A New Home on the Range - COPIED

By Adam BarrMay 12, 2006, 4:00 pm
For the initiated, they excite from a distance, like a long-awaited ship coming over the horizon.
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..
Email your thoughts to Adam Barr
Getty Images

LAAC returning to Casa de Campo in 2019

By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 8:23 pm

The Latin America Amateur Championship will return to Casa de Campo in the Dominican Republic in 2019 (Jan. 17-20), event organizers announced Saturday in Chile, where this year’s championship is underway.

The LAAC champion receives an invitation to play the Masters at Augusta National Golf Club every spring.

The champion is also exempt into The Amateur, the U.S. Amateur and any other USGA event for which he is eligible to compete. The champion and players who finish runner-up are also exempt into the final stages of qualifying for The Open and the U.S. Open.

The LAAC was founded by the Masters, the R&A and the USGA, with the purpose of further developing amateur golf in South America, Central America, Mexico and the Caribbean.

The championship got its start in 2015 with Chile’s Matias Dominguez winning at Pilar Golf in Argentina. In 2016, Casa de Campo hosted, with Costa Rica’s Paul Chaplet winning. At 16, he became the first player from Central America to compete in the Masters. In 2017, Chile’s Toto Gana won the title at  Club de Golf de Panama.

Getty Images

Beef's beer goggles: Less drinks = more wins

By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 6:07 pm

An offseason spent soul searching is apparently paying quick dividends for Andrew “Beef” Johnston, who is in contention to win Sunday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Johnston acknowledged he was “burning the candle at both ends” last year, playing both the PGA Tour and the European Tour, but he told reporters Saturday that it wasn’t too much golf that hindered his efforts.

It was too much “socializing.”

“I'm a social person,” Johnston said. “If you go out with friends, or you get invited to something, I'll have a beer, please. But I probably had a few too many beers, I would say, to be honest. And it reflected in my golf, and I was disappointed looking back at it. I want to turn that around and have a good season.”

Johnston posted a 6-under-par 66 Saturday, moving into a tie for sixth, three shots off the lead. He said he arrived in Abu Dhabi a week early to prepare for his first start of the new year. It’s paying off with a Sunday chance to win his second European Tour title.

“Last year was crazy, and like getting distracted, and things like that,” Johnston said. “You don't know it's happened until you've finished the season. You’re off doing things and you're burning the candle at both ends. When I got back from last season, sort of had time to reflect on it, I sort of said to myself, 'You've got to keep quiet and keep disciplined and get on with your work.’”

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Johnston finished 189th last year in the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup standings. He was 116th in the European Tour’s Race to Dubai.

Johnston’s fun-loving personality, his scruffy beard and his big-bodied shape quickly made him one of the most popular and entertaining players in the game when he earned his PGA Tour card before the 2016-17 season. Golf Digest called him a “quirky outlier,” and while he has had fun with that persona, Johnston is also intent on continuing to prove he belongs among the game’s best players.

His plan for doing that?

“Just put the work in,” he said. “I didn’t put enough work in last year. It’s simple. It showed. So, just get down, knuckle down and practice hard.”

Rory McIlroy at the 2018 Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship Getty Images

McIlroy making big statement in first start of 2018

By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 3:40 pm

Rory McIlroy marched the fairways of Abu Dhabi Golf Club Saturday with that fighter pilot stride of his, with that confident little bob in his step that you see when he is in command of his full arsenal of shots.

So much for easing into the new year.

So much for working off rust and treating these first few months of 2018 as a warmup for the Masters and his bid to complete the career Grand Slam.

McIlroy, 28, is poised to announce his return to golf in spectacular fashion Sunday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

With back-to-back birdies to close his round, McIlroy put up a 7-under-par 65, leaving him just one shot off the lead going into the final round.

“It’s good,” McIlroy said. “I probably scored a bit better today, short game was needed as well, but I hit the ball very well, so all in all it was another great round and confidence builder, not just for this week but obviously for the rest of the season as well.”

McIlroy can make a strong statement with a win Sunday.

If he claims the title in his first start of the year, he sends a message about leaving all the woes of 2017 behind him. He sends a message about his fitness after a nagging rib injury plagued him all of last year. He sends a message about his readiness to reassert himself as the game’s best player in a world suddenly teeming with towering young talent.

After his first winless year since 2008, his first full season as a pro, McIlroy is eager to show himself, as well as everyone else, that he is ready to challenge for major championships and the world No. 1 title again.

“It feels like awhile since I’ve won,” McIlroy said. “I’m really looking forward to tomorrow.”

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

A victory would be all the more meaningful because the week started with McIlroy paired with world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and reigning European Tour Player of the Year Tommy Fleetwood.

McIlroy acknowledged the meaning of that going into Saturday’s round.

“That proves I’m back to full fitness and 100 percent healthy,” he said. “DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now and one of, if not the best, drivers of the golf ball, and to be up there with him over the first two days proves to me I’m doing the right things and gives me confidence.”

It’s worth repeating what 2008 Masters champ Trevor Immelman said last month about pairings and the alpha-dog nature of the world’s best players. He was talking about Tiger Woods’ return at the Hero World Challenge, when Immelman said pairings matter, even in off season events.

“When you are the elite level, you are always trying to send a message,” Immelman said. “They want to show this guy, `This is what I got.’”

A victory with Johnson in the field just two weeks after Johnson won the Sentry Tournament of Champions in an eight-shot rout will get the attention of all the elite players.

A victory also sets this up as a January for the ages, making it the kind of big-bang start the game has struggled to create in the shadow of the NFL playoffs.

Johnson put on a tour-de-force performance winning in Hawaii and the confident young Spaniard Jon Rahm is just a shot off the lead this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour. Sergio Garcia is just two off the lead going into the final round of the Singapore Open. Tiger Woods makes his return to the PGA Tour at Torrey Pines next week.

To be sure, McIlroy has a lot of work to do Sunday.

Yet another rising young talent, Thomas Pieters, shares the lead with Ross Fisher. Fleetwood is just two shots back and Johnson five back.

McIlroy has such a good history at Abu Dhabi. Over the last seven years, he has finished second four times and third twice. Still, even a strong finish that falls short of winning bodes well for McIlroy in his first start of the year.

“I have never won my first start back out,” McIlroy said.

A strong start, whether he wins or not, sets McIlroy up well for the ambitious schedule he plans for 2018. He’s also scheduled to play the Dubai Desert Classic next with the possibility he’ll play 30 times this year, two more events than he’s ever played in a year.

“I’m just really getting my golf head back on,” McIlroy said. “I’ve been really pleased with that.”

A victory Sunday will make all our heads spin a little b it with the exciting possibilities the game offers this year.

Getty Images

Garcia 2 back in weather-delayed Singapore Open

By Associated PressJanuary 20, 2018, 3:06 pm

SINGAPORE - Danthai Boonma and Chapchai Nirat built a two-stroke lead over a chasing pack that includes Sergio Garcia and Ryo Ishikawa midway through the third round of the weather-interrupted Singapore Open on Saturday.

The Thai golfers were locked together at 9 under when play was suspended at the Sentosa Golf Club for the third day in a row because of lightning strikes in the area.

Masters champion Garcia and former teen prodigy Ishikawa were among seven players leading the chase at 7 under on a heavily congested leaderboard.

Garcia, one of 78 players who returned to the course just after dawn to complete their second rounds, was on the 10th hole of his third round when the warning siren was sounded to abruptly end play for the day.

''Let's see if we can finish the round, that will be nice,'' he said. ''But I think if I can play 4-under I should have a chance.''

The Spanish golfer credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for his first major championship title at Augusta National because of the stifling humidity of southeast Asia and the testing stop-start nature of the tournament.

Full-field scores from the Singapore Open

Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore in 2017, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the subsequent week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later. He is feeling confident of his chances of success this weekend.

''I felt like I hit the ball OK,'' Garcia said. ''My putting and all went great but my speed hasn't been great on this green so let's see if I can be a little more aggressive on the rounds this weekend.''

Ishikawa moved into a share of the lead at the halfway stage after firing a second round of 5-under 66 that featured eight birdies. He birdied the first two holes of his third round to grab the outright lead but slipped back with a double-bogey at the tricky third hole for the third day in a row. He dropped another shot at the par-5 sixth when he drove into a fairway bunker.

''It was a short night but I had a good sleep and just putted well,'' Ishikawa said. The ''greens are a little quicker than yesterday but I still figured (out) that speed.

Ishikawa was thrust into the spotlight more than a decade ago. In 2007, he became the youngest player to win on any of the major tours in the world. He was a 15-year-old amateur when he won the Munsingwear Open KSB Cup.

He turned pro at 16, first played in the Masters when he was 17 and the Presidents Cup when he was 18. He shot 58 in the final round to win The Crowns in Japan when he was 19.

Now 26, Ishikawa has struggled with injuries and form in recent years. He lost his PGA Tour card and hasn't played in any of the majors since 2015. He has won 15 times as a professional, but has never won outside his homeland of Japan.

Chapchai was able to sleep in and put his feet up on Saturday morning after he completed his second round on Friday.

He bogeyed the third but reeled off three birdies in his next four holes to reach 9-under with the back nine still to play.

Danthai was tied for 12th at the halfway stage but charged into a share of the lead with seven birdies in the first 15 holes of his penultimate round.