Sunday, October 23, 2016

The Week That Was, october 23, 2016

     Dubai, which likes to brag about its potential as a golf destination, is about to lose one of its nine golf properties. Al Badia Golf Club, a venue that opened in 2005 (it was originally known as Four Seasons Golf Club Dubai Festival City), will close in February 2017. The club offered no explanation for its demise, and the news appears to have caught its members by surprise. “We’ve never heard of a club closing down,” one of them told a Middle Eastern news service. Al Badia’s 18-hole course, literally an oasis in a desert, was designed by Robert Trent Jones, Jr., who once said that “water is seen, heard, and felt almost everywhere, on and off the course.” Although Al Badia isn’t nearly as prominent as Emirates Golf Club, Jumeirah Golf Club, or some other nearby golf properties, its passing certainly raises a red flag. Dubai is wealthy beyond belief, but it has a limited water supply and its real estate market toggles between boom and bust. What’s more, a couple of years ago KPMG’s Golf Advisory Practice intimated that its golf market was about to max out. Given the dearth of information that we’ve received so far, it’s impossible to draw any conclusions about what Al Badia’s closing means to Dubai’s golf business. But it can’t be a positive sign.

     Is Turkey’s nascent golf industry about to suffer another setback? A little more than a week ago, some bad hombres launched a pair of missiles into the heart of the nation’s favorite vacation spot, and now the Turkish Airlines Golf Open, scheduled to take place at Regnum Carya Golf & Spa Resort next month, may be canceled. The missiles didn’t kill anyone, but everybody in Antalya is on edge and the European Tour is wrestling with matters that it’s never confronted. “We will update further as soon as possible,” it said in a press release. Turkey is a troubled country -- two recent terrorist bombings, last summer’s aborted military coup, strained relations with Russia -- and the golf courses in Belek/Antalya are suffering as a result. Rory McIlroy had agreed to play in the open, and his presence at the $7 million event was sure to boost television ratings and give Turkey’s golf business a welcome shot in the arm. Today, though, the tour is in a no-win situation. It may soon give the all-clear signal, but fear is contagious and you’ve got to wonder how many pros would rather play virtually anywhere else.

     Greg Norman thinks he can be in business forever, and he’s set up a holding company that he hopes will help him do it. Beginning next year, “the Living Brand” will dissolve Great White Shark Enterprises and start operating through the far more cleverly named Greg Norman Company. “Over the years, I have learned that no business can stand still,” he said in a press release. “We need to build a company not just for today, but for the future.” Regrettably, however, the future isn’t on the immediate horizon. In the near term, GNC will do exactly what GWSE has been doing for decades: Design golf courses, sell “branded” merchandise, make real-estate investments, and extend loans to small businesses. But sometime next year, when Norman begins to transform into a true captain of industry, he promises to unveil unique enterprises that will make GNC “a force on the landscape of golf and beyond.” These enterprises could be anything, really, because Norman is a man of the world and a deep thinker. If you’re looking for a hint of what the “beyond” might be, however, think Verizon and educational technology.

     An often overlooked international design firm has opened its fifth golf course in Indonesia, this one on Bali, a popular vacation spot that markets itself as “the Island of the Gods.” Belmont, California-based JMP Golf has produced an 18-hole, par-3 track for Bukit Pandawa Golf & Country Club, the centerpiece of a resort that’s taking shape on the Bukit Peninsula, along the island’s southern coast. The area is said to feature a “dramatic craggy coastline” and “imposing cliff-tops,” and Bob Moore, the course’s architect, reportedly preserved “rock outcroppings” and “architectural ruins” for additional aesthetic punch. Moore is responsible for two other JMP-designed courses in Indonesia, Royale Jakarta Golf Club in Jakarta and Royal Sumatra Golf & Country Club in Medan. He and his partners, Brian Costello and Mark Hollinger, along with JMP founder J. Michael Poellot, have also created courses in the United States and at least 10 other nations, among them China, France, Japan, Mexico, South Korea, and Thailand. Bukit Pandawa is being developed by PT Bali Ragawisata, which will eventually complement the resort’s course with a hotel that includes villas and a beach club.

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

     This year, for the first time since its inception in 2004, the annual Golf Business Forum will be held in the United States. The event, which touts itself as “the largest and most significant meeting of golf-industry executives and decision-makers in the world,” will be held at the Sawgrass Marriott Golf Resort & Spa in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida from November 28 to December 1, 2016. It’ll feature what HSBC, its sponsor and promoter, calls “an action-packed agenda” of “thought leadership and networking sessions” where “the game’s most influential voices, leaders, decision-makers, and global innovators” will “reflect on an exciting year and debate the future of the game.” A complete list of speakers hasn’t been announced, but Jack Nicklaus, Tim Finchem, and Martin Slumbers will reportedly be there, and Annika Sorenstam will receive HSBC’s lifetime achievement award.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

The Week That Was, october 16, 2016

     One of the high flyers in China’s golf business has acquired a high-profile golf portfolio in greater Seattle, Washington, a place it reportedly views as “a gateway into the North American golf market.”
     An affiliate of HNA Group, the owner of more than a dozen golf venues in the People’s Republic, has reportedly paid $137.5 million for eight properties assembled by Oki Golf, a group led by former Microsoft executive Scott Oki. The collection consists of Golf Club at Hawks Prairie in Lacey (36 holes), Golf Club at Newcastle in Newcastle (36 holes), Golf Club at Redmond Ridge in Redmond, Harbour Pointe Golf Club in Mukilteo, Indian Summer Golf & Country Club in Olympia, Plateau Club in Sammamish, Trophy Lake Golf & Casting in Port Orchard, and Washington National Golf Club in Auburn.
     HNA Group is an aviation company -- it offers flights to and from several cities in China and the United States, including Seattle -- with a hospitality division that owns and/or manages more than 80 hotels in something like 30 Chinese cities. It owns seven golf properties on Hainan Island, among them Kangle Garden International Golf Club and Sun River Golf Club, and four others elsewhere in the nation. The company owns two other golf properties in the United States -- Nicklaus Club Monterey (formerly Pasadera Country Club) in Monterey, California and Somers Pointe Golf Club in Somers, New York -- and in 2013 it entered into a partnership with Nicklaus Design’s Chinese affiliate that was expected to lead to “the re-design and re-branding of many of the HNA facilities.”
     Oki Golf no longer owns any golf properties. It’ll continue to operate the courses that it’s sold to HNA Group as well as one other -- Golf Club at Echo Falls in Snohomish -- that it sold last year. Oki reportedly sold Echo Falls to an unnamed “international investment group.”

     Finally, Mike Keiser is acting on advice that he’s been getting for years: He’s going to build Bandon Dunes’ next course -- the resort’s fifth 18-hole track -- on waterfront property currently occupied by the free-form Sheep Ranch layout he co-owns with Phil Friedmann
     “It should happen in the next two years,” the Chicago-based developer told Golf Advisor.
     Keiser has identified Gil Hanse as “the front runner” for the design commission, and Hanse’s mouth is already watering.”The Sheep Ranch is the best site we’ve ever seen for a new golf course,” he told the online news service. “When Jim [Wagner] and I walked the property, we were doing cartwheels.”
     The minimally maintained Sheep Ranch course, which has 13 Tom Doak-designed greens but no tees and no real beginning or end, is the worst-kept secret in golf. Though its existence has for years been denied by the folks at Bandon Dunes, knowledgeable visitors know where it is and who to call to make a tee time. And, as Hanse has indicated, it’s a tee time that’s worth making. Keiser says the site is “spectacular,” and Josh Lesnik of KemperSports, the operator of Bandon Dunes, thinks it’s “crazy good” and “really unbelieveable.”
     Sheep Ranch’s disappearance will disappoint some of Bandon Dunes’ customers, but Keiser needs to protect his most precious asset. The resort already faces strong competition from well-regarded venues in Nova Scotia (Cabot Links) and Florida (Streamsong), and next year it’ll get a Keiser-created rival in Wisconsin (Sand Valley). A fifth course at Bandon Dunes would certainly keep the tourist traffic flowing, especially if Hanse can deliver a track equal to those already created by David McLay Kidd, Tom Doak, and Coore & Crenshaw.

     Things aren’t just going badly for Donald “the Nominee” Trump on the campaign trail, as his golf properties in Scotland lost £9.5 million (almost $11.6 million) between them last year. Trump Turnberry, which was undergoing a renovation that depressed income, was the big loser, as it was £8.4 million ($10.2 million) in the red. In a statement to British authorities, Eric Trump said that he expects the property to “return to profitability in the short to medium term.” For what it’s worth, Trump’s course in Aberdeenshire hasn’t turned a profit since it opened in 2012.

     Phil “the Gambler” Mickelson has found another revenue stream. The three-time Masters champion will join Bubba Watson and Lee Trevino as “ambassadors” for the Greenbrier, a historic golf resort and PGA Tour venue in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia. “My family, like all others who have visited the resort, loves the Greenbrier,” Mickelson said in a press release. The financial terms of the agreement haven’t been disclosed, but Mickelson will be moving into a house at the resort’s Greenbrier Sporting Club -- “a wonderful community,” according to Mickelson -- and he’s agreed to help Jim Justice, the Greenbrier’s owner, market the emerging Oakhurst community, which will feature a golf course that’s been co-designed by Trevino, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, and the late Arnold Palmer. Mickelson, who’s had several brushes with the law of late, collected more than $50 million last year in golf-related endeavors.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

The Week That Was, october 9, 2016

     Just when you start thinking that Mike Keiser would never work with anyone except a certified naturalist, along comes Tiger Woods. The disgraced professional golfer and pitchman is reportedly being considered as the architect for the 27-hole golf complex -- an 18-hole course capable of hosting the BMW Championship and an easy-to-play nine-hole layout -- that Keiser and Mark Rolfing want to build along the Windy City’s lakefront, on property currently occupied by a pair of municipal tracks and just a chip shot from Barack Obama’s planned presidential library. Rolfing, a commentator for the Golf Channel, told the Chicago Tribune that a commission for Woods is “not a done deal,” but Keiser thinks the chance of it happening are “two in three.” One related issue to consider: Ben Crenshaw, half of Keiser’s favorite design team, has reportedly made a site visit.

     Gannett Company has placed a bet on golf’s future. For an undisclosed price, Gannett’s USA Today Network has acquired Golfweek, the magazine that once famously promoted a story about Tiger Woods with a picture of a noose. In a press release, the new owner says it believes that Golfweek’s assets -- in particular, its “industry-leading editorial team” and “events business” -- will bring “significant value to Gannett’s suite of audience-focused, content-driven sports business” and give it “an unmatched relationship with golf’s core demographic community.” In other words, Gannett views the transaction as an opportunity to make more money, not to break new ground in golf journalism. The seller was an entity linked to Crain Communications, the publisher of Advertising Age, Autoweek, a group of namesake business publications, and other periodicals. The transaction has been described as “a distress sale,” and Geoff Shackelford says that Golfweek has made “multiple layoffs on the sales and production side,” though without providing any details.

     Gifts of Gab: When it comes to determining the health of the golf business, would it be prudent to take the game by the balls? “The game is healthy,” Robert Trent Jones, Jr. told Crave. “I think the stat to watch is the number of golf balls sold. There’s been little decline there. That means there may be fewer players, but those still with the game are playing more often.”

Sunday, October 2, 2016

The Week That Was, october 2, 2016

     A British golf consultant has identified some of the world’s hot spots for golf development, and it shouldn’t surprise anyone to hear that Vietnam tops his list. The socialist republic is, after all, where “huge amounts are being ploughed into the game,” according to Paul Dellanzo, a Liverpool, England-based designer, developer, and manager. Dellanzo also sees an upside in Oman, which he believes “has everything to be the next emerging luxury golf destination,” and Indonesia, thanks primarily to its “younger demographics” and “a very healthy ratio of quality, demand, and price.” He also cites Canada and Russia, though without making a persuasive case, as well as France and Italy, but only because they’re upcoming host nations for Ryder Cup competitions. Of course, there’s been a chill in the development air for many years, and Dellanzo continues to feel it in Dubai (“a chaotic and expensive city” where “most rounds are actually played by expatriates”), Japan (it’s “suffering for now from an older population and one of the highest national debts in the world”), Great Britain (“it is often cheaper for the British to fly to southern Europe to play for a short holiday”), and the United States (“still in a tailspin”).

     Thinking about taking a golf vacation in Tasmania? Well, the biggest booster club for Australia’s golf industry is gushing about Ocean Dunes, the new waterfront links on King Island. Golf Australia says that Ocean Dunes’ Graeme Grant-designed track, which has been laid out upon “one of the most impressive seaside locations for golf on the planet,” is “as strategically layered as it is visually mesmerizing” and “a triumph for those who agree that the game is far more interesting when the ball is on the ground rather than in the air.” To be sure, the group’s reviewer makes the inevitable comparison to nearby Cape Wickham Links, a track already regarded as being among the world’s elites, but, naturally, declines to pick a winner. “Both are ingenious designs on stunningly beautiful ground, both utilize their vast natural assets with aplomb, yet each owns characteristics the other doesn’t,” the reviewer has concluded. “They make a great double act.” Other reviewers will no doubt concur. King Island is on a fast-growing number of bucket lists.

     Before the end of the year, FLC Group expects to unveil the second 18-hole course at FLC Quy Nhơn Golf Links, a venue that serves as the centerpiece of what’s said to be a “seven-star” resort community outside Quy Nhơn, in Bình Định Province. Both of Quy Nhơn’s courses were designed by internationally known U.S. firms, and both took shape in hardly any time at all. The builder, Flagstick Golf Course Construction Management, claims that the community’s Oceanside course, by Nicklaus Design, emerged in just five months. It opened in March. Flagstick tried to finish the forthcoming Mountain track, by Brian Curley of Schmidt-Curley Design, in only four months, but it may end up taking six. Quy Nhơn is FLC Group’s second golf property (the first, FLC Sầm Sơn Golf Links in Thanh Hóa Province, opened last year), and within a few months the publicly traded company also figures to open an 18-hole layout at FLC Hạ Long Bay Golf Club & Resort in Quảng Ninh Province. In addition, FLC Group has enlisted Curley to design the first two courses at FLC Đồng Hới Golf Links, a 7,500-acre spread in Quảng Bình Province that’s been master-planned for 10 courses. If you’re wondering where FLC Group goes from there, the company aims to have 20 courses in its portfolio by 2020.

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

     For just the fourth time in 33 years, the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America is giving its top award to a golf course superintendent. He is Paul Latshaw, who over a 38-year career worked at some of our nation’s most celebrated venues, among them Augusta National Golf Club, Oakmont Country Club, Congressional Country Club, Riviera Country Club, and Winged Foot Golf Club. Along the way, he prepared courses for nine major championships. “I was a farm boy from central Pennsylvania who became a golf course superintendent,” Latshaw joked in a press release. “It sure was better than bailing hay and feeding chickens.” Previous winners of the GCSAA’s Old Tom Morris Award include Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Pete Dye, Byron Nelson, Annika Sorenstam, Bob Hope, and Dinah Shore.

     Jack Nicklaus has earned many accolades during his brilliant career, but he’s never been known as a defender of the free world. That may soon change, however, because South Korea’s Ministry of National Defense wants to deploy U.S. missiles on one of his golf courses.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Arnold Palmer, 1929-2016, september 30, 2016

     “To place a president of the United States in proper historical perspective might take several generations, but to evaluate the impact of Arnold Palmer on golf we need not wait. He has meant more to the game than anyone, ever, in every conceivable way.”  
     -- Nick Seitz, editor at large, Golf Digest

     Arnold Palmer, the champion golfer whose full-bore style of play, thrilling tournament victories, and magnetic personality inspired an American golf boom, attracted a following known as Arnie’s Army, and made him one of the most popular athletes in the world, died on Sunday evening in Pittsburgh. He was 87.  
     -- New York Times

     His immense talent on the golf course was undeniable; it helped him win more than 90 professional events during his career, including four Masters titles, two British Opens, and a U.S. Open championship. But Palmer’s charisma stemmed from the way the Western Pennsylvania native connected with almost everyone he met, with an authenticity that truly made him a champion of the people. It was that likeability that made him a legend.  
     -- Forbes

     “No one has had a greater impact on those who play our great sport or who are touched by it. It has been said many times over in so many ways, but beyond his immense talent, Arnold transcended our sport with an extraordinarily appealing personality and genuineness that connected with millions, truly making him a champion of the people.”  
     -- Tim Finchem, commissioner, PGA Tour

     Palmer was a golf icon, but his reach spread far beyond just the sports community. Palmer was one of the first true golf celebrities and was among the first golfers to take advantage of his popularity by launching businesses tied to his name.  
     -- CBS Sports

     He was a part owner of the Pebble Beach Resort in California and principal owner of the Bay Hill Club & Lodge in Orlando, the site of the annual Arnold Palmer Invitational tournament on the PGA Tour.  
     -- New York Times

     Along with his incredible golf career, Palmer became one of the top golf course architects in the country with Palmer Course Designs launching in 1972.  
     -- CBS Sports

     PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem said without Palmer there would be no modern-day PGA Tour, no senior tour, and certainly no Golf Channel, the television network devoted solely to golf that he helped create.  
     -- Forbes

     He was the first athlete to receive three of the United States’ civilian honors: the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the Congressional Gold Medal, and the National Sports Award.
     -- New York Times

     “He was the king of our sport and always will be.”
     -- Jack Nicklaus 

     From 1958 through 1964, Palmer was the charismatic face of professional golf and one of its dominant players. In those seven seasons, he won seven major titles: four Masters, one United States Open, and two British Opens. With 62 victories on the PGA Tour, he ranks fifth, behind Sam Snead, Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus, and Ben Hogan. . . . But it was more than his scoring and shotmaking that captivated the sports world. It was how he played. He did not so much navigate a course as attack it.
     -- New York Times

     Palmer was . . . the PGA Tour’s leading money winner in 1958, 1960, 1962, and 1963 and its player of the year in 1960 and 1962. In 1968, he became the first golfer to earn more than $1 million in career prize money on the PGA Tour. The award for the leading money winner each year is now named for him.  
     -- New York Times

     Palmer had a literal army of supporters, a legion of fans known as Arnie’s Army, and popularized the game in ways no golfer before him had. He was not only a transcendent sports star but a business and philanthropic icon who ushered golf into the television era. The charismatic and competitive Palmer not only helped make golf popular outside the country club set with his everyman appeal, but he was one of the first golfers to build a global brand and established a charity foundation that will continue his philanthropic legacy for decades to come.  
     -- Forbes

     “He was the prototype for all of today’s high-earning sports men and women, and one of the few people you can truly say changed the world of sports business.”  
     -- Nigel Currie, sponsorship consultant, NC Partnership

     Palmer won $3.6 million in prize money during his 52 years on the PGA Tour and Champions Tour but 240 times that from appearances, endorsements, licensing, and golf course design. His estimated $875 million in career earnings ranks third all-time in sports, behind only [Michael] Jordan and [Tiger] Woods.  
     -- Forbes

     “He established the sports marketing industry as we knew it. It became a much more sophisticated exercise. It became a real business with real money.”  
     -- Alastair Johnston, chairman, Arnold Palmer Enterprises

     When Mr. Palmer began playing golf professionally, in the 1950s, few athletes were endorsing products, and those that were usually did so for nominal fees and free samples, often cigarettes. Then, in 1958, Mark McCormack, a golf fan with a hunch that professional athletes could be stars off the field as well, began pitching golfers on the idea of letting him represent them in their business dealings. Mr. Palmer was reluctant at first. “I wasn’t looking for an agent,” Palmer said in a recent book, Players: The Story of Sports and Money, and the Visionaries Who Fought to Create a Revolution, by Matthew Futterman. “I had my wife. She was handling everything.” But in the fall of 1959, Mr. Palmer agreed to work with Mr. McCormack on an exclusive basis. Mr. McCormack wanted to sign a contract, but Mr. Palmer preferred a handshake. That handshake, legend has it, was the foundation of one of the most lucrative partnerships in the history of sports.  
     -- New York Times

     Palmer once told McCormack: “I made clear ... from the beginning that I didn’t feel comfortable pitching a product or service I wouldn’t use or didn’t think was very good. That just seemed dishonest to me, and I was pretty sure the public would see right through it.”  
     -- Daily Mail

     A ubiquitous pitchman for more than a half-century, he hawked nearly 50 products and services, from Johnston & Murphy shoes to Ketel One vodka, transforming the celebrity endorsement from a novelty to an industry. At the same time, he carefully cultivated his personal brand, forming his own company, creating a logo, selling products and equipment adorned with his signature, and paving the way for modern stars with diverse business interests like Serena Williams and LeBron James.
     -- New York Times

     “He was the starting point for the creation of the modern sports world. Arnold Palmer is going to be making money long after we are all dead.”  
     -- Matthew Futterman, reporter, Wall Street Journal

     The late Mark McCormack, who represented Mr. Palmer in his business affairs, in his book Arnie wrote that he “had little heart for business dealings.” That was an ironic assessment because Mr. Palmer became the first sports star to turn into something of a corporation. Forbes magazine calculated his earnings in 2015, more than 40 years after his last PGA Tour win, at $40 million, saying his drinks line, including the eponymous iced tea-lemonade drink, was about one-quarter of revenue for AriZona Beverage Company.
     -- Wall Street Journal

     “Last year we sold half a billion containers with Arnie’s face on it.”  
     -- Don Vultaggio, founder, AriZona Beverages

     In the 1990s, the New York Times reported that an Upper West Side wrap restaurant was trying to rename the drink the Tiger Woods “for a new generation.” This effort does not seem to have caught on, and the wrap place has closed.  
     -- New York Times

     Every retired iconic athlete seemingly wants to copy the “Arnold Palmer” model where they license their name and the royalty checks roll in, but few can match the original. Palmer was one of a kind.  
     -- Forbes

     “He meant so much to so many people from all walks of life, and is the embodiment of what can happen if you work hard and always treat people well.”  
     -- Mike McCarley, president, Golf Channel

     On Monday, St. Martin’s Press said it would move up the publication date of Mr. Palmer’s final book by two weeks, to October 11. A Life Well Played: My Stories rocketed up the best-seller list on Amazon to crack the top 50.  
     -- New York Times

     “He was a drinker but never seemed drunk. He was a winner but never seemed cocky. He was richer than many nations but came off like a guy who had a Christmas Club savings account. He had charisma pouring out of his ears, manners enough for entire towns, and swimming pools of testosterone. He flew his own planes, jiggered his own clubs, and drank his vodka straight. He loved people like he loved his next breath and golf even more than that. Golf just got lucky.”
     -- Rick Reilly, Golf magazine