A New Home on the Range - COPIED
Be it giant nets slung onto 90-foot poles that soar above suburban sprawl, or the haze of bright lights shining in a farmland summer night, the sight of a golf range along the road tends to push daily cares to the background. Clubs are in the trunk, Ive got a few minuteswhy not hit a bucket?
To me, to many, ranges have always been as comfortable as diners or just the right kind of bar. You know youll find kindred spirits there, and a respite from the demands of a time-crazy world. And maybe even a solution to that problem youve been having with your pitch shots.
And like diners, many of the ranges we grew up with were true Mom-and-Pop operations. Fifteen to twenty acres, mats, hut, bunch of balls, maybe a fridge for Cokesnot much more was needed for people to get a taste of golf when there was no time for a full-course, 18-hole meal. Teenage kids could work there and learn the game (indeed, my colleague Rich Lerner did just that at his parents range); families could come and have some fun.
With time, expense and difficulty being the major challenges to golfs growth, youd think the new millennium would be prime time for ranges and the short courses that some of them offer. A range, with its start-and-stop-when-you-like versatility, is better than no golf at all.
Heck, in Tokyo and other parts of Japan, golf course real estate is so precious that some people only play at ranges.
But its not that easy. The range business is changing. There are about 2,100 ranges in the United States now, 600 in Canada. About 1,500 offer short courses. Annual growth was double-digit in the 1990s, but has slowed to low single digits recently, says the Golf Range Association of America. The U.S. residential real estate boom has set off rampant commercial development in many cities, and acreage that once would have been considered prime for a golf range is now being eyed up for other uses.
The impediments [to ranges and short courses] are the land values, said Steve DiCostanzo, president of the GRAA, which he founded in 1991. Its also a function of management. If you have engaged, creative management, theyll be able to maximize the return on that course or range. But there are pressures if youre not turning rounds. Theres a lot of pressure to cash out.
Cash out, and let some developer get rich while you take your bundle of money to Florida and relax. Eight of the Top 100 ranges named by Golf Range magazine, the GRAAs publication for members, were lost to redevelopment in the last two years. And for those looking to get in, it can be daunting to convince a bank to lend between $250,000 and $3 million (net of land costs) for a business that doesnt yield as much per acre as another strip mall would.
But theres hope. As with bookstores, bowling alleys, bars and diners, Mom and Pop havent been completely shoved out of the picture (thank goodness). But the core of the business is stepping into the 21st century. The slowing growth in the range business, DiCostanzo says, doesnt reflect the sales and modernization of many older ranges.
There has been some new blood coming into the industry, DiCostanzo said. Entrepreneurs who have succeeded in other businesses having nothing to do with golf have bought some of the old Mom-and-Pop places, and theyre running them more like modern businesses.
Witness Carlsbad Golf Center, in the densely-populated area of suburban San Diego known as North County. Wedged into the big corner made by El Camino Real, a north-south artery, and California Route 78, a popular east-west freeway, Carlsbad features 58 hitting bags (15 for right- or left-handers), all with modern synthetic grass, not that old stuff that leaves green junk stuck to the sole of your clubs. The range is 300 yards long by 100 wide, and patrons hit into a big slope, but all the target flags have been lasered and slope-adjusted for proper distance. Theres a short-game and putting practice area, satellite TV in the pro shop, even RV parking.
But the ranges success has to do with more than the amenities, says one of its owners.
We offer a level of personal service that a lot of places in this world dont anymore, unfortunately, says Dana Chaiken, who owns the range with Susan Roll, a PGA and LPGA professional. One of our biggest revenue sources is our custom fitting. People can test 14 different brands at the same time and get whats best for them. In a store, they might hit into a net; they might not get a trained fitter. Our staff are all PGA or LPGA pros, and our fitters are properly trained. Its a level of knowledge you dont always see at facilities like ours.
Plenty of indoor golf retail locations, especially the so-called big-box stores, have PGA pros and certified fitters. But Chaiken and Roll are looking to combine the range experience with fitting and aggressive game improvement, providing a value-added opportunity for chronic would-be Vijays (that is, range-ball addicts).
That includes a fully stocked pro shop and a teaching arm called the Carlsbad Golf Academy, as well as a members program to increase repeat business (they even have happy hours). Weekends see a lot of family business, Chaiken says, especially Saturdays. Its all planned out, profit- and service-centered, and so far, very effective.
We like to think were modern, Chaiken says. We have a certain youthfulness about usnot an old-school, weve-always-done-it-that-way mentality.
Carlsbad had to make some choices. For instance, with limited space available, Chaiken and Roll decided that a solid pro shop was more valuable than an elaborate food-and-beverage operation. There are snacks, sure, but Carlsbads owners know what their customers want, and its more sand wedges and less Snickers.
The old school thought was, let the people come, theyll hit some balls, and maybe theyll come back, DiCostanzo said. The new school thought is more like the Carlsbad Golf Center. They looked at the business model and said, Were going to maximize teaching revenues, fitting, and family play opportunities, and were going to expand our retail situation.
Just as chain restaurants havent completely replaced wonderful old roadside diners, so it goes with ranges. Scallys in Pittsburgh, Griffith Park in Los Angeles, Woods Golf Center near Philadelphia ' these are all local treasures with a family element, even as they modernize (Woods, for example, is planning a caf). But the mainstream future of ranges appears to belong to the likes of Chaiken and Roll. Theirs is the kind of facility most likely to have the newest synthetic grass mats, automatic tee-up machines, ample netting to protect neighbors, teaching and fitting programs ' whatever the range industry can come up with.
All of which offers us some nice choices that will be increasingly hard to drive by..
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South Korean LPGA stars lead KLPGA team
South Korea’s LPGA team of all-stars took the early lead Friday on the Korean LPGA Tour in a team event featuring twice as much star power as this year’s Solheim Cup did.
Eight of the world’s top 20 players are teeing it up in the ING Life Champions Trophy/ Inbee Park Invitational in Gyeongju. There were only four players among the top 20 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings when the United States defeated Europe in Des Moines, Iowa.
Park led the LPGA team to a 3 ½-to-2 ½ lead on the first day.
Park, who has been recuperating from a back injury for most of the second half of this season, teamed with Jeongeun Lee5 to defeat Hye Jin Choi and Ji Hyun Kim, 5 and 4, in the lead-off four-ball match.
So Yeon Ryu and Park, former world No. 1s and LPGA Rolex Player of the Year Award winners, will be the marquee pairing on Saturday. They will lead off foursomes against Ji Young Kim and Min Sun Kim.
Nine of the 11 South Koreans who won LPGA events this year are competing. Sung Hyun Park and I.K. Kim are the only two who aren’t.
The fourball results:
LPGA’s Inbee Park/ Jeongeun Lee5 def. Hye Jin Choi/Ji Hyun Kim, 5 and 4.
LPGA’s Mirim Lee/Amy Yang def. Ji Hyun Oh/Min Sun Kim, 3 and 1.
LPGA’s M.J. Hur/Mi Hyang Lee halved Ji Hyun Kim/Ji Young Kim.
KLPGA’s Ha Na Jang/Sun Woo Bae def. Sei Young Kim/Hyo Joo Kim, 5 and 4.
LPGA’s Na Yeon Choi/Jenny Shin halved Jin Young Ko/Da Yeon Lee
LPGA’s In Gee Chun/Eun Hee Ji halved Jeongeun Lee6/Char Young Kim.
NOTE: The KPGA uses numerals after a player’s name to distinguish players with the exact same name.
Cut Line: Lyle faces third bout with cancer
In this week’s holiday edition, Cut Line is thankful for the PGA Tour’s continued progress on many fronts and the anticipation that only a Tiger Woods return can generate.
The Fighter. That was the headline of a story Cut Line wrote about Jarrod Lyle following his second bout with cancer a few years ago, so it’s both sad and surreal to see the affable Australian now bracing for a third fight with leukemia.
Lyle is working as an analyst for Channel 7’s coverage of this week’s Emirates Australian Open prior to undergoing another stem cell transplant in December.
“I’ve got a big month coming,” Lyle said. “I’m back into hospital for some really heavy-duty treatment that’s really going to determine how things pan out for me.”
Twice before things have panned out for Lyle. Let’s hope karma has one more fight remaining.
Changing times. Last season the PGA Tour introduced a policy to add to the strength of fields, a measure that had long eluded officials and by most accounts was a success.
This season the circuit has chosen to tackle another long-standing thorn, ridiculously long pro-am rounds. While there seems little the Tour can do to speed up play during pro-am rounds, a new plan called a 9&9 format will at least liven things up for everyone involved.
Essentially, a tournament hosting a pro-am with four amateurs can request the new format, where one professional plays the first nine holes and is replaced by another pro for the second nine.
Professionals will have the option to request 18-hole pro-am rounds, giving players who limit practice rounds to just pro-am days a chance to prepare, but otherwise it allows Tour types to shorten what is an admittedly long day while the amateurs get a chance to meet and play with two pros.
The new measure does nothing about pace of play, but it does freshen up a format that at times can seem tired, and that’s progress.
Tweet of the week: @Love3d (Davis Love III) “Thanks to Dr. Flanagan (Andrews Sports Medicine and Orthopedic Center) for the new hip and great care! Can’t wait to get back to (the PGA Tour).”
Love offered the particularly graphic tweet following hip replacement surgery on Tuesday, a procedure that he admitted he’d delayed because he was “chicken.”
The surgery went well and Love is on pace to return to the Tour sometime next spring. As for the possibility of over-sharing on social media, we’ll leave that to the crowd.
Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)
Distance control. The Wall Street Journal provided the octagon for the opening blows of a clash that has been looming for a long time.
First, USGA executive director Mike Davis told The Journal that the answer to continued distance gains may be a restricted-flight golf ball with an a la carte rule that would allow different organizations, from the Tour all the way down to private clubs, deciding which ball to use.
“You can’t say you don’t care about distance, because guess what? These courses are expanding and are predicted to continue to expand,” Davis said. “The impact it has had has been horrible.”
A day later, Wally Uihlein, CEO of Acushnet, which includes the Titleist brand, fired back in a letter to The Journal, questioning among other things how distance gains are putting a financial burden on courses.
“The only people that seem to be grappling with advances in technology and physical fitness are the short-sighted golf course developers and the supporting golf course architectural community who built too many golf courses where the notion of a 'championship golf course' was brought on line primarily to sell real estate,” Uihlein wrote.
For anyone paying attention the last few years, this day was inevitable and the likely start of what will be a drawn out and heated process, but Cut Line’s just not sure anyone wins when it’s over.
Tiger, take II. Tiger Woods’ return to competition next week at the Hero World Challenge was always going to generate plenty of speculation, but that hyperbole reached entirely new levels this week as players began giving personal accounts of the new and improved 14-time major champion.
“I did talk to him, and he did say it's the best he's ever felt in three years,’” Day said as he prepared for the Australian Open. “If he's hitting it long and straight, then that's going to be tough for us because it is Tiger Woods. He's always been a clutch putter and in amongst the best and it will be interesting to see.”
Rickie Fowler added to the frenzy when he was asked this month if the rumors that Woods is driving the ball by him, by 20 to 30 yards by some reports, are true?
“Oh, yeah,” he told Golf.com. “Way by.”
Add to all this a recent line that surfaced in Las Vegas that Woods is now listed at 20-1 to win a major in 2018, and it seems now may be a good time for a restraint.
Golf is better with Woods, always has been and always will be, but it may be best to allow Tiger time to find out where his body and game are before we declare him back.
Searching for answers. Twelve months ago, Hideki Matsuyama was virtually unstoppable and, regardless of what the Official World Golf Ranking said, arguably the best player on the planet.
Now a year removed from that lofty position, which featured the Japanese star finishing either first or second in six of his seven starts as the New Year came and went, Matsuyama has faded back to fifth in the world and on Sunday finished fifth, some 10 strokes behind winner Brooks Koepka, at the Dunlop Phoenix.
“That hurt,” Matsuyama told the Japan Times. “I don’t know whether it’s a lack of practice or whether I lack the strength to keep playing well. It seems there are many issues to address.”
Since his last victory at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, Matsuyama has just two top-10 finishes on Tour and he ended his 2016-17 season with a particularly poor performance at the Presidents Cup.
While Matsuyama’s take seems extreme considering his season, there are certainly answers that need answering.
Video, images from Tiger, DJ's round with Trump
Updated at 9:50 p.m. ET
Images and footage from Tiger Woods and Dustin Johnson's round Friday at Trump National in Jupiter, Fla., alongside President Donald Trump:
Trump Jupiter Tiger, Johnson, Faxon,Trumps staff &team treats everyone the best, members and media guests alike, FACT pic.twitter.com/TB61q7Qe3y— Dr. Eric Kaplan (@drekaplan) November 24, 2017
Tiger Woods is scheduled to make his return to competition next week at his Hero World Challenge. But first, a (quick) round with the President.
President Donald Trump tweeted on Friday that he was going to play at Trump National Golf Club in Jupiter, Fla., alongside Woods and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson.
After Turkey call I will be heading over to Trump National Golf Club, Jupiter, to play golf (quickly) with Tiger Woods and Dustin Johnson. Then back to Mar-a-Lago for talks on bringing even more jobs and companies back to the USA!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 24, 2017
Woods and President Trump previously played last December. Trump, who, according to trumpgolfcount.com has played 75 rounds since taking over the presidency, has also played over the last year with Rory McIlroy, Ernie Els and Hideki Matsuyama.
Chawrasia leads major champs in Hong Kong
HONG KONG – S.S.P. Chawrasia extended his lead at the Hong Kong Open to two strokes Friday after a 4-under 66 in the second round.
Chawrasia, who had led by one at the Hong Kong Golf Club, is at 9-under 131 overall and took as much as a five-stroke lead at one point.
''Yesterday I was putting very well, and today, also I make some up and downs. I saved a couple of short putts. That's why I think I'm leading by two shots most probably,'' the Indian said. ''The next two days, I'm just looking forward.''
Thomas Aiken (64) is second, followed by Alexander Bjork (66), Joakim Lagergren (66), Poom Saksansin (68) and Julian Suri (67) at 5 under 135.
Aiken's round was the lowest of the tournament.
''It is tough out there. The greens are really firm. You've got to hit the fairway,'' Aiken said. ''If you get above the holes, putts can get away from you.''
Justin Rose (69) had six birdies, but three bogeys and a double-bogey at the par 3 12th kept him at 3 under for the tournament.
Masters champion Sergio Garcia (71), playing for the first time in Hong Kong, was at even par, as was defending champion Sam Brazel (71) and 2014 champion Scott Hend (67).
''I have to play better,'' Garcia said. ''The way I felt like I played, it's difficult. This kind of course, you need to play well to shoot a good score.''