Golf course openings in the United States remain at historically low levels, according to a new report by the National Golf Foundation. Measured in 18-hole equivalents, the NGF said that only 13.5 courses opened in 2012, while 154.5 courses closed. A total of 68 percent of those closures came among lower-priced public facilities, which continues a trend that has run throughout the economic downturn.
Since 2006, when what the NGF calls the ''market correction in golf course supply'' began, 499.5 golf courses (again, measured by 18-hole equivalents) have shut their doors, the report said, and 2012 marked the seventh straight year in which more American courses closed than opened. Even so, the NGF points out, that represents only about 500 of the approximately 16,000 total golf facilities nationwide.
''For perspective, we opened 400 courses in a single year during the heart of the building boom,'' said the report. ''And, over the 20-year period from 1986 to 2005 the U.S. saw more than 4,500 18H-EQ golf courses open.''
No more than 20 new courses will open per year in the near future, the NGF predicts, while annual closings should total approximately 150 to 180 courses per year for a few more years before dropping to a range of 130-160 closures per year a few years down the road.
This continued contraction is also impacting the sale of golf courses nationwide. As the number of courses shrinks, the number of potential buyers is starting to increase as the overall economy rebounds.
The average golf course sold in 2010 was on the market for 328 days, while that average rose to 348 days in 2011 – but shrunk to 309 days in 2012, according to Steven Ekovich, the vice president for investments and director of Marcus & Millichap's National Golf & Resort Properties Group.
''This decrease could be an indicator that there is more demand for golf assets, or it could mean that sellers have become more practical," he wrote in the winter issue of Golf Inc., before stating that he believes there is a bit more demand for golf courses.
The number of golf course sales under $1 million was up in 2012 to roughly 1/3rd of all sales, whereas the number of sales under $1 million in 2011 accounted for only 14 percent of total sales, Ekovich said. The median price dropped from $2.875 million in 2011 to $1.575 million in 2012. And the average price, excluding outliers like Donald Trump's purchase of Doral Golf Resort & Spa, dropped from $3.947 million to $2.156 million.
So, Ekovich notes, the number of sales is up, but the size of those sales is down. "With fewer deals over $3 million and more sales under $1 million,” he wrote, “the data suggest that banks have sold most of their good product and much of what is left is low-priced, functionally obsolete, poorly located product."
In conclusion, he said, "if both the number of higher-end golf courses and larger transactions are slowing down at the same time as more buyers are entering the market and revenue is going up, the scales that have been weighted down by the buyers who had 100 percent of the power over the last five years may be tipping back into equilibrium.
''I am not ready to say that 2013 will be a seller's market,'' he added. ''We have a number of years to wait. But with less product on the market as buyer demand increases, it is a good mixture for a brew of equilibrium stew."
Many of these new buyers, by the way, are foreign. Some are seeking to get a toehold in the American golf market, but several are seeking EB-5 immigrant visas. These visas allow foreign investors and their families to relocate to the United States if they invest a $1 million in a new project or $500,000 in existing projects in certain areas that create 10 new jobs for Americans.
How do you get your motor running for a big golf tournament? Well, this week some PGA Tour players did it by, literally, getting their motors running.
On Tuesday, Ian Poulter – well known as one of golf's greatest motorheads – hosted several of his colleagues at the Palm Beach International Raceway. At the small track near West Palm Beach, Poulter arranged for Ferrari USA to provide a stable of ''prancing horses'' for the players to test out.
Among the players who joined Poulter were Rickie Fowler, Justin Rose, Nicolas Colsaerts and Stuart Appleby.
Track officials didn't keep lap times for fear of stirring up the players' competitive juices – after all, the point was to have fun, not crumple a $400,000 machine up into a steaming wad of leather and carbon fiber. But word from the pit lane was that Poulter and Fowler were at the head of the pack.
That's no surprise, considering that Poulter is well known as an owner of multiple Ferraris (which he stores in his lavish new home in Orlando), and Fowler loves to put the pedal to the metal in his own collection of fast cars, some of which he runs at the Palm Beach speedway when he's not playing golf. Poulter even got one of his own cars, a spectacular Enzo Ferrari, out on the track for a few laps.
On Twitter, Poulter called the day ''Ferrari heaven'' and, judging by the photo posted above, taken by Stuart Appleby, shows how accurate that description is.
Serena Williams spent part of her Friday at the Honda Classic, where she followed Tiger Woods for a little bit. The tennis superstar – who lives near PGA National, where the tournament is being played – wanted to take a photo of Woods with her cell phone, but an ever-vigilant marshal caught her in the act.
Amazingly, someone caught the incident on video, and you can see it here.
Williams admitted her infraction later on Twitter:
@serenawilliams: "Ok at this Golf tournament. Just saw @tigerwoods I understand NO golf Apparently u can't take pics. This security for mad and yelled at me''
She did, however, get her photo, and she shared it – it's the one posted above. You can see her original here.
And she added:
@serenawilliams: ''I need to learn golf dident know I knew so little. Apparently u can't take pictures of golfers. In my Defense peeps always take pics of tennis players.''
A new discovery of an old grave could become the latest tourist attraction at the home of golf.
That's what several golfing groups in Scotland hope, anyway.
Arnaud Massy – who made history as the first non-Briton to win the British Open back in 1906 – was buried in the Newington Cemetery in Edinburgh, Scotland, after his death in 1950. But no one seemed to remember that fact for 63 years, until his unkempt grave was recently rediscovered.
The discovery provoked a huge response from the British golf community, which installed a new headstone during a reconsecration service last Saturday to honor Massy. According to The Scotsman newspaper, the ceremony was attended by representatives of the R&A; the British Golf Collectors Society; the European Association of Golf Historians and Collectors; Douglas Seaton, a golf historian from nearby North Berwick who actually located the grave; Hugh Henderson, a great nephew of Massy; Pierre-Alain Coffinier, the French Consul in Edinburgh; and a representative of the French Golf Federation.
''Hopefully many golfers will come here as a pilgrimage,'' said Coffinier. ''Arnaud Massy was one of golf's biggest champions and we are very proud that he has been honored with such a service in Scotland, where golf is at the core of its identity.''
One of golf's great early champions, Massy was born in the French resort community of Biarritz in 1877, and became a caddie to supplement the money he was making as a sardine fisherman. He met several top British golfers who spent the winter in southern France, and moved to North Berwick, Scotland, to pursue his love of golf.
By winning the 1906 British Open at Royal Liverpool, he became the first player from continental Europe to win a major – and was the only one until Seve Ballesteros won the 1979 British Open. He also won the first French Open in 1906 as well as the second French Open in 1907, as well as the first Belgian Open in 1910 and the first Spanish Open in 1912.
He put golf aside for four years to serve in the French military during World War I, and returned to the game in his 40s. He won his fourth French Open in 1925 at age 48, then defeated Bobby Jones in a 1926 exhibition match in France and went on to win the Spanish Open again in both 1927 and 1928.
''We are very pleased to be associated with this event,'' R&A representative Philip Truett told The Scotsman. ''If there are other champion golfers not recognized in the correct way, we should pursue this.''