Sunday, February 4, 2018

The Week That Was, february 4, 2018

     After 13 years of declines, golf operations on the Grand Strand may be on the upswing. Last year, according to data compiled by a local marketing company, the number of rounds played on golf courses in and around Myrtle Beach, South Carolina grew by 4.1 percent over the number posted in 2016. Even better, another boost in play may be on the horizon, as the number of rounds already booked for 2018 indicates another likely increase. “We are healthier than we have been in a number of years, though we still can improve and we’re working hard to make ’18 better than ’17,” the executive director of the Myrtle Beach Area Golf Course Owners Association told the Myrtle Beach Sun News. “We’re starting to improve and see the bottom lines getting a little bit better.” The erosion in play in the Myrtle Beach area since 2001 has been precipitous, and it’s put more than two dozen courses out of business. The data speaks for itself: More than 4.2 million rounds were played in 2001, the Sun News reports, a number than fell to less than 2.7 million in 2016 – a decline of more than 36 percent. Seeing as how Myrtle Beach is among the bellwethers of the national golf economy, this news begs an obvious question: Is golf’s financial cloud finally about to lift?

     The Trump presidency reflects badly on the golf industry in many ways, a fact underscored by a recent opinion piece in the New York Times. Michael Goldfarb, the creator of the “First Rough Draft of History” podcast, believes that the Very Stable Genius is best appreciated as “a country-club boor” whose social, racial, and cultural prejudices are fueled by and supported by members of America’s “nouveau-riche, country-club class.” The president’s crude thoughts are “exactly what you might hear at any country club,” Goldfarb argues, for country clubs are where wealthy elites can talk freely because they know that what they say “will not be repeated outside the four walls of the clubhouse.” Golf in general and private clubs in particular have long been viewed with suspicion by many people, both foreign and domestic, but Goldfarb is conjuring memories of Sergio Garcia and Fuzzy Zoeller and fried chicken. Once again, some of golf’s darkest secrets are being drawn into the light of day, and this time we have the most powerful person in the world to thank for it.

     Paul Fireman, billionaire, doesn’t appear to be completely satisfied with the quality of the golf course at Liberty National Golf Club. The college drop-out who burned the word Reebok into our brains wants to build three new holes for the club’s 18-hole golf course, a co-design by Bob Cupp and Tom Kite, and he wants to build them on a state-owned, riverfront slice of Liberty State Park. Advocates for park preservation contend that this attempt to secure control of the property is “outrageous,” but Fireman has many powerful friends who gather at Liberty National.

     Pipeline Overflow – The board of supervisors in Orange County, California has directed a pair of local companies to submit proposals for an 18-hole golf course that would take shape on a former landfill in Newport Coast. Chapman Investment Company and Guardian Investment Capital are vying for the contract, and the key to success will likely be ancillary development that’s tolerable to the city’s residents. . . . Gary Bourke, an Australian developer, has floated a plan to build an 835-acre master-planned community in Wollongbar, New South Wales. If it’s approved and built, the to-be-named spread will likely include 3,500 houses, a hotel, a shopping area, a nursing home, and what’s been described as an 18-hole, “international” golf course. . . . Regarding the second nine at Kevin Ramsey’s golf course in Turkey: It’s expected to open something this spring or summer. The 18-hole track in Samsun was created by reclaiming a site that used to be part of the Black Sea.

     Donald Panoz has parted with his resort community in Braselton, Georgia. Panoz, who made a fortune in pharmaceuticals and motorsports, has sold his Château Élan Winery & Resort, a 3,500-acre spread that offers overnight accommodations in a faux French château, seven restaurants, a spa, meeting space, and a 45-hole golf complex. The new owner is Wheelock Street Capital, a real-estate investment group that’s promised to deliver “an even more unforgettable guest experience than ever before” once it renovates the insides of the resort’s buildings. Panoz and his wife, Nancy, opened Château Élan in 1984. Later, they built a similar community, Diablo Grande in Patterson, California, and bought a piece of the Vintage, a resort community in the Hunter Valley of New South Wales, Australia. In recent years they’ve sold their stakes in those properties as well.

     Surplus Transactions – The owner of a catering company and a former general manager of two municipally owned courses in Ventura, California have become the co-owners of Sterling Hills Golf Club, an 18-hole track in Camarillo. John Zaruka and Lee Harlow paid an undisclosed amount for Sterling Hills, which features a Robert Muir Graves-designed course that opened in 1999. . . . In a show of support for affordable golf, elected officials in Nye County, Nevada have agreed to buy Lake View Executive Golf Course, a 38-year-old track in Pahrump. The county’s commissioners will pay $350,000 for the 18-hole track, which they believe is “ideal for junior golfers just learning the game and seniors who might not be equipped to handle playing at a championship course.” . . . Sterling Golf Management has also given a vote of confidence to affordable golf. At a recent bank-ordered auction, the Boston-area company agreed to pay $960,000 for Crystal Lake Golf Course, an 18-hole track in Haverhill, Massachusetts. Crystal Lake, a Geoff Cornish-designed layout that opened in 1960, is one of nine properties in Sterling’s portfolio, all of them located within a short drive of Boston and all of them catering to what we used to call “blue-collar” golfers.

     Sometimes the golf business takes with one hand but gives with the other. A case in point: The city of Bryan, Texas has decided to close its financially challenged Travis B. Bryan Municipal Golf Course, a venue that’s expected to become a regional park. But the city isn’t leaving local golfers high and dry, because it’s taken possession of Briarcrest Golf Course, an 18-hole, Marvin Ferguson-designed track that opened in 1971. Briarcrest, which now operates as City Course at the Phillips Event Center, came as a gift from Wallace Phillips, who conveniently owns the Phillips Event Center. It’s no coincidence that Phillips has thought about building houses on the Briarcrest property in recent years. The now-defunct municipal track has operated since the 1920s (it originally anchored the private Bryan Country Club), but city officials have been trying to get rid of it for years.

     Desolation Row Extended – The lights have been turned off at Clinton Hill Golf Course, a 48-year-old venue in suburban St. Louis. Mark Halloran, a developer, reportedly paid $1.5 million for Clinton Hill, which occupies 166 acres in Swansea, Illinois. He hasn’t announced a plan for his acquisition, but he’s said that he’s “going to look at all options,” which is usually code for residential development. . . . Chris Jones has agreed to sell Brookdale Golf Club, which has operated in suburban Tacoma, Washington since 1931. Brookdale, described by the Tacoma News Tribune as “a small but venerable public course” and “one of Pierce County’s lesser-known landmarks,” is slated to become a subdivision. Its 18-hole golf course was designed by Al Smith. . . . A prominent businessman in Huron, Ohio has pulled the plug on Keys Golf Course. Duke Thorson, the owner of a company that builds and tests race cars, bought the nine-hole layout last year, reportedly for $2.4 million, and closed it almost immediately. Thorson’s real estate agent put a positive spin on the outcome, calling it a reflection of good times at ThorSport Racing.

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