The Local Knowlege


Have we got a golf-course house for new Los Angeles CC member, Clippers owner

One of the newest members of the Los Angeles Country Club is former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, who recently bought the Los Angeles Clippers basketball team. Paid $2 billion for it, too.

(Getty Images photo)

Presumably he will now be in the market for a house. Anyone willing to pay $2 billion for a team with an all-time winning percentage of .383 that never in its 44-year history has made it beyond the conference playoff semifinals, well, have we got a deal for him. At Los Angeles CC, too. Would give him a front-row seat to the U.S. Open in 2023.

The Manor, as the 56,500-square foot home is known, is adjacent to the 14th fairway of the North Course at LACC and is privately being shopped for $150 million, Forbes reported. The Manor is the monstrosity that television mogul Aaron Spelling built in 1988 on property on which Bing Crosby and his family once lived, though Crosby was never permitted to join because of the club’s aversion to entertainment-industry types (not an issue for Ballmer; few over the years have ever considered the Clippers entertaining).

The house is owned by Petra Ecclestone, daughter of Formula One billionaire Bernie Ecclestone. It is larger than the White House and features 14 bedrooms and 27 bathrooms. Incidentally, it is just down the street from the Playboy Mansion, which is adjacent to the 13th green of the North Course.

Related: Why does Phil Mickelson want to buy a country club?

Ballmer reportedly is worth upwards of $20 billion and is an avid golfer, who has memberships at two Seattle-area clubs — Seattle Golf Club and Overlake Golf and Country Club.

How avid? He played 18 rounds in April alone, though apparently he has curtailed his golf since buying the Clippers at the end of May. He posted seven scores in June, eight in July and only four in August, according to the, the USGA's handicap site.

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Why does Phil Mickelson want to buy a Rancho Santa Fe Country Club?

Three years ago, Phil Mickelson and his agent and friend Steve Loy bought four private golf courses in Arizona that formed the foundation of their new business venture, the M Club. At the time, Loy was asked by Phoenix-area golf writer Bill Huffman why they were getting into the golf course business.


“I don’t know if it’s the stupidity talking or the money walking,” Loy replied, presumably in jest. 

The question might be asked again in the wake of the news that Mickelson, Loy and U-T San Diego publisher Doug Manchester, under the banner MMG (Manchester & Mickelson Group), have signed a letter of intent to purchase Fairbanks Ranch Country Club in Rancho Santa Fe, Calif., from its members.

The answer probably begins (but does not end) with the fact the price is right. It is a buyer’s market for golf courses, the broker, Jeff Woolson, Managing Director of the Golf & Resort Group at CBRE, said. "The average golf course deal in the 2000s was somewhere between five and eight million [dollars]. The average golf deal right now is between one and three million."

Fairbanks Ranch surely has not been immune to falling prices, though probably to a lesser degree. "Rancho Santa Fe is a pretty special place," Woolson said. "It still has an affluent demographic that’s hard to beat. So there was a lot of interest and continues to be a lot of interest."

Beyond that, MMG’s interest in Fairbanks Ranch involves Mickelson’s M Club and its courses, as well as another owned by Manchester, the Grand Golf Club, a Tom Fazio-designed course at the Grand Del Mar, a resort located a few miles south of Fairbanks Ranch.

The M Club business plan allows members at each of its private clubs to have privileges at every other club in the portfolio. The M Club recently added its fifth course, Stone Canyon in Oro Valley, Ariz., outside Tucson.

Meanwhile, Louis Ferrero, a former president of the Fairbanks Ranch board, told the U-T San Diego that MMG was proposing an "ambitious improvement plan and a link to [Manchester’s] Grand Del Mar property."

Related: Phil in Full

The link is that Fairbanks Ranch members, who include World Golf Hall of Fame member Gene Littler, would have access to Grand Del Mar in some fashion. Moreover, Fairbanks Ranch reportedly also would have a tie-in to the M Club courses as well, increasing the value to members.

Manchester declined to comment. "We at this stage can not talk and any communications needs to happen through Steve Loy," he said in an email.

Loy did not respond to an email request for an interview. However, he was quoted in a letter Fairbanks Ranch board president Mike Kendall sent to the club’s members: “Please reassure the members we will all end up with one of the best golf and family country clubs in San Diego.”

MMG, meanwhile, has begun its due diligence and will present its vision for the club to the membership Sept. 9, Kendall wrote. A membership vote will follow at a later date.

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Survey upshot: Golf is a business, so treat it like one

A strategic planning survey to which more than 300 golf course operators reportedly responded suggests one reason for the game’s lethargic performance in recent months and years: Bad business practices.


The survey, conducted by Golf Convergence, a strategic consulting business based in Castle Pines, Colo., “demonstrated that golf course operators complain about uncontrollable factors to mask their culpability for being poor operators,” the company said.

Among the findings of the survey:

  • 35 percent are operating without a current business plan.
  • 76 percent believe that their market is oversupplied.
  • 73 percent don’t engage in customer relationship management.
  • 88 percent never have their golf course secret shopped.
  • 82 percent rarely engage in customer surveys.

“I’m disappointed,” James Keegan, Managing Principal of Golf Convergence said, “but I’m not surprised. Having seen over 4,000 golf courses, I continue to be amazed that most of the people in the golf business got there for the love of the game, but most lack the business acumen and formal education to be able to engage in a successful small business.”

Keegan recently wrote in his blog at that, “a golf course is a living organism that requires constant reinvestment to create sustaining value for the golfer.”

“I believe most golf clubs in America cover operational expenses,” he said, “but few set aside sufficient capital reserves.”

The status quo, as he is fond of saying, is a formidable foe.

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Even Putt-Putt has had to get creative to sustain and grow its business

Miniature golf is only a distant cousin to golf, but it seems to have experienced growing pains not unlike that of golf itself.


The CEO of Putt-Putt Golf, David Callahan, said on Bloomberg TV on Wednesday that, “in essence golf alone doesn’t make it any more. You can’t make that business model work.”

Golf has gotten creative in an effort to lure people to the golf course. It has introduced foot golf and the concept of 15-inch cups to make the game easier.

Putt-Putt, meanwhile, has introduced Putt-Putt Fun Centers that feature a variety of other attractions, including go-karts, bumper boats, batting cages, laser tag and game rooms.

“The growth is seen with the Fun Center concept,” Callahan said. “We tried to develop a model that required less land than the larger Fun Centers and can incorporate the lead product, which is Putt-Putt golf, into that mix and it’s proven to be quite successful with the new prototype we’ve built back in North Carolina. We just kind of developed something we think can take us into the 21st century and increase our franchising, the Fun Center concept on approximately three acres of land incorporating all the attractions we have.

“If you can’t generate an EBITDA [Earnings Before Interest, Taxes, Depreciation and Amortization] somewhere between 31 and 35 percent and edging toward 40 it’s a deal breaker, and we’ve accomplished that in the new prototype we’ve built.”

Related: Grantland's new mini-documentary on putt-putt is really good

Callahan said that “roughly 30, 35 percent of our total revenue comes from the golf.”

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Shigeki Maruyama's house for sale at a bargain price: $16.5 million (down from $19.8 million)

Here is more proof — not that any was necessary — that we’re in the wrong line of work: Shigeki Maruyama’s house in Los Angeles’ Bel-Air neighborhood is up for sale. Asking price: $16.5 million.

Shigeki's house.jpg

Now, Maruyama, 44, has had a nice career — three PGA Tour victories, 10 Japan Golf Tour wins, $13.8 million in career earnings on PGA Tour, but a $16.5 million, 13,339-square foot house?

Should he get that price (reduced from its original price of $19.8 million), he’ll turn nearly a $9 million profit from the purchase price of $7.6 million (in 2004), according to the Los Angeles Times.

If you’re interested, Kurt Rappaport of the Westside Estate Agency is his realtor and the property, which features views of downtown Los Angeles, the Pacific Ocean and the Stone Canyon Reservoir, can be viewed here.
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PGA Fashion & Demo Experience and small, encouraging signs about health of game

LAS VEGAS — Small signs are welcome, even in a town where neon is king and lights the desert sky for miles. And golf no doubt is thankful for them, suggesting as they did, that the game is not dying after all, contrary to more than one headline of late.

PGA Fashion.jpg
(Photo courtesy of PGA Worldwide Golf Exhibitions/Lester)

The PGA Fashion & Demo Experience is wrapping up today at the Venetian here and Ed Several, senior vice president and general manager of PGA Golf Exhibitions, used the term “cautious optimism” to describe the state of the game based on a few positive indicators at the show.

For the first time, the show was limited exclusively to apparel and accessories, though equipment was available to demo on Monday at Cascata Golf Club in nearby Boulder, Nev. But the focus on apparel did not diminish the number of buyers (“we’re running about flat from a year ago,” Several said) or exhibitors, the latter, in fact, increasing from 187 to 194.

They include new companies and companies new to the golf business who are placing a bet on the growth of the game. Or, in the case of Wolsey, an iconic British brand that was founded in 1775 and has European Tour player Robert Rock on its endorsement staff, entering the U.S. golf market for the first time.

LazyJack Press, meanwhile, is a tie company formed in 2012 that successfully launched its initial collection in Barneys. It was exhibiting here in an effort to break into the golf market.

“I think there’s cautious optimism that golf is beginning to pervade from not just the links and the game side of it, but it’s starting to grow out into the lifestyle piece of it,” Several said. “A lot of manufacturers here are capturing that.”

The golf show was only one of several apparel shows running simultaneously in Las Vegas. “In the apparel world, just like the golf world invades Orlando in January, you’re in Las Vegas in August,” Several said. “The unique thing here is if I’m a golf shop owner, I get to see the world of fashion and yet buy within the golf realm. By being here you get an education in apparel like you’ve never heard before.”

In this environment, fashion prevailed. It was unfashionable only to denounce the future of a game that companies old and new apparently believe in.

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ClubCorp purchase of Sequoia Golf's 50 courses 'a good thing' for industry

ClubCorp’s announcement that it has purchased Sequoia Golf and its inventory of 50 courses is a positive indicator in an industry that has dealt with too many negative ones of late, Mike Hughes, the president of the National Golf Course Owners Association, said on Wednesday.

The Woodlands Tournament Course

“It’s a good thing,” he said. “There have been several big transactions and that is one of them. It shows there are a lot of people with substantial resources willing to invest in the game. The most important indicator is that when people invest it shows they have a high level of confidence in the industry.”

ClubCorp paid $265 million for Sequoia Golf’s inventory of private clubs that includes The Woodlands Country Club in the Woodlands, Texas, site of the Champions Tour’s Insperity Invitational.

“Sequoia Golf aligns perfectly with our business model, ClubCorp’s president and CEO Eric Affeldt said in a news release. “It is a strong membership business that, like ours, generates nearly 50 percent of its revenue from membership dues. Sequoia Golf will strengthen and expand our cluster strategy to familiar markets.

“This acquisition adds shareholder value and is expected to be accretive in year one. Adding Sequoia Golf's portfolio of clubs bodes well for our business, and builds an increasingly powerful and more meaningful ClubCorp brand."

The acquisition will increase the number of private clubs in ClubCorp’s portfolio to 209. Sequoia has a strong presence in the Atlanta and Houston areas, and includes clubs in the Denver and Chicago markets.

“I think the industry needed to hear the news that already existed under the radar screen,” Hughes said, citing Greg Norman’s Great White Shark Enterprises aligning with Kohlberg & Co. to buy a stake in Troon Golf last month, among other notable transactions in the last year. “There are plenty of positive stories.”
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Gear & Equipment

Callaway to give away Mickelson's U.S. Open check

By Mike Stachura

loop-phil-mickelson-callaway-518.jpgThere's little doubt that six-time runner-up Phil Mickelson will be the fan favorite at this year's U.S. Open, but Callaway announced a promotion Thursday that may get him even more support from the golfing public. And it might cost Mickelson's equipment sponsor more than a million bucks. 

"Callaway's Big Big Bertha Paycheck" lets any golfer who demos one of the company's metalwoods enter a contest for a chance to win the equivalent of Mickelson's prize money at this year's U.S. Open. That includes the winner's check, which last year came to $1.44 million. Golfers who go to a participating facility and demo either a Big Bertha or Big Bertha Alpha driver, or a Big Bertha fairway wood, will receive a code that they can use to enter for a chance to win. The contest runs through U.S. Open Sunday, June 15. Fun fact: Mickelson's average paycheck in 23 appearances in the U.S. Open is more than $183,000, including 10 paydays of more than $50,000. 

While this sort of contest and dollar amount are unprecedented, there have been somewhat similar promotions in years past, including another involving Mickelson. In the month leading up to the 2010 Masters, Golfsmith offered to fully refund the purchase of a Callaway driver if Mickelson won the tournament. After he did, more than 15,000 golfers received checks. 

In 2009, Golfsmith offered a full refund on purchase of any TaylorMade drivers purchased Masters weekend if Sergio Garcia captured the Green Jacket. He finished T-38. The offer was extended during the U.S. Open to include both Garcia and Retief Goosen. Neither did better than T-10.
Mickelson, who again is not giving away his earnings but merely providing the basis for the dollar amount Callaway will give as a prize, already is starring in videos promoting the idea now on Callaway's website

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Gear & Equipment

Gap wedges, virtually a must for tour pros, can greatly benefit everyday players

By E. Michael Johnson

Adhering to expert advice is almost always a solid play. So when two of the game's more knowledgeable people agree on something, it's probably worth a listen.

Photo: Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

In this instance I'm thinking of the late instructor Jim Flick and Titleist master wedge craftsman Bob Vokey. Flick once said that everyday players had such a difficult time with the half-shot that they would only hit the green one out of three tries from 40 to 70 yards. Vokey shares Flick's assessment of the half-shot's degree of difficulty and offers a solution.

"I can't begin to tell you how crucial gapping in wedges is," said Vokey. "Most everyday players have little idea about the loft gaps with their wedges. They just take a pitching wedge and sand wedge and go. In the old days that was OK because most pitching wedges were around 51 degrees. But now they're 45 to 47 degrees while the sand wedge has stayed at 56. That's a two-plus club difference because now the pitching wedge is essentially the loft of a 9-iron."

To combat that, Vokey recommends a loft gap between 4 and 6 degrees. So if you have a 46-degree pitching wedge, you would want to add wedges with either 52 and 58 degrees of loft or 50, 54 and 58 degrees depending on whether you wanted 4- or 6-degree spacing.

Related: 2014 Hot List: Wedges

Gap wedges generally range in loft from 50 to 54 degrees. In short, they are a compromise between a pitching wedge and a sand wedge. At last week's Arnold Palmer Invitational, only seven players (Aaron Baddeley, Robert Garrigus, Brian Gay, Danny Lee, Davis Love III, George McNeill and Rory Sabbatini) in the 120-player field did not have a wedge between 50 and 54 degrees in their bag, meaning 94 percent of the field did. A decade ago that number was about 60 percent.

Getting these clubs in players' bags, said Vokey, has not been a hard sell. Players have learned to embrace the importance of gap wedges.

"The last thing they want is that kind of space between their scoring clubs," said Vokey. "Why would you keep a 3-iron in the bag that you might use once a round when you can have a wedge you might use five times or more? In the beginning 52-degree wedges were popular, but then it started going all over -- 49, 51, 52, 54, you name it."

As players got longer, wedges became more important. A look at ShotLink data reveals that in 2004 the average proximity from the hole on fairway shots from 50 to 125 yards was 19 feet, 6 inches while in 2013 it was more than a foot closer at 18 feet, 5 inches. The number of players able to average inside 17 feet from that distance more than doubled between 2004 (13) and 2013 (34).

In recent years shots hit with gap wedges -- or shots that should have been hit with them -- have been among the more notable on tour. Bubba Watson's playoff boomerang with a 52-degree gap wedge that led to his Masters win in 2012 comes to mind. Then there's Phil Mickelson, who might own the career Grand Slam instead of the record for most runner-up finishes in U.S. Open history if he had pulled a gap wedge from his bag on the 13th hole at Merion GC during the final round of last year's U.S. Open.

"I hit a pitching wedge, and when I was drawing that shot I had too much club," said Lefty of the tee shot he hit at the 115-yard par 3. "I needed a gap wedge, and it would have been a better fit."

Related: Video: Customized wedges

All of which points to the benefit of gap wedges for tour players. But what about you, the everyday amateur? Vokey contends the advantages are even greater. "Tour pros hit 11 to 12 greens a round on average," said Vokey. "Everyday players don't want to admit it, but most are lucky to hit between two and four. That leaves a lot of shots inside 100 yards. Having specific clubs for those yardages is critical to being able to score."

In other words, if you haven't done so already, it's time to close the gap.


matt-every-equipment.jpgMATT EVERY // A putter worth keeping

During his first few years on tour, Matt Every was like a lot of players struggling on the greens. He constantly switched putters, looking to find a "magic wand." That search included his using the memorable Orion Black Hawk to contend at the 2012 Sony Open in Hawaii -- a club with a mammoth rectangular-shaped head that weighed 440 grams (normal is between 340 and 365 grams) in an effort to increase stability through the stroke.

But like most putter changes, it was just a quick fix. Every ranked 87th in strokes gained/putting in 2012 and dipped to 120th last year. That led him to work on mechanics and setup, specifically abolishing his open stance, which often led to pushed putts, and adopting a more square setup. Doing so required him to find a putter he could release more easily. That led him to Odyssey's White Hot Pro #9 -- a semi-mallet that is 34 inches long with 2.5 degrees loft -- at the Honda Classic. The putter features a heavy toe hang that helps Every release the head through the ball. Every now stands fifth on tour in strokes gained/putting and with a win at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, his putter search may be over for a while.


callaway-mack-daddy-2-wedge.jpgCallaway Mack Daddy 2
PRICE: $120 (Lofts: 16 loft/bounce options)

The lower lofts have narrower grooves for less spin on full shots. Higher lofts have larger grooves for more spin. Matt Every used three of these wedges at Bay Hill.


Arnold Palmer Invitational champ Matt Every switched to a version of Callaway's Speed Regime 3 ball at Bay Hill. The five-piece ball, which is designed for those with swing speeds over 105 mph, worked well for Every, whose swing speed is 116 mph. . . . Patrick Reed has taken to using an old Ben Hogan persimmon driver as a practice tool. "It gives you good feedback on where you are with your swing," Reed said. . . . After switching to Odyssey's Versa Jailbird at the WGC-Cadillac Championship, Keegan Bradley returned to the Odyssey White Hot XG Sabertooth belly putter he won the 2011 PGA Championship with at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. Bradley finished second at Bay Hill, ranking 19th in strokes gained/putting (he was ranked 96th in that stat coming into the event). . . . Paul Casey switched to Nike's VRS Covert 2.0 driver, saying the new club is "a little more forgiving" than his previous driver.

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Gear & Equipment

TaylorMade adds driving range to Times Square

NEW YORK -- Approximately 330,000 people wander through New York's Times Square each day. On Tuesday, TaylorMade hoped to make most of them golfers.

The company, which created a snowy white-out on a Manhattan street in 2011 for the launch of its first white driver the R11, constructed a driving range at the famed "Crossroads of the World" between 42nd and 43rd Streets to highlight a promotion for its SpeedBlade irons.

The "Speed Pocket World Challenge" also took place in three other cities (London, Toronto and San Francisco), with prospective customers getting the opportunity to demo the SpeedBlade 6-iron compared to other irons. A leader board captured golfers' stats and compared them to the results from events in the three other cities. A local winner will be named in each city, as well as an overall "Speed Pocket World Champion," who will receive a trip to the company's Kingdom clubfitting facility. (At noon Tuesday, the leader had picked up 38 yards over his previous irons.)

"It was really fun to try out the new clubs in a setting like this," said Jonathan Balangon of New York. "They usually only do this kind of thing at private country clubs."

Introduced last fall, the SpeedBlade irons are the company's second iteration of irons with a slot in the sole. The slot, called the "speed pocket," is designed to allow the club's thin face to flex at impact to create more ballspeed and a higher launch angle.  

Top-rated teacher Hank Haney and Golf Channel personality Charlie Rymer also were part of the program. The good news is that after a rough weather start to the golf season the forecast for midday in Times Square of 50 degrees held true.

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