Sunday, February 11, 2018

The Week That Was, february 11, 2018

     One of the faces on golf’s Mount Rushmore has turned its eyes in a new direction. Jack Nicklaus, who’s long been arguably the most indispensable person in our industry, has decided to “re-prioritize his time and focus,” he acknowledged in a press release. Acting on a plan that was established a decade ago, the 78-year-old megastar says he’s stepped away from Nicklaus Companies and will devote most of his future to charitable activities and the “many other things I am very interested in.” Nicklaus’ announcement doesn’t come as a great surprise, but it does nonetheless give one pause. In his statement, Nicklaus said that he “didn’t want to make a big deal out of it,” but it’s impossible not to. He’s a fabled professional player, a prolific golf architect, and an internationally known businessman, and though he’s promised not to abandon the world of golf entirely, he leaves a void. From here on in, Nicklaus Companies will be almost completely in the hands of Howard Milstein, the banker who’s largely responsible for turning Nicklaus’ reputation into an empire. Nicklaus Design will continue to operate, but its namesake will only “support the golf course design projects currently under development.” So it’s time to wonder what becomes a legend most, because the handwriting is on the wall: Slowly but surely, our most trusted spokesperson is headed for the exits. An uncertain industry will have to figure out how to manage without him.

     Brent Wadsworth, a seminal figure in modern golf, died last week in suburban Chicago, Illinois, where his Wadsworth Golf Construction Company was headquartered. He was 88. Though he was primarily known as a builder, Wadsworth was also a golf architect, a course owner, a philanthropist, and a dedicated supporter of grow-the-game initiatives through his Links Across America program. There are many ways to measure the impact that he had on our business, and here’s just one: In his lifetime, he won the top honors that can be bestowed by the American Society of Golf Course Architects, the Golf Course Builders Association of America, and the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America. In 1958, he founded what became the first national course construction company, one that could meet any challenge on any terrain in any environment. His company built, renovated, or redesigned hundreds of golf courses, maybe a thousand of them, and when the architects of our times needed a builder, Wadsworth was on their short list. It set the standard for contemporary golf construction. Wadsworth was fundamental to the games golfers play, be they on hometown tracks or on PGA Tour-worthy venues, and he leaves a legacy that will endure.

     The merciless, years-long drought in southern Africa is taking a toll on the region’s golf business. Cape Town, as most everyone knows, has all but exhausted its supply of fresh water, and in just weeks its residents will be forced to survive on just 6.5 gallons a day. Golf courses throughout South Africa are, not surprisingly, turning brown. Some can no longer wash their laundry, and at least one has had to remove the fish from its disappearing ponds. But arguably the biggest impact of the water scarcity has been felt at Royal Cape Golf Club, the longtime host of the Cape Town Open. Royal Cape is no longer in any condition to host a professional golf tournament, let alone one of the continent’s premier events, so the open has been relocated to another course in the city. For most Americans, Cape Town is out of sight and therefore out of mind, but it’s showing us what happens to golf courses that aren’t irrigated with effluent water. And Cape Town isn’t an isolated case. California has suffered through its own drought in recent years, and a British news report says that a quarter of the world’s 500 largest cities are experiencing some form of “water stress.” The cities most at risk include some expected names – São Paulo, Beijing, Cairo, Mexico City – but also some unexpected ones, including London, Tokyo, and Miami.

     Arcis Golf has added to what it calls “our growing collection of one-of-a-kind lifestyle properties.” The Dallas, Texas-based company, one of the largest owner/operators in America, has paid an undisclosed price for TPC Valencia, a 15-year-old private club in suburban Los Angeles, California. TPC Valencia has a golf course that bears the “signature” of Mark O’Meara, and it’s located within earshot of another Arcis-owned property, Valencia Country Club, which has a Robert Trent Jones-designed layout. Although a press release suggests that the properties are “exceptional golf clubs,” neither one has a course that’s ranked among California’s top 30 by Golf Digest. Arcis owns and/or manages 57 golf properties, according to the listing on its website, a collection that consists of 20 private clubs, 28 public courses, and nine municipal facilities. The properties are located in Arizona, California, Illinois, Texas, and 10 other states. With its purchase of TPC Valencia and similar venues, the company claims to be “reinventing the modern club experience.”

     Surplus Transactions – Troon Golf has agreed to buy the Clubs at St. James Plantation, the centerpiece of a 6,000-acre community in Southport, North Carolina that opened in the early 1990s. St. James features a quartet of 18-hole golf courses that were designed by Hale Irwin, P. B. Dye, Tim Cate, and Nicklaus Design, and Troon is intimately familiar with all of them, as it’s managed the club for a dozen years. . . . Late last year, a group of members acquired the struggling Wildwood Golf & Country Club, a century-old venue in Cape May Court House, New Jersey. A price hasn’t been disclosed, but it sounds as if the new owners took possession simply by clearing the club’s debt. Wildwood features an 18-hole, Stiles & Van Kleek-designed layout that dates from 1922. When the club re-opens this spring, it’ll be called the Shore Club. . . . Antioch Golf Course, an 18-hole track in north-suburban Chicago, Illinois that’s reportedly losing $200,000 a year, has a new owner. Unfortunately, all I can tell you about the sale is that the seller was asking for $950,000 and that a nearby community could have had it for $750,000 but passed on the opportunity.

     A Riyadh-based company has secured a contract to produce a golf course in NEOM City, which is promoting itself as “the world’s most ambitious project.” Al Bawani Company hasn’t yet provided any details about the golf course – heck, the track may not even open until 2025 – but the opportunity to help build NEOM City will raise its already high profile in the Middle East. NEOM City, which will take shape on more than 10,000 square miles at northern tip of Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea coast, is fundamentally a vanity project that was conceived by the kingdom’s crown prince, who’s promised to create a “land of the future” that’s “unrivaled in concept” and “unconstrained by history.” The city will be powered by wind and solar energy and filled with armies of robots to make life wonderful, and its not-yet finalized master plan will identify sites for five palaces that will serve as second (or third or fourth) homes for Saudi princes.

     Nearly a year after Muirfield grudgingly solved its woman problem, another ancient Scottish golf venue has come to terms with contemporary times. In a nearly unanimous vote, the all-male members of Royal Aberdeen Golf Club, a venue that’s operated since 1780, have chosen to welcome females into their midst. “I think the days of single-gender clubs are slowly disappearing,” the club’s secretary explained, “and we didn’t want to be left behind.” Those words are misleading, however, because Royal Aberdeen’s decision wasn’t an expression of open-mindedness. The club last hosted the Scottish Open in 2014, and it wasn’t going to get back into the rotation for the event as long as it maintained a single-sex membership. But that’s life. Sometimes people do the right things for the wrong reasons.

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