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Get ready for Mickelson National Golf Club

Now that the Ryder Cup is behind him (save for the Tom Watson controversy), it’s back to the drawing board, more or less, for Phil Mickelson: The design of a golf course that will carry his name.

Mickelson National Golf Club of Canada is his latest design project, in rolling terrain west of the city of Calgary and scheduled to open in 2017.

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The project began seven years ago and was to be a Johnny Miller design, when a downturn in the economy put the project on hold.

“When we kickstarted it again, I thought, ‘If I can be associated with one individual or brand, who would it be?’” Barry Ehlert, managing partner of the Windmill Golf Group, said. “Phil Mickelson was the first name to come to mind, not just for his design work, but what he brings to golf. He was my first call.

“What you see on television with Phil is what you get. Everybody likes Phil. That’s how he came across when we met face to face. It was a friendly, engaging, easy conversation to have with him. After quite a long time getting to know them and them getting to know us, it seemed like a perfect fit for both of us.”

The course originally was going to be known as Copithorne Club, named for the original landowners of the property. But people had trouble spelling Copithorne, Ehlert said, which made it problematic on the branding front.

“We thought it would be much easier having a name that people could find,” Ehlert said. “We were talking to Phil’s team and said, ‘what if he was Phil’s name associated with it?’ They contemplated it and agreed to it. We believe there will only be one Mickelson National in Canada.” Or likely anywhere else, for that matter.

The course will be built in anticipation of the Canadian Open being played there one day. “We’d love to do that,” Ehlert said. “Calgary has never had a PGA Tour event. The Canadian Open has never been to Calgary. But we know Calgary would support it. Probably all of Albert would support it.”

Related: Why does Phil want to be a Rancho Santa Fe country club?

Mickelson has not yet seen the property — the course layout shown above, measuring nearly 8,000 yards (the altitude is 3,500 to 4,000 feet), loosely follows the original routing — but is expected to travel to Calgary in the next month to get his first look. Meanwhile, his design team has visited the property on a couple of occasions.

“We’re not set on 8,000 yards,” Ehlert said. “When Phil gets on site, cit ould end up being 7,600 yards. The original routing ended up being almost 8,000 yards. But whether it’s 7,600, 7,700 or 7.800 yards, whatever it is, first and foremost it will be a course that the members play every day.”

Mickelson Design includes Whisper Rock Golf Club in Scottsdale, Ariz., a renovation of the North Course at Torrey Pines, and two courses in China.

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Business

Back9Network launches today; is there room for two golf networks?

Four years after it was founded, Back9Network finally begins broadcasting today, and will do so not without some uncertainty. Is there room for a second golf network?

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"I wouldn't have left a nice safe career at ESPN if I didn't think so," Charles Cox, CEO of Back9 Network, said. Cox was Director of International Finance and Business Development at ESPN before joining Back9Network.

"I think it's a no-brainer channel offering. You've got the only sport you can play until you die. You've got a 70-billion dollars annual consumer spend around the lifestyle. Look at other [sports] genres that have a lifestyle around it. There's only one, outdoors, hunting and fishing, and they've got several channels."

The network bills itself as "the world's first multi-platform lifestyle network for golf lovers," featuring wine, food, cars, travel, nightlife and, of course, golf.

"I''ve got the best demographic in golf, the male golfer," Cox said. "Eighty percent of golfers are male. [We're focused on] entertaining the male golfer in prime time."

Related: Back9Network founder Jamie Bosworth is out of the picture

Ahmad Rashad is the executive producer and a host for Back9. He also is close to Tiger Woods and Michael Jordan, which figures to give Back9Network some access to both.

It plans to air more than 1,000 hours of original programming in its first year, including a trio of studio shows.

  • "The Turn," hosted by Shane Bacon and Erica Bachelor, will feature golf, pop culture and debate.

  • "Off Par," hosted by actor Marty Blake and model Caite Upton, will be "an inventive look at the world of golf and entertainment, with a comedic twist," a network news release said.

  • Former PGA Tour player John Maginnes, along with long-time Golfweek writer Jeff Rude will host "The Clubhouse," designed to replicate 19th-hole golf conversation.

One early challenge for Back9Network is that initially it will only be available to those with DirecTV.

"We're going to try to get 40, 50, 60 million homes as quickly as possible," Cox said, "and really get some hard-core data on what programs are working. We probably can't exist by having only 20 million homes in the long term. We need to get the other big boys involved."

It has made it easy for potential viewers to lobby cable outlets for inclusion. On the top of its website homepage, it features a link, "I want Back9Network," that has forms to either email or Tweet cable operators requesting that the network be added.

Meanwhile, it will begin with cautious optimism. "It's been a long time coming, but there's still plenty of work to be done," Cox said. "We've got to make sure it's good stuff. It's hard to launch a network in this landscape."

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Celebrity

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.

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(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 GHIN.com, the USGA's handicap site.

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Business

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.

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“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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Business

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.

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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 golfconvergence.com 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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Business

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.

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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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Business

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.

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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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Business

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.

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(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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Business

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.

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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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