Sunday, July 2, 2017

The Week That Was, july 2, 2017

     The golf business in Victoria, Australia, the home of the Melbourne area’s famous “sandbelt” layouts, is experiencing a financial shakeout. Almost half of the state’s 374 golf courses are “in financial stress,” according to a government report, and the weakest of the bunch are gradually being converted into subdivisions. “Property developers are circling prime land,” the chairman of a task force that’s studying the problem told the Age, “and clubs struggling for money are looking for a solution.” The newspaper says that eight Melbourne-area venues are being redeveloped, and that developers have targeted 23 others. No need to worry about the area’s most treasured, most historic venues, however: While second-tier courses may be “fading,” clubs such as Kingston Heath and Royal Melbourne are said to be “thriving.”

     Fingers crossed, but by the fall of 2019 the University of Virginia men’s and women’s golf teams will be practicing on a new golf course. Davis Love III has been hired to redesign Birdwood Golf Course, a 33-year-old track that no longer challenges elite collegiate golfers. Though he describes Birdwood’s Lindsay Ervin-designed layout as “a great golf course,” Love has promised to “make it better,” a task that will require him to alter and/or relocate virtually every one of the track’s 18 holes. In addition, he plans to add a “short” course and a state-of-the-art practice area. The university expects the reconstruction to begin next summer, with Scot Sherman serving as the lead architect.

     Pipeline Overflow – Banyan Tree Holdings, Ltd., which created the biggest and best golf resort in Phuket, Thailand, wants to make golf “a genuine part of the DNA” at Laguna Lang Co, its waterfront resort in Thua Thien Hue Province, Vietnam. Laguna Lang Co already features an 18-hole, Nick Faldo-designed course. Now, according to the resort’s general manager, Banyan Tree plans to “supplement the challenging aspects” of Faldo’s course with “short holes and unique individual holes” that would apparently be sprinkled here, there, and everywhere on the property. What’s more, the company wants to build two more regulation-length courses in the neighboring area, though it desires to work “with other parties to bring this to fruition.” Clearly, many questions have been left unanswered. One thing’s for sure, though: Banyan Tree aims to give traveling golfers another reason to visit Vietnam’s Central Coast. . . . The media attention trained on Erin Hills and this year’s U.S. Open championship has been good for business at Fry/Straka Global Golf Course Design. The Dublin, Ohio-based firm, led by Dana Fry and Jason Straka, has been appointed to oversee a $4 million overhaul of the Pete and P. B. Dye-designed golf course at West Bay Club, in Estero, Florida. The designers expect to complete the job in late 2018. . . . Some welcome details have been announced regarding the Nicklaus empire’s fourth golf course in Malaysia. The 18-hole track at Forest City, “the city of the future,” will be co-designed by Jack Nicklaus and his son Jack II, and, though construction hasn’t yet begun, it’s expected to open in early 2018. Forest City’s Chinese developer, Country Garden Pacificview Sdn. Bhd., will eventually build two more 18s, but it hasn’t publicly committed to an architect.

     The handwriting was on the wall, and now it’s been written in indelible ink: Becky Peirce Municipal Golf Course, which closed temporarily at the end of last year, is now closed permanently. The 18-hole layout opened in 1956 and was redesigned by Denis Griffiths in 1986. By a unanimous vote, the city of Huntsville, Alabama has decided to turn the 140-acre property into a park that will include, among other things, hiking and biking trails, a dog park, a driving range, and a disc golf course. The city administrator believes the park will be a “tourist attraction.”

     Desolation Row Extended – One by one, golf courses in and around Deerfield Beach, Florida are going out of business. The next to go, pending a vote by Broward County commissioners, will be Crystal Lake Golf Club, a 109-acre spread in Pompano Beach with an 18-hole, Rees Jones-designed course. A developer wants to raze the course and replace it with 415 single-family houses and townhouses. A commissioner has complained, arguing that Crystal Lake is “just about the last piece of open space in Deerfield,” but such pleas fall on deaf ears in areas where housing is in short supply. . . . Hickory Ridge Golf Course, which promoted itself as the “best public access golf course in western New York,” will soon become 80 acres of farm land. Steve and April Hoag reportedly accepted $300,000 for the 18-hole layout that they bought in 2008, reportedly for $280,000. The course had opened in the early 1930s, on property that had been used as a farm. . . . The city of La Mesa, California has pulled the plug on Sun Valley Golf Course. The nine-hole track had operated since the mid 1950s and had in recent years added disc golf and footgolf in an attempt to generate income, but it couldn’t overcome its financial challenges. The city plans to maintain the property as a park.

     Sandals Resorts International has acquired the only 18-hole golf course on Saint Lucia, with plans to make it “a world-class facility that can facilitate major international tournaments.” SRI hasn’t said what it paid for St. Lucia Golf Club, but its chairman, the Honorable Gordon “Butch” Stewart, claims to be “over the moon” to provide vacationers with “such a great golfing option in the Eastern Caribbean.” What’s more, Stewart aims “to make what is great even better,” a job he hopes to entrust to Greg “the Living Brand” Norman. If Norman accepts the commission, he’ll overhaul a John Ponka-designed layout that offers what the club says is “perhaps the most challenging 18 holes of golf in the Caribbean.” SRI plans to operate the club as Sandals St. Lucia Golf & Country Club at Cap Estate.

     Surplus Transactions – Pinewood Country Club isn’t likely to be on life support for much longer. If all goes as expected, the 54-year-old club, in Slidell, Louisiana, will be rescued by Chris Smith, a longtime club member, and Louis Ochoa, the club’s food-service provider. Smith and Ochoa have agreed to pay $1.15 million for Pinewood, which the New Orleans Times-Picayune says “had fallen on hard financial times in recent years.” According to the newspaper, Smith will own the club’s Bill Bergin-designed golf course and Ochoa will own the clubhouse and recreational amenities. . . . Coppertop at Cherokee Hills Golf Course, an 18-hole track in Valley City, Ohio that’s been suffocated by a money squeeze, has changed hands. Greg Clement and some partners have taken over three mortgages on the course, after longtime owner Mark Haddad’s bid for financial restructuring was denied. The course has been around since 1930. . . . In April, for $900,000, a group led by Matt Jennings has purchased Cherokee Valley Golf Club, a 25-year-old venue in Travelers Rest, South Carolina. The club, which features an 18-hole, P. B. Dye-designed course, serves as the home of the men’s and women’s golf teams from nearby North Greenville University. Jennings’ partnership reportedly bought Cherokee Valley from Brown Golf Management.

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