’t yet announced a designer.

     Pipeline Overflow – A group of investors from China, Hong Kong, and Australia have secured a green light for Cambria Green, a massive (7,960 acres) mega-community that’s to take shape along the eastern coast of Tasmania. The community will feature houses, a hotel, retail and commercial areas, a medical center, an airstrip, and a 27-hole golf complex to be co-designed by Neil Crafter and Paul Mogford. . . . It hasn’t really been discussed for several years, but Darius Oliver recently advised his readers to “keep an eye on” the “potential third course at Barnbougle Dunes.” The publisher of Planet Golf provided no other details, so let me note that Richard Sattler, the owner of the world-famous destination on Tasmania’s northeastern coast, long ago asked Bill Coore to create course number three, a par-3 track that was dubbed “Little Mike.” . . . Brian Curley is a keen observer of the hottest trends in golf architecture, and he’s adept at capitalizing upon them. To wit: The head of Schmidt-Curley Golf Design is currently putting the finishing touches on the first two golf courses at FLC Đồng Hới Golf Links in Vietnam, a venue that he views as “the Streamsong of Asia.”

     Duly Noted – Because high-income urban- and suburban-ites are now more willing than ever to travel farther from home for rest and relaxation, Crain’s Chicago Business has concluded that regional golf resorts “are facing an existential reckoning.” . . . It’s not a final decision, but the state of New Jersey has rejected Paul Fireman’s proposal to expand the footprint of Liberty National Golf Club. . . . Topgolf is taking yet another bite of a traditional golf venue. The victim this time is Ala Wai Golf Course, a municipal track in Honolulu, Hawaii.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

The Week That Was, april 29, 2018

     Municipalities all over the nation often try to serve their communities by providing affordable golf, but few of the courses they operate would be able to remain in business without subsidies from taxpayers. And the cost of maintaining those courses can be staggering, particularly in states where municipal courses are plentiful. To wit: Over the past five years, according to USA Today, Florida’s municipal courses collectively lost nearly $100 million – a number that takes your breath away. There are lots of good reasons to support municipal golf, but it’s easy to understand why some people bristle at the prospect.

     Over and over in recent years, golf has promoted itself as a welcoming, inclusive sport and pledged to step up its efforts to attract minorities, especially women and African-Americans. Regrettably, it appears that the owners of Grandview Golf Club haven’t received the memo.
     By now, most everybody in America has heard what happened this week at the now-infamous club in York, Pennsylvania. To summarize: A group of black women, at least some of them club members, played one hole and, by the time they got to the second tee, they were approached by club officials and cited for a common complaint, slow play. They were asked to leave and offered a refund. They chose instead to continue playing. At the ninth hole, the women were approached by a larger delegation and ordered to depart within five minutes, again because of slow play. When the women refused to go, the club called the police. It did so, it later explained, “to ensure an amicable resolution.”
     The women later described the incident as “demeaning,” “hostile,” and “horrific.” One of them said, “I felt we were discriminated against.”
     As far as the pace-of-play complaint goes, two points must be made. First, the women reportedly finished nine holes in “under two hours,” which is par for any course. Second, a member of the group playing behind them told the York Daily Record that “not one time, from [hole] one to nine, did we catch up with those ladies.”
     For anyone with a memory, this incident stirs memories of Sergio Garcia and Fuzzy Zoeller disgracefully trying to be funny by making a joke about serving fried chicken to Tiger Woods. Like it or not, golf’s deepest, darkest secret has once again been rubbed into America’s face.
      It’s impossible to over-estimate the impact such racially charged confrontations can have on the public perception of golf. Accounts of the clash at Grandview were published or broadcast by CNN, the New York Times, the Washington Post, the New York Daily News, the Los Angeles Times, the Boston Globe, USA Today, Newsweek, People, and “The Daily Show.” The story found its way into countless local newspapers and television news reports, not to mention online news services.
     By contrast, the message that golf so eagerly wanted to send this week – the upbeat announcement about our industry’s economic clout, the centerpiece of National Golf Day – laid the proverbial egg. Golf’s $84 billion story was covered by the golf media but ignored by virtually every other news source.
     What’s worse, though, is that nobody in a position of power in golf has as yet offered a rebuttal to what occurred at Grandview. Steve Mona, our industry’s most prominent mouthpiece, could’ve issued a press release clearly stating that discrimination of any kind, whether intended or not, doesn’t reflect golf’s values. But he didn’t, probably because he was too busy lobbying for favorable legislation on Capitol Hill.
     Or, to put it another way: While many Americans were weighing the significance of an unpleasant interaction between white club owners and black customers, golf’s leadership looked the other way.
     This is yet another example of something we’ve all seen before in our business: A failure of leadership. If our institutional leaders really believe all those values that are taught to children as part of the First Tee’s curriculum – and if they want to stand on the right side of history – somebody should say something about the treatment of paying customers at Grandview. Instead, we hear crickets.

     Seeing as how its redesign and redevelopment plans have come to naught, earlier this year JC Resorts sold Temecula Creek Inn, a nearly 50-year-old venue in Temecula, California. The Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians paid an undisclosed price for the 305-acre property, which includes a 130-room hotel and a 27-hole, Ted Robinson-designed golf complex. At least for now, the tribe doesn’t intend to shrink the golf complex or enlarge the hotel, as JC Resorts had hoped to do. Instead, Temecula Creek will simply complement the tribe’s Pechanga Resort & Casino, which has an 18-hole, Arthur Hills-designed track.

     Surplus TransactionsThe oldest resort in Naples, Florida is changing hands. Naples Beach Hotel & Golf Club, which opened in the late 1920s, is transitioning to the Athens Group, which expects to assume full ownership in 2020 or 2021. The 125-acre property is home to an 18-hole, Mark Mahannah-designed golf course that was recently redesigned by John Sanford in collaboration with Nicklaus Design. . . . Donnie Nelson says he’s going to put his “heart and soul” into Creekside Golf Course, an 18-hole track in Lavalette, West Virginia that claims to offer “one of the region's premier golf experiences.” Creekside has had four names since it opened in 1991, the previous ones being Lavalette Country Club, Twin Silos Golf Club, and Silo Golf Club. . . . Sometime last year, for an undisclosed price, five couples purchased Hastings Country Club, a venue in Hastings, Michigan that now operates as Legacy at Hastings. The club’s 18-hole golf course, which dates from the early 1920s, was designed by W. Bruce Matthews, who’s been called “the godfather of Michigan golf.”

     The future of Emerald Hills Golf Course, a 66-acre venue outside Manitowoc, Wisconsin, is officially uncertain, but it definitely isn’t bright. An undisclosed buyer, described by the Herald Times as “a local investor-developer,” has laid a claim on the bank-owned nine-hole track, a property that has been “under foreclosure on and off for the past decade.” Emerald Hills had operated since 1930.

     An All-Florida Edition of Desolation Row Extended – Pending approval by local officials, the 139 acres now occupied by Rolling Green Golf Club, a 55-year-old layout in Sarasota, Florida, will soon become a subdivision. A local newspaper says that an LLC controlled by Jon Whittemore has accepted $8 million for Rolling Green’s 18-hole golf course and related properties. Whittemore reportedly bought the property out of foreclosure four years ago, for $1.5 million. . . . The lights have been turned off at Polo Trace Golf Club, a 30-year-old venue in Delray Beach, Florida that changed hands last year. GL Homes reportedly paid $10 million for Polo Trace and its 18-hole, Karl Litten-designed golf course, a spread that the company plans to cover with more than 300 single-family houses. For what it’s worth, GL has also struck a deal to buy and redevelop Boca Raton Municipal Golf Course. . . . Mirror Lakes Golf Course, which has been described as one of the “oldest and most prestigious” layouts in Lehigh Acres, Florida, was scheduled to close last week. The 18-hole track originally opened in 1958, as the centerpiece of the Admiral Lehigh Resort, but it was completely revamped by Mark Mahannah in 1970.

     Duly NotedFor the second time in a year, the Elks Club in Southern Pines, North Carolina has failed to come to terms with a prospective buyer for Southern Pines Golf Club. . . . Can’t exactly explain the significance, but a news service says that FLC Group, one of Vietnam’s top golf developers, is “infamous for construction violations involving multiple projects.” . . . Attorneys for the Trump Organization proudly declared a victory after a federal court tentatively ordered their client to pay a $5.4 million payout to former members of Trump National Golf Club Jupiter. The reason for the celebration: The judgment didn’t require an admission of liability.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

The Week That Was, april 22, 2018

     ClubCorp is about to eviscerate one of its few remaining rivals.
     The self-described “world leader in private clubs” is negotiating to buy 16 properties from Peter Nanula’s Concert Golf Partners, an investment group with 18 holdings in Florida, Indiana, Pennsylvania and eight other states. In a letter to the affected club members, Nanula suggests that the deal will be done “in the next few months.”
     It’s difficult to over-estimate the impact that the sale will have on the market for private clubs. Not long ago, as many as a dozen all-but-forgotten entities – among them Cobblestone Golf Group, Golf Trust of America, Pegasus Golf Partners and Sequoia Golf (which was, coincidentally, purchased by ClubCorp) – were actively shopping for U.S. golf venues. Today, only three serious buyers are still standing: ClubCorp, Concert and Arcis Equity Partners, and Arcis has of late been more a seller than a buyer.
     “From a broker’s perspective, I’d rather have two buyers in the market than just one,” Steven Ekovich of Marcus & Millichap’s National Golf & Resort Properties Group told Golf Inc. “The lack of competition won’t be good.”
     The question now is what becomes of Concert. The deal with ClubCorp will leave it as a mere shadow of its former self, and it’s easy to envision Nanula clearing its portfolio and riding off into the sunset. Just weeks ago, however, Concert bought its 18th venue, Fountains Country Club in Lake Worth, Fla., and Nanula says Fountains isn’t being sold to ClubCorp. This curious state of affairs leads one to suspect that Nanula has something up his sleeve.
     Until the sale is consummated, ClubCorp and Concert won’t discuss it. “We don’t comment on deals until they happen,” Nanula wrote in a text message. His statement was echoed by Tom Bennison, ClubCorp’s senior vice president of business development. “Until any transaction is finalized,” Bennison said in a text, “it is our policy not to comment.”
     They really don’t need to say anything, though. The silence is deafening.

     For more on the proposed sale, check out my story in the forthcoming issue of Golf Inc.

     In the battle for a hotly contested design contract in Boca Raton, Florida, a winner has been declared. The Greater Boca Raton Beach & Park District has chosen to work with Nick Price and Tom Fazio II, who’ll produce an 18-hole, regulation-length course and a nine-hole “short” track on the 214-acre site of the defunct Ocean Breeze Golf Club. Given the current state of golf development, the park district had its pick of firms linked to both internationally known starchitects (Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Greg Norman), designers with noteworthy reputations (Rees Jones, Robert Trent Jones, Jr., Arthur Hills), and a slew of lesser-knowns. Considering the level of competition, the Price/Fazio team must have some pretty good ideas for what will be known as Boca Raton National Golf Club. Even better, the lucky winners have promised to deliver the complex “a short time frame.”

     Pipeline Overflow – A developer in Indiana’s capital city has set out to build its third Dye-designed golf course. The 18-hole track, to be co-designed by Pete and Alice Dye, will anchor Holliday Farms, a 600-acre community in Zionsville. Previously, Henke Development Group hired the Dyes to produce 18-hole courses at two communities in Westfield, Bridgewater Club and Club at Chatham Hills. . . . Michael Davies has hired Greg Turner to design a golf course that will look “as if it was created by the hand of Mother Nature” for Hogans Gully Farm, a forthcoming community outside Arrowtown, on New Zealand’s South Island. Turner, who’s also designing a new nine for the nearby Millbrook Resort, aims to deliver a “very unique golf course” for Davies, one that might be capable of hosting the New Zealand Open. . . . Sobha Group aims to break ground on the first golf course in the Middle East’s least-known emirate before the end of the year. The track, which will start with nine holes and later receive a second nine, will be the centerpiece of Firdous Sobha, a “lifestyle” community in Umm Al Quwain that’s been tailored for high-income buyers. “Our main customers will be people who own yachts,” Sobha Group’s chairman acknowledged to the Khaleej Times.

     In preparation for its eventual relocation, the PGA of America has sold its number-two property in Port St. Lucie, Florida. The West Palm Beach, Florida-based institutional power has reportedly accepted $1.5 million for St. Lucie Trail Golf Club, a 30-year-old venue that features an 18-hole, Jim Fazio-designed golf course. The buyer is said to be an affiliate of a local investment group that owns Evergreen Club in nearby Palm City. If the prices published by a local newspaper are accurate, the PGA took a loss on the sale, as it reportedly paid $1.7 million for St. Lucie Trail (then known as Port St. Lucie West Country Club) in 1995. Next, the PGA needs to find a buyer for its flagship property, PGA Golf Club, a 54-hole complex that it promotes as “the ultimate golf experience.”

     Surplus Transactions – A trio of investors have taken over the Hills at Hernando Country Club, and they’re now operating the nearly 30-year-old property as Hernando Golf and Racquet Club. Drew DePriest and his partners think the club, in Hernando, Mississippi, can attract a younger crowd. It’s worth noting, however, that Ted Burrall, who led the group that bought Hills of Hernando in 2010, had a similar plan. . . . Platte County, Missouri has found a buyer for Shiloh Springs Golf Club, a venue in Platte City that reportedly loses “hundreds of thousands of dollars per year.” Assuming the transaction closes, the club’s new owner will be an affiliate of GreatLIFE Golf & Fitness, an entity that owns more than five dozen Midwestern golf properties. GreatLIFE has agreed to pay $610,000 for Shiloh Springs’ 18-hole track, and it’s promised to spend as much as $1 million more on overdue capital improvements. . . . Ben Powers, the pro at Greencastle Golf Club in Greencastle, Pennsylvania, has secured a measure of job security. In January, his parents and another local couple bought the 26-year-old, Robert Elder-designed golf course.

     Vellano Country Club, a venue that features what’s been called “one of the most majestic tracks in Southern California,” may may soon vanish. The club’s new owners, Michael Schlesinger and Robert Heath, want to build houses on at least part of Vellano’s 18-hole, Greg Norman-designed golf course, and they’ve given homeowners in the accompany community three distasteful options regarding the future of the 126-acre property. The homeowners have objected, but they’re facing a formidable opponent. Schlesinger has already laid two of the state’s clubs to rest (Escondido Country Club in Escondido and Stoneridge Golf Course in Poway), and he’s perfectly capable of a repeat performance.

     Desolation Row ExtendedThe clock is ticking on Pine Oaks Golf Course, a 30-year-old municipal track in Ocala, Florida. The private-sector manager of the 18-hole, Ron Garl-designed layout intends to depart next month, and a city official told a local newspaper that the property is no longer “economically viable.” The city hopes the 216-acre property can be redeveloped with houses and a nine-hole, executive-length track, maybe with a First Tee facility. . . . At the end of this month, Davis-Monthan Air Force Base plans to draw the curtains on Blanchard Golf Course. The 18-hole track, outside Tucson, Arizona, has operated since the 1960s. It recent years it suffered from the same problems that afflict other courses as well as one other unique to military bases: Difficulty of access. . . . French’s Hollow Fairways, a nine-hole course in Guilderland Center, New York, has gone belly up. Janet Betlejeski and her sister inherited French’s Hollow in 1991, 20 years after their father built it, and they appear to have lost enthusiasm for the business. Curiously, none of the Betlejeskis ever became golfers.

     Duly Noted . . . Not far from his second home in Chicago, Barack Obama has joined what’s said to be “the United Nations” of golf clubs. . . . San Joaquin Country Club, in Fresno, California, has booted out a couple who challenged the special privileges it reserves only for men. . . . Sweetens Cove, a nine-hole track that’s changing hearts and minds in golf design, checks in at #50 on Golfweek’s just-released ranking of America’s top modern courses. . . . U.S. and Japanese leaders share a common language: Golf and cheeseburgers.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

The Week That Was, april 15, 2018

     Golfers in large numbers continue to vacation in Spain, particularly at its sunny, family-friendly coastal resorts, but the nation’s native golf business hasn’t yet shaken off the after-effects of the world economic collapse. According to a “country snapshot” freshly published by KPMG’s Golf Advisory Practice, the number of golfers in Spain, one of Europe’s long-established golf markets, fell by 18 percent between 2010 and 2017 (a loss of 61,070 players), while the number of courses added to the nation’s inventory was flat (actual increase: four courses). By any reasonable measure, these are disappointing figures. Nonetheless, KPMG’s Budapest-based analysts believe that stability – not growth, necessarily – may be just around the corner. They note, for example, that Spain lost only 1,400 golfers, year over year, in 2017, and therefore conclude that “the stabilization of the Spanish golf market has begun.” They may be right, but they may also be coming to a false conclusion based on an incredibly small sample size. For the record, as of year-end 2017 Spain had 349 courses and 270,463 card-carrying members of the Royal Spanish Golf Federation, numbers that translate to 5 percent of Europe’s courses and 6 percent of its registered golfers. And it you’re wondering, the vast majority (71 percent) of the tourists who prop up the nation’s golf operations arrive from England, France, and Germany, but Spain also draws significant traffic from Ireland and Scandinavia.

     It’s taken something like five years, but the owner of China’s Golf Channel has finally gotten a green light for his golf venture on Lindeman Island, in Queensland, Australia. If all goes according to plan, William Han expects to break ground next year on a 1,750-acre resort that will feature a variety of housing types, several hotels, places to eat, drink, and be merry, and a golf course. If Han’s name rings a bell, it’s probably because he once hired Tom Doak to design a pair of golf courses on Hainan Island, neither of which ever hosted a paid-for round. His venture on Lindeman Island has so far been a repeat performance, but state officials and the local business community clearly hope he delivers on his promises, as the economy in the Whitsundays could use a boost. Han’s resort will take shape on the island’s shuttered Club Med resort, his aim being to create a vacation destination for Chinese tourists. Nobody has to tell him that the tourists are still out there, in ever-larger numbers and with ever-deeper pockets.

     Some information in the preceding post first appeared in the August 2013 issue of the World Edition of the Golf Course Report.

     Pipeline Overflow – Speaking of Queensland, Graham Marsh has been hired to design an 18-hole course for a seniors-only community outside Gladstone. The track will be the centerpiece of Boyneglade, a 650-acre spread that’s been master-planned to include housing for both stay-at-homes and “grey nomads” who travel in RVs. . . . Bayelsa State, in Nigeria, has set out to create what the Vanguard believes will be a “new, ultra-modern” capital city that will be “compared to world-class cities in developed countries.” This new Yenagoa will feature, among other things, a “castle hotel,” a heliport, and a golf course. . . . Tbilisi Hills Golf Club may be the first 18-hole golf course in Georgia’s capital city, but it won’t be the only course. Tabori Hill Golf course, a nine-hole track designed by Kevin Ramsey, is expected to debut before the end of the year.

     A group led by Chip Smith, the owner of Atlantic Golf Management, has acquired Brunswick Plantation & Golf Resort, an under-performing 27-year-old property in Calabash, North Carolina. Brunswick Plantation, which occupies 1,750 acres, claims to embody “southern architecture, southern landscaping, and southern hospitality,” and it features a 27-hole golf complex that was designed by Willard Byrd. Smith thinks it has “a ton of potential,” and he told the Myrtle Beach Sun News that he and his partners expect to “turn it around and turn it into what it should be.” Atlantic Golf Management operates Whispering Pines Golf Club, a municipal track in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, and it owns a minority stake in Wellington National Golf Club (the former Binks Forest Golf Club) in Wellington, Florida. It bought Brunswick Plantation from Caw Caw Land Corporation, the community’s original developer.

     Surplus TranactionsJoel Goldstrand’s first golf course has changed hands. Greg McKush has paid an undisclosed price for Montgomery National Golf Club, an 18-hole layout in metropolitan Minneapolis, Minnesota that opened, with nine holes, in 1970. Goldstrand, who rarely gets credit for helping to pioneer the design of “reversible” golf courses, reportedly added the second nine in 1993. . . . Jim Justice’s golf course in Beckley, West Virginia is going to get a second life. For an undisclosed price that can’t exceed $3.5 million, city officials have agreed to buy Black Knight Country Club, which has operated since 1929. Justice, who owns the Greenbrier and other golf properties in the state, bought Black Knight and its nine-hole golf course in 2011, reportedly for $1 million. He closed it late last year, a year after he was elected as West Virginia’s governor, because he no longer believes it’s financially sustainable. . . . Northridge Hills Golf Course, a 20-year-old track in Jacksonville, Illinois, has been sold to the couple who live in the house on hole #9. John and Rachel Rohn agreed to buy the nine-hole track because they feared that it might not open this year.

     Even More Surplus Transactions – Sussex Pines Country Club, a 51-year-old venue in Georgetown, Delaware, has new owners and a new name. Acting on what’s been described as “a whim,” Pete and Michele Townsend bought the financially troubled club from its members earlier this year, and it now operates as Mulligan’s Point Golf & Community Club. Whatever it’s called, though, the property features an 18-hole course with nine holes designed by Ed Ault and nine designed by Al Janis. . . . The nine-hole track in Greencastle, Indiana that serves as the home of DePauw University’s golf teams has been experiencing those dreaded “financial strains,” and it apparently has three years to reverse its fortunes. Lee Tenzer, a member of the university’s board of trustees, recently acquired the 63-year-old Windy Hill Country Club, but he’s only making a short-term commitment to golf operations. Maybe he thinks the property’s new name, Tiger Pointe Country Club, will be a key to success. . . . For a price that’s reportedly “just shy” of $1.3 million, Milton Talkuder has taken possession of Sherwood Golf Club, a 44-year-old facility in Titusville, Florida. Talkuder bought the club’s 100 acres from Andy Ali, a resident of the accompany community who’d purchased Sherwood out of bankruptcy in 2005.

     The city of Pittsburg, California has turned out the lights at Delta View Golf Course, at least for the time being. The reason for the closure isn’t clear (it may have something to do with personal-injury lawsuits that have been filed against the property), and the East Bay Times reports that the city “isn’t quite sure what will become of the golf course.” Delta View’s 18-hole course opened in 1947, and the newspaper says it was designed by Jack Fleming.

     Desolation Row Extended – Willow Springs Golf Course, a venue described as “a landmark” in Haslet, Texas “for nearly 60 years,” may soon bite the dust. Dacus Lindsey told a local television station that his 18-hole course “is no longer profitable,” and he’s negotiating to sell it to a residential developer. . . . The new owners of Walnut Hills Country Club, in East Lansing, Michigan, have put an end to nearly a century’s worth of golf. Summer Park Realty bought Walnut Hills, which opened in the 1920s, out of foreclosure in 2016, hoping to secure a quick approval for a subdivision. Sumner Park hasn’t made much headway on that front, so it’s pulled the plug on the club. . . . The clock is ticking on Olathea Golf Course, a nine-hole layout in Le Claire, Iowa. The family-owned venue has operated since 1984, but KWQC-TV reports that the owner wants to rezone the property, so as to better facilitate a sale to residential developers.