Thursday, January 08, 2009

If I had an extra $10 million, I'd look at buying one of the homes at
Punta Brava, Tiger Woods's proposed golf course and development along
the Pacific coast in Mexico. I haven't been out there, but my friend
Alan has
, and he tells me it's spectacular.
In truth, I'd be happy enough to have an extra $10. But a recent article in Conde Nast's Portfolio about Woods's course-design business raises questions
about Tiger's business acumen, and it has my BS radar beeping.
The
article contends that Woods has entered the course design and real
estate business at the very worst time. (He has developments under way in Dubai and
North Carolina, in addition to Punta Brava.) No
question about that. But the article also hints that Tiger's lack of
design experience somehow makes the projects' future more questionable: The setup is remarkably risky for investors, given that Woods has never
completed a course design and that all the projects have built-in
knocks—from out-of-the-way locations to high costs.
To me, the setup sounds like the surest golf investment outside of a house
on Pebble Beach or Woods at 9-4 to win the 2009 Masters. (OK, that
second one might be risky, but would you bet against him?) He is not
going to design a lot of courses -- his plate is too full -- so a
Woods course will have a built-in exclusiveness. The idea that Woods's
lack of design experience will hurt him is ridiculous. Interestingly,
it comes from Jack Nicklaus. Even Nicklaus, an admirer of Woods’ talent on the course, is skeptical
about the new projects’ timing. “He’s on his third golf course
contract,” Nicklaus says, emphasizing the last word. “He hasn’t done
any yet. I don’t think he’s finished any golf courses.”
Nicklaus
only competes with Woods in golf through the history books, but when it
comes to golf-course design they're going head-to-head. Nicklaus is
unquestionably the top brand-name in course design; a study a couple of years
back found that his real estate developments kept or increased their
market value better than any other course designer's. So Nicklaus is
surely going to tweak Woods over his course designs -- they are rivals now for real, and
Nicklaus was always known as one of the toughest.
From
everything we've seen from Woods over the years -- his knowledge of the
game, his work ethic, his obvious intelligence, how he surrounds
himself with highly qualified people -- it's clear that whatever course
design he comes up with will be solid and tasteful, if maybe a little
dull. The course undoubtedly will be
tailored to his market, and those handful of wealthy people who can
afford a remote Mexican getaway home will be thrilled. Woods won't be called the next Alister MacKenzie, but he won't be
John Daly sketching holes on a cocktail napkin either. If Woods can't sell a golf-course development, then the economy has gotten so bad that no one can.
The more
troubling aspect of Woods's course-design projects are their exclusivity. As golf blogger Geoff Shackelford noted, the announcement of Woods's
ultra-private Punta Brava development for the super wealthy felt inappropriate
as regular people were losing their 401(k) investments and even their
jobs. I sensed the media present were not too excited to cheer on a high-end
project being built for the kind of people who have just milked our
system and will be retiring on their golden parachutes.

The real question is when Woods is going to build a course the public
can play, and he says he intends too. Let's hope so. It would be too
bad if the guy who brought golf to the masses ends up as a builder of
trophy homes for the elite. Tiger Tracker | Tiger's Enemies and Rivals | Tiger's 2008 Season

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