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Friday, February 24, 2017

Vital Signs, february 24, 2017

     For the first time in years, the Golf Industry Show has posted a number worth crowing about. Last month’s show attracted 13,600 attendees, according to the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America, exactly 1,000 more than it lured in 2016. Not only does the number indicate a solid increase in attendance – 8 percent – but it represents the third consecutive year of growth for the GIS: 12,400 showgoers in 2015, 12,600 in 2016, and 13,600 in 2017. Of course, all these numbers are down from the 14,147 posted in 2014 and not anywhere close to the 25,737 posted in 2008, before the Great Recession sucked the life out of our business. Still, the GCSAA is completely justified when it claims “rising attendance.” If the GIS is an economic indicator, it’s provided a reason to be optimistic.

     More welcome news: PGA Junior League Golf attracted 36,000 boys and girls last year, a a record level of participation. The number reflects a 20 percent increase from the 30,000 children who were part of the league last year and a 300 percent increase from the 9,000 who played in 2013. What’s more, the president of the PGA of America believes another record-setting season is on the horizon. “We expect this exponential growth to continue in 2017,” Paul Levy said in a press release. The league, one of the PGA’s grow-the-game initiatives, was established in 2011, with just 170 players.

     In a new report on “The REAL State of Golf,” the Sports & Leisure Research Group sets out to distinguish between some facts and fictions that relate to our business. But as we all know, truths are often difficult to pin down. To cite just one example: Most golf-industry observers believe that golf participation in the United States has been falling for a decade or more, and they can provide evidence to support their opinion: After all, data indicates that our nation had 31.5 million golfers in 2003 and 24.1 million in 2015. If you plot the year-by-year numbers on a bar graph, a decline is apparent. This view, however, is apparently a distortion – an example of a golf fiction. So SLR puts the numbers into a broader perspective. It provides a graph indicating that the number of U.S. golfers has been fundamentally unchanged since 1990, when the count was 24.2 million. When viewed through this lens, the number of U.S. golfers simply grew, peaked, and then returned to where it started and, presumably, where it belongs. There was no decline. There was a blip. So what’s the fact and what’s the fiction? Are we better off today than we were in 2003 or even 1990? Unfortunately, SLR provides no guidance. I’ve read the study, and I still don’t know the real state of golf.

     Although investments in golf-related residential real estate are no sure thing, it appears that home buyers in some wealthy areas of Florida are still willing to pay a premium for fairway views. In 2015, according to data compiled by Florida Atlantic University, houses adjacent to golf courses in Palm Beach, Broward, and Miami-Dade counties fetched 8 to 12 percent more than similar houses elsewhere. “There is strong evidence to conclude that golf courses remain a positive draw to potential property owners,” one of the professors noted in a press release. Let the buyer beware, however: Florida Atlantic reviewed sales in a small, rich part of a warm-weather state populated by retirees who like to golf. Similar studies of real-estate transactions in other U.S. markets might not yield the same results.

     In an experiment that Golf Digest calls “genius” and “slightly diabolical,” a resort in Missouri is allowing golfers to choose between paying for golf the traditional way, by the number of holes they play, or by the amount of time they spend on the course. The Lodge of Four Seasons thinks a fair price is $10 an hour for time-based play, or maybe a little more at busy times of the day. It’s nice to think that maybe the resort is responding to the needs and desires of its time-pressed customers, but the various forms “dynamic pricing” we’re seeing in the marketplace these days don’t have anything to do with consumer empowerment. Lodge of Four Seasons is merely trying to squeeze an extra $10 or $20 out of a guest who’s looking to kill a little time while the rest of the family is splashing around at the pool. That being said, let’s give the resort credit for reminding us of a verity we sometimes forget: Time is money.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

The Week That Was, february, 19, 2017

     For sale: One of the world’s greatest golf courses.
     We’re talking about Cape Wickham Links, a renowned oceanfront track that occupies part of a 330-acre parcel on King Island in Tasmania. The 18-hole layout, co-designed by Mike DeVries and Darius Oliver, is barely a year old, and it made its way onto world’s-best rankings within minutes of its opening in late 2015. To cite just one point of view, Golf Digest considers it to be Australia’s #1 public-access course and #24 on the planet.
     Ironically, though, Cape Wickham’s success has given its owner, Duncan Andrews, some unexpected headaches. “I built Cape Wickham to see if I could build a course that was ranked in the world’s top 100,” Andrews confessed to Golf Australia. Now, he says, in order to keep the financial momentum going he’s got to build more accommodations and other amenities for golf travelers, and, at the age of 68, he simply isn’t up to the challenge.
     “Sixteen months after opening,” he explained, “I seem to be running a resort hotel with a golf course, and I don’t want to run a resort hotel regardless of how well it is going.”
     The asking price for Cape Wickham hasn’t been announced. But in addition to the golf course and 16 rooms for overnight guests, the property includes a tantalizing prospect: Enough land for nine or more additional holes.

     Here are some words and phrases used by President Trump’s sons at events held in connection with the opening of Trump International Golf Club Dubai: “incredible,” “awe-inspiring,” “amazing person,” “amazing company,” “amazing family,” “great friend,” and “this is just the beginning.” Here are some words and phrases used by the Associated Press reporter who covered the Trumps’ visit: “fireworks,” “classical music,” “metal detector,” “Secret Service detail,” “global terror risk,” “security and ethical issues,” and “emoluments clause.”

     An investment group led by Phil “the Gambler” Mickelson has agreed to buy a daily-fee golf course in Chandler, Arizona.
     Mickelson and his partners – his brother, his college golf coach, a local developer, and his long-time agent – hope to close soon on Ocotillo Golf Club, a 31-year-old facility that promotes itself as “the premier golf, dining, and social destination in the Valley of The Sun.” Ocotillo is managed by Troon Golf, and it features a 27-hole complex that was designed by Ted Robinson.
     Mickelson currently owns an interest in two private golf venues in the Phoenix area – McDowell Mountain Golf Club in Scottsdale and Palm Valley Golf Club in Goodyear – along with Stone Canyon Club in Oro Valley and two in Payson, Golf Club at Chaparral Pines and the Rim Golf Club. He’s packaged these properties and markets them as an “elite,” “exclusive” limited-membership club called, appropriately, Mickelson Private Golf Corporate Membership.
     Ocotillo isn’t part of the group, and the prospective owners haven’t suggested that they plan to take it private. For what it’s worth, though, an online reviewer describes the club’s tracks as being “full of water and goose poop.”

     While it waits to find a buyer, ClubCorp continues to add to its portfolio. For an undisclosed price, the Dallas, Texas-based course owner and operator has acquired its first property in Maryland, Eagle’s Nest Country Club in suburban Baltimore. Eagle’s Nest opened in 1970, as Towson Golf & Country Club, and it features an 18-hole layout that was co-designed by Geoffrey Cornish and Bill Robinson. It nearly bit the dust in 2015, as it was burdened by $4.8 million in accumulated debt, but it settled with its lender for $2.5 million. ClubCorp describes Eagle’s Nest as “an exceptional club in a beautiful area of the country” and “a perfect complement” to its ever-growing collection of golf clubs. Once upon a time, the club counted Johnny Unitas and Brooks Robinson, a pair of local sports legends, among its members.

   The ice-cream business doesn’t appear to be satisfying Jack Nicklaus’ yearning for corporate growth. According to the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal, the golf legend and serial product endorser wants to build a hotel in a northern suburb of Minneapolis, an area that reportedly has a need for overnight accommodations. In addition to ice cream, these days Nicklaus has his name on lemonade, water, wine, pens, turf, and other products, but as best I can determine he hasn’t yet developed a hotel. You know what they say, though: There’s a first time for everything.

     A magazine is ultimately an advertisement for itself, but the top executives of Asia Pacific Golf Group have taken self-aggrandizement to a comically absurd level. Across 18 pages in the December issue of Asian Golf Monthly, in a recap of its annual Asian Golf Awards presentation, APGG published 18 pictures of its CEO and a whopping 35 pictures of its president. Ken Chu, David Leadbetter, Brian Curley, Mark Siegel, and other golf-industry notables accepted awards at the event, but there’s no doubt about who were the real stars of the show.

Friday, February 17, 2017

The Pipeline, february 17, 2017

     Đà Nẵng, Vietnam. A “platinum” sponsor of the Ho Tram Open, an Asian Tour-sanctioned event played annually in Vietnam, plans to build a golf community on waterfront property along the nation’s Central Coast. Novaland, a Hồ Chí Minh City-based home builder, has acquired 525 acres on the outskirts of Đà Nẵng for Sunrise Bay, which will feature houses, resort-style hotels, a commercial area, schools, and what will likely be a celebrity-designed golf course. The company has initiated the venture to give itself a national reputation, and it’s picked a good spot for it, as Đà Nẵng, Vietnam’s third-largest city, is a fast-growing vacation destination. What’s more, the Đà Nẵng area attracts golfers because it’s home to four “signature” golf courses: Montgomerie Links (it has a Colin Montgomerie-designed track), Đà Nẵng Golf Club (Greg Norman), Laguna Lăng Cô Golf Club (Nick Faldo), and Bà Nà Hills Golf Club (Luke Donald). Novaland, which intends to go public this year, expects to open Sunrise Bay in 2019.

     Comunidade Intermunicipal do Oeste, Portugal. By happy coincidence, the design firm owned in part by the European Tour has been hired to oversee a makeover of a Portuguese club that recently joined the network of European Tour Properties. The venue in question is Bom Sucesso Golf Club, and the architectural firm is European Golf Design. The tour says that Bom Sucesso’s 18-hole, Donald Steel-designed layout will receive “a redesign to the highest standards” and become “a world-class golf venue to be enjoyed by all levels of golfers.” The tour hasn’t announced a construction schedule, but it notes that changes to the nine-year-old course will be evident “in the very near future.” Bom Sucesso, located roughly an hour’s drive north of Lisbon, became one of the European Tour Properties last year, along with Tróia Golf Resort, a community south of the capital city.

     Ruwi, Oman. Tourism ministers in Oman have set out to revive a comatose resort that once promised to reveal “the mystique of authentic Arabia.” Golf isn’t normally associated with “authentic Arabia,” but a golf course nonetheless remains part of the master plan for Salam Yiti, a resort community that was long ago supposed to take shape on 1,035 acres in Ruwi, a city located 18 miles south of the sultanate’s capital, Muscat. In the mid 2000s, when the community was originally proposed, it was to feature more than 2,000 housing units, three hotels, a souq, a marina with a yacht club, a shopping area, and an 18-hole, Robert Trent Jones, Jr.-designed golf course. None of those attractions were built, however, because world economies collapsed. But today, as business across the Middle East perks up, and as Oman ponders a future that’s less dependent on oil production, a growing number of government officials and private-sector companies believe the Ruwi area can become what the Times of Oman calls “a Riviera for the Gulf.” As is so often said, hope springs eternal.

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

     Jambi Province, Indonesia. A Malaysian company has joined the effort to turn an existing port on the island of Sumatra into a giant mixed-use project, including a golf course. Kuala Lumpur-based Vivocom Intl Holdings Bhd is looking for investors willing to bankroll Kharisma Port, which will occupy nearly 5,400 acres outside the town of Palembang. The construction is expected to be done in three phases, with the golf course scheduled to emerge in the project’s third phase, along with a hotel and an Islamic center. Kharisma Port will take shape on a palm oil plantation owned by an Indonesian group. It’s been master-planned for residential, commercial, and industrial uses and will also feature an expanded port, processing facilities for rubber and palm oil, retail and commercial areas, recreational amenities, and other attractions. Such mega-projects require a lot of capital, and Vivocom believes it’s most likely to find it in China.

     Staffordshire, England. Whittington Heath Golf Club, one of the oldest golf venues in England, is about to embark on the next phase of its history. This spring, the 130-year-old club will begin building a modern clubhouse, a practice area, and five new holes for its Harry Colt-designed golf course, a heathland layout that dates from 1927. The changes have been forced upon Whittington Heath, because a high-speed rail line will soon be laid across its property. The club’s members could’ve accepted a buyout, disbanded, and joined other clubs in the Birmingham area, but instead they struck a deal with transportation authorities that they believe will ensure their financial future. “We’re delighted with the outcome, under the circumstances,” the club’s captain said in a comment published by the Birmingham Mail. Whittington Heath’s new holes have been designed in the Colt style by Derbyshire-based Jonathan Gaunt, in consultation with Donald Steel, an architect who’s intimately familiar with “classic” British layouts. They’ll connect to Colt’s original holes via a tunnel that will run beneath the rail line, and the members figure to start playing them in 2019.

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

     Morogoro, Tanzania. In eastern Tanzania, a Dar es Salaam-based developer and a Southeast Asian water-treatment company have set out to create a huge master-planned community with an 18-hole golf course. The world-class, international-standard layout will be among the attractions at Star City, which will eventually occupy 8,150 acres on the outskirts of Morogoro, a city of 320,000. The partners, Star Infrastructure Development (T) Ltd. and Singapore-based Hyflux, Ltd., are marketing their community to people who wish to live in a “one-of-a-kind integrated mixed-use development where live, work, and play take on a whole new meaning.” In addition to the golf course, Star City has been master-planned to include a 2,000-acre industrial and logistics park, a “university town” full of schools and knowledge-based businesses, and an “eco-friendly” residential area with a hotel, theme parks, and other attractions. At build-out, the community figures to be home to 140,000 people. Its residents will enjoy “quality living,” which in Tanzania means a reliable supply of clean water and electricity throughout the day and night.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

The Week That Was, february 12, 2017

     As if to prove the power of the presidency, the Trump Organization’s branding venture in the Dominican Republic has risen from the dead. Earlier this month Eric Trump paid a visit to Cap Cana, the scene of a potentially lucrative licensing venture that went haywire a decade ago, amid accusations, recriminations, and at least one lawsuit. Today, the resort community’s developers, Ricardo and Fernando Hazoury, appear ready to revive Farallon Trump, which was to feature several dozen high-priced houses, a Trump-branded hotel, a beach club, and two Gil Hanse-designed golf courses. A contract hasn’t yet been signed, but the brothers are clearly optimistic. “We are excited to be working with the Trump Organization in the future phases of the project,” they said in a press release. Such comments are a far cry from days gone by, when the Trumps accused the Hazourys of cooking their books and engaging in “textbook fraud.” The parties settled their differences out of court in 2013, and the Hazourys now say that the relationship is “incredibly strong” again. It’s just business, after all, and, as we all know, the best time to strike is while the iron is hot.

     An architect best known for creating “replica” courses will produce the 18-hole track for a forthcoming “doomsday” community in suburban Dallas, Texas. Dave Edsall has reportedly earned the opportunity to design the wryly named Course of the Gods, which will serve as the recreational component of Trident Lakes, a gated, 700-acre spread that’s been described as a “five-star playground with DEFCON 1 preparedness.” The Lakes is being marketed to the rich and fearful, who are being lured with “fortified subterranean condos built to withstand the apocalypse.” Edsall, who’s based in Annapolis, Maryland, created facsimile courses outside Dallas and Houston, venues built to prove that imitation is indeed the sincerest form of flattery. His course at the Lakes is expected to open next year. Of course, if the apocalypse really does someday befall us, the community’s residents might be pondering matters more important than golf.

     The tourism division of a big automobile dealership is looking to put a fresh new face on one of Mexico’s best-known and most menacing vacation spots.
     Grupo Autofin, which reportedly owns more than 50 auto dealerships in Mexico and others in Southern California, intends to make a $1 billion investment in Acapulco, the coastal city made famous by Hollywood stars and A-list celebrities during the 1950s and 1960s. The money will be spent in Punta Diamante, the city’s most upscale district, where Grupo Autofin owns a resort called Mundo Imperial.
     Mundo Imperial’s 395 acres are currently home to an 800-room hotel, a convention center, a spa, and several restaurants. Over the next few years, however, Mexico City-based Grupo Autofin plans to add as many as 6,000 additional hotel rooms, an amusement park, entertainment venues, a hospital, and at least one golf course.
     The venture is a financial risk, because these days most international travelers who vacation in Mexico prefer Cancún, Los Cabos, Playa del Carmen, Puerto Vallarta, and other, more fashionable oceanfront locales. Acapulco belongs to people who remember John Wayne, Elizabeth Taylor, Rita Hayworth, and Ron and Nancy Reagan. When they moved on, Acapulco’s glamour faded.
     And being yesterday’s celebrity news is the least of Acapulco’s problems. The worst: Tourists have been frightened away by the drug-related violence and police corruption that’s plagued the city for a decade. Street crime and mass murders are bad for business.
     Nonetheless, Grupo Autofin has faith. It knows that Acapulco continues to attract Mexican vacationers in large numbers, and it believes that wary foreigner travelers will return when they’re convinced that the city is safe.
     The trouble is, nobody knows when that will be.

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

     One of golf architecture’s heavy hitters is trying to raise the profile of an historic golf course in Austin, Texas. Ben Crenshaw has reportedly worked up a restoration plan for Lions Municipal Golf Course, a 1920s-era venue that’s been slated for development since 2011. He’s long been among the leaders of the grass-roots effort to save what’s known locally as Muny, one of the first courses in the state to be desegregated. “I think that hopefully something can happen,” he told KXAN-TV. “It’s provided a lot of enjoyment for a lot of people.” Crenshaw is expected to unveil his plan this week. He usually co-designs with Bill Coore, but so far there’s been no indication that Coore is involved in the venture. His plan reportedly calls for an investment of $10 million or more, an amount that he believes can be raised without taxpayer funding.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Desolation Row, february 10, 2017

     Lana’i City, Lani’i, Hawaii. The multi-billionaire who co-founded Oracle Corporation has decided that the Pineapple Island can get by just fine with only one “signature” golf course. Larry Ellison has closed Koele Golf Course, a Greg Norman-designed layout that was originally known as the Experience at Koele. Ellison, who’s said to be worth $50.7 billion, may display some sculptures on the track’s front nine, an idea that Michael Hill has used to great effect at his golf club in New Zealand. Koele is one of two 18-hole courses that Ellison owns on Lana’i, an island he bought (well, he bought 98 percent of it) in 2012. (The price, according to Pacific Business Journal, was $300 million.) Ellison’s Manele Golf Course, a Jack Nicklaus design (originally the Challenge at Manele), will continue to operate, as part of a resort that includes a lodge, a spa, and a wellness center.

     Tujunga, California. On the last day of last year, the lights were turned out at a golf course that was built at the site of a former Japanese internment camp. Verdugo Hills Golf Course, in a northern suburb of Los Angeles, opened in 1960, 17 years after the camp was dissembled. For more than a decade, the course’s owners have been seeking permission to build a gated community on the 58-acre property, but they’ve been stymied by local residents who believe the site’s history shouldn’t be forgotten. “We’re going to fight tooth and nail to keep it preserved,” a spokesperson for the residents told the Los Angeles Times. “We’re going to keep working and hoping the funding could be found to purchase the golf course from the owners at a fair price.” The course’s owners haven’t said whether they’re willing to sell.

     Cabot, Arkansas. Earlier this month, the 18-hole golf course at Greystone Country Club went belly up. The 22-year-old track, a Kevin Tucker design, claimed to offer “an unparalleled golf experience” against “a relaxing, picturesque backdrop.” For the time being, at least, the club’s owners intend to continue operating the property’s bar, restaurant, and driving range.

     Belle Chasse, Louisiana. Citing financial losses resulting from “a steady decline in rounds for the past several years,” Bayou Barriere Golf Club has gone dark. The club, in suburban New Orleans, had been in business since 1963, and it featured a 27-hole golf complex that was designed by one of its former pros, Jimmy Self. “Despite our many efforts to increase play,” the club’s general manager said in a press release, “our numbers finally reached the point that the business was simply no longer sustainable.”

     Edmond, Oklahoma. Time has run out on Coffee Creek Golf Course, the centerpiece of a 26-year-old community in suburban Oklahoma City. A group led by Kyle Copeland bought the 18-hole golf course last month and immediately ceased operations. No public announcements have been made, but development appears to be on the horizon. Millennium Golf Properties had reportedly been trying to sell Coffee Creek since late 2015. It accepted $1.25 million for the 182-acre layout.

     Lebanon, Illinois. Just days ago, McKendree University pulled the plug on the Hills Golf Club, one of the state’s oldest golf properties. “We have not been able to make it a profitable venture,” the school’s president acknowledged in a press release. The Hills opened with a nine-hole course in 1933 (it was originally called Locust Hills Golf Course), and the club later (best guess: 1967) added a second nine. McKendree bought the venue in 2012, reportedly for $1.4 million, and claims to have “invested in it to the extent that we have been able” ever since. A decision regarding future uses of the 109-acre property hasn’t been made, but the school and the course’s operator would consider a sale “should a viable offer be tendered.”

     Akron, Ohio. Valley View Golf Club has a new owner and a new future. Last fall, Summit Metro Parks paid $4 million for the club, the aim being to maintain its 194-acre property as open space. Valley View features an 18-hole course that opened in either 1958 or 1970, depending on which source one believes. The course was designed by Carl Springer, and it appears that members of the Springer family were the sellers.

     Jacksonville, Alabama. Can’t say for sure if they followed through, but last fall Frank and Merl Wade promised to close Stoney Brook Golf Course on November 1. “The golf industry has declined in Calhoun County and is not growing,” Renda Jaskowski, the Wades’ daughter, told the Anniston Star. “Young people are not picking it up, and lifestyles are a lot busier now.” Stoney Brook features an 18-hole, Billy Branon-designed track that opened in 1972. The Wades bought the club in 1984, and they’ve offered it for sale for $799,000. Jaskowski may have provided a glimpse of Stoney Brook’s future when she described its 132 acres as “premium land.”