Struggling travel industry sees better times ahead

By Adam BarrMay 21, 2009, 4:00 pm
Balance sheets may be out of balance and financial statements may be blunt. But golf travel daydreams dont operate on a budget ' a fact that has the industry feeling cautiously optimistic.
Yes, travel to top golf destinations has soured a bit since the economy went bad last fall. For competitive reasons, hotel and tour operators wont share their depressed occupancy numbers. But those who work in this usually profitable sector believe their downturn has bottomed out, and theyre already seeing signs of recovery. The clarity of the evidence depends on where the business is coming from: corporate or individual.
pinehurst no 2 hole 5
Par-4 5th at Pinehurst No. 2
The biggest effect, just as with everybody else, has been the corporate sector, said Janeen Driscoll, communications manager for Pinehurst Resort, the North Carolina golf institution which has hosted several U.S. Open championships, most recently in 2005. We used to have about 60 percent of our business come from corporate bookings and 40 percent from social. Now, just as it was after 9/11, its flip-flopped. Corporate is about 40 percent.
In some cases, whole departments of companies that used to book with us are gone. And of course, theres the AIG Effect.
The well-known publicity barrage endured by insurance giant AIG, which proceeded with high-end corporate entertainment ' which included golf outings ' just after receiving federal bailout money, has scared other business entertainment planners into finding a way to do what they feel they must while not being seen doing it. So feverish is their anxiety, Driscoll said, that some groups have asked Pinehurst to arrange for hotels other than Pinehursts marquee Carolina. The groups dont want the word Pinehurst to appear on their bills.
While it's a shame to miss out on one of the grandest hotels in golf, Driscoll is glad for any business that comes through the door now, even if it doesnt cross the classiest threshold. Rather than let a piece of business go entirely, Pinehurst has even let some entertainment clients with multi-year contracts to skip a year if necessary.
Weve always tried to maintain strong relationships, Driscoll said. If they cant book this year, we work with them. We help them downsize their meetings, if necessary, to accommodate fewer people or reduce the expense. Maybe they dont want to play golf, so well arrange something like a putting contest, for example. At least theyre still interacting with the property.
On the social side, where the couples, family and golf-buddy trips come in, there are bookings, but theyre coming less enthusiastically than usual. Fall bookings were usually set by spring, Driscoll said, but now theres seldom a booking for more than 90 days out. That makes business hard to forecast. Pinehurst has tried to respond by being aggressive and flexible in its pricing, as Driscoll put it. We were the first to make our main golf package an unlimited golf package, she said, and about a hundred other places followed immediately.
Meanwhile, some good news is starting to trickle in, if not quite flow. Pinehurst saw a significant uptick in social bookings after Easter. Resort management is convinced they have hit bottom, and they look to a brighter future. All the corporate groups who have had to cut back have done so, said Driscoll, and social bookings are picking up nicely.
And the resorts pull on customers within 500 miles is robust, Driscoll said, with evidence that east coasters are choosing close-by options rather than going to Pebble Beach or some place far away. Of course, that works on both coasts. Pebble may well be attracting those who prefer to drive rather than fly, at least this year. (Pebble Beach officials declined to be interviewed for this story.)
One way to work around the problems with corporate business is to do without it. Thats the approach at Bandon Dunes, the four-course coastal Oregon resort.
pacific dunes hole 11
Bandon Dunes Resort has hosted several important amateur tournaments including the 2006 Curtis Cup.
Its going OK, said Josh Lesnik, president of KemperSports, which runs Bandon. We dont really talk about our numbers, but were in a little bit of a fortunate position in that were not a heavy business-corporate destination. Were a golf-guys-trip kind of destination, the group of eight or 12 buddies. That side of the business, were hearing, is holding up pretty well throughout the industry.
Bandon prides itself on a reputation for top-quality rustic golf in a comfortable natural setting, without the usual trappings of more manicured resorts that push their spa and restaurants as much as their fairways and greens. What you wont see at Bandon, said Lesnik, is the line of 40 carts in the morning, with guys on cell phones standing around waiting to go out. The formula has had some appeal.
Weve seen an uptick in the past month or so, Lesnik said. For as bad as the unemployment numbers are getting, a lot of people still do have their jobs. The ones who dont rely on huge bonuses, who work mostly for salary, still have confidence that they can go out and spend money.
Still, Lesnik hears stories of cut-down trips, mostly involving people whose gut tells them this is not a good time to be away from the office. That fear is also crimping plans for that big overseas trip, be it a once-in-a-lifetime dream itinerary or a high-income group extravaganza.
If someone doesnt have the confidence that theyre going to have a job to come back to, you could give them the trip, and theyre not going to take it, said Gordon Dalgleish, founding director of PerryGolf, which arranges custom golf trips to Scotland and at least 11 other countries.
And the eight-guy group, even if theyre all big earners and spenders, has less economic armor than it used to.
If you can find a group of eight guys who are used to traveling together for golf, and not one of them has been affected by the economy, thats rare, said Dalgleish. And going deeper, guys say, Well, if Billy and Bobby cant go, were not going either. So theyll take a trip to Myrtle instead.
The guy whose portfolio used to be worth $10 million, he woke up one day and it was worth five. Hes still rich, but his mindset has changed. He doesnt know if that five is going to three or eight. So he takes maybe two trips a year instead of four.
Even with that competitive pressure, Dalgleish is beginning to hear of some easing.
Now it seems to be opening up again; people think the world isnt going to end, he said.
Still, challenges remain. But a challenge for Dalgleish and his peers may be an opportunity for their customers. Currency fluctuations can hammer the bottom line, but theyre just a part of the business for international tour arrangers. The pound, for example, has dipped from $2 to about $1.50. (Perry protects its customers against a trip price rising because of ballooning currency values between the time of deposit payment and departure date. But consumers cant come back and get the price slashed if their home currency happens to get stronger instead of weaker against overseas money.)
With the dollar bulking up against the pound, the savings for consumers may be the travel equivalent of foreclosure deals on homes: Its a turbulent time, but bargains are there for the careful, courageous shopper.
On that note, Dalgleish lays an extra caveat on the careful, advising prospective golf traveler to keep an eye on who they book with. If a price from an arranger or tour bundler seems too good to be true, it probably is; and if that company vanishes before the departure date or in mid-trip, any deposits could be lost. One red flag would be if a tour company refused to take American Express, said Dalgleish. The credit card end of that company reviews financial statements of its partners to get a deeper understanding of any losses Amex might be insuring against. Many credit card servicing companies and the banks who underwrite the expenditures offer make-good promises for a vendors misbehavior or financial ruin. But Amex is one that checks into the companies before agreeing to take that risk, Dalgleish said. That doesnt mean that a company that refuses Amex is trouble, he was quick to point out. But such a refusal might cue a little more investigation.
The high-end golf travel sector, while never completely bulletproof, has endured downturns strongly, bouncing back quicker than other parts of the golf economy. How does the current set of economic disasters stack up against 9/11, the last great crisis to batter the industry? This downturn feels ' and looks ' deeper, say the people in the trenches.
September 11 was a definable event, said Dalgleish. Not to minimize in any way the immense human tragedy. But economically, every day after 9/11 from a travel industry perspective was a better day. We were further away from what happened, and we could see some certainty.
Now, things are less clear. Is General Motors going bankrupt? Will the unemployment numbers be bad next time? Will another Bernie Madoff appear? Yes, 2002 was a bad travel year. But if we get out of this year at 50 percent, Ill be delighted.
And its likely that high-end golf travelers would be just as delighted to knock the dust off their luggage and tee it up somewhere else ' where daydreams come true.

What's in the bag: RSM Classic winner Cook

By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 20, 2017, 3:52 pm

PGA Tour rookie Austin Cook earned his first Tour title at the RSM Classic. Take a look inside his bag.

Driver: Ping G400 (8.5 degrees adjusted to 9.2), with Fujikura Speeder Evolution 661X shaft

Fairway wood: Ping G400 (13 degrees), with Fujikura Motore VC 7.0 shaft

Hybrids: Ping G400 (19, 22 degrees), with Matrix Altus Red X shafts

Irons: Ping S55 (5-PW), with KBS Tour S shafts

Wedges: Ping Glide 2.0 (50, 56, 60) with True Temper Dynamic Gold S400 shafts

Putter: Ping Sigma G Tyne

Ball: Titleist Pro V1

Monday Scramble: For money and love

By Ryan LavnerNovember 20, 2017, 3:00 pm

Lexi Thompson falters, Jon Rahm impresses, Justin Rose stuns, Austin Cook breaks through and more in this week's edition of Monday Scramble:

It’ll be a long two months for Lexi Thompson.

She’ll have plenty to think about this offseason after a strong 2017 season that could have been spectacular.

She won twice, led the LPGA in scoring average and took home the $1 million first-place prize … but she also finished second six times – none more excruciating than the careless spotting in the first major of the year and the 2-foot miss in the season finale – and dealt with the crushing off-course distraction of her mother, Judy, battling cancer.

Thompson said all the right things after the CME Group Tour Championship, that those types of short misses happen in golf, that she’s overcome adversity before.

“It didn’t stop me,” she said, “and this won’t either.”

But at 22, she has already accumulated an incredible amount of scar tissue, especially for a player with world-beater talent.

What will 2018 bring? For Lexi’s sake, hopefully it’s more wins, not heartbreak. 

1. The Thompson miss was plenty awkward. So was the end to the LPGA season.

In a fitting result for a year in which no dominant player emerged, So Yeon Ryu and Sung Hyun Park shared the Player of the Year award, after both players finished with 162 points. It’s the first time that’s happened since 1966.

Can’t there be some way to break the tie? Low scoring average? Best finishes in the majors? A chip-off content? Rock-paper-scissors?

2. Some of the other awards ...

Vare Trophy: Thompson, who finished the year with a 69.114 average. Maybe the players this year were just really good, but it’s a bit of a head-scratcher than 12 players finished with a sub-70 average, besting the previous best total of, gulp, five. Easier setups?

Money title: Park, with $2.336 in earnings.

No. 1 ranking: Shanshan Feng, though Thompson had a chance to take over the top spot. Alas, that final green … 

3. Oh, and there was also the tournament winner: Ariya Jutanugarn, who capped a bizarre year with a satisfying title.

Perhaps only Thompson boasts as much talent as Jutanugarn, and yet the Thai star showed her vulnerability this year. After reaching No. 1 in the world, she struggled through a shoulder injury and then missed five cuts and withdrew from another event in a seven-start span.

Here’s hoping she learned how to deal with that spotlight, because she’s going to be challenging for the No. 1 ranking for a while.

4. Of course, we wrote that about Lydia Ko, too, and she just wrapped up her first winless season on tour since she was 15.

She had 11 top-10s, including three runners-up, but failing to earn a victory was a massive disappointment for a player who was No. 1 in the world for 85 weeks. Perhaps next year she’ll get back on track, but you never know – she changed swings, coaches, equipment and caddies. That's a lot of turnover.

5. So much for that “controversial” Rookie of the Year award.

Jon Rahm, named Europe’s top newcomer despite playing only four regular-season events, left little doubt about who was the breakout star of the year with a comeback victory at the DP World Tour Championship.

Though it wasn’t enough to claim the Race to Dubai title – he finished third – it should serve as a warning to the rest of the European Tour that the 23-year-old Rahm be the man to beat for the next, oh, decade or so.

6. Ranked fourth in the world, particularly impressive because he hasn’t yet hit the minimum divisor in the rankings, Rahm wrapped up a season in which he won in California, Ireland and Dubai.

Just imagine how good he’ll be when he’s not seeing all of these courses for the first time. 

7. The biggest stunner on the final day was the play of Justin Rose, who entered the final round with a one-shot lead.

He seemed to be on cruise control, going out in 4 under, but he encountered all sorts of trouble on the back nine, making three bogeys a variety of ways – wayward drives, flared approaches into the water and missed shorties.

Not only did it cost him the DP World Tour Championship title, but it allowed Tommy Fleetwood – even with a closing 74 – to take the end-of-season Race to Dubai title.

8. Austin Cook is now a PGA Tour winner – and what a circuitous journey it has been.

After turning pro in 2014, he played the mini-tours, racking up five top-10s in nine starts on the Adams Tour. A year later, with a chance to earn his card, he finished bogey-bogey-quad-double. And then last year, Hurricane Matthew forced officials to cancel the Tour Championship. That left Cook without his card – by $425.

He made it to the big leagues this fall, after finishing 20th on the money list, and then won in just his 14th career Tour start.  

“I’ve been close on the Web a couple times but haven’t been able to get the job done, and to be able to do it on the biggest stage in the world, it definitely boosts my confidence and lets me know that I can play with these guys,” he said. 

9. Sam Horsfield, who in 2016 was the NCAA Freshman of the Year, routed the field at European Tour Q-School to earn his card for next year. He shot 27 under (!) during the five-round event to win by eight.

Expectations have been high for the 21-year-old ever since he received a public endorsement from Ian Poulter. His mentor chimed in again after Horsfield got his card:

Another great story to come out of Q-School was Jigger Thomson, who is interesting not just because of his incredible height – he’s 6-foot-9 – but his back story, after battling leukemia as a kid.

10. A limited fall schedule hasn’t cost Brooks Koepka any of his stellar form.

The U.S. Open champion defended his title at the Dunlop Phoenix, shooting 20 under par – one off his own scoring mark – and winning by a record nine shots. The margin of victory was one shot better than Tiger Woods’ romp there in 2004.

This was only Koepka’s second start since the Tour Championship (tied for second at the WGC-HSBC Champions).

Xander Schauffele tied for second while Hideki Matsuyama finished fifth. This is the time last year, remember, in which the Japanese star was the hottest player in the world, taking four titles in six starts, but he admitted of going up against Koepka right now: “I feel there’s a huge gap between us.” 

Um, has this ever happened before?

I.K. Kim had a WILD third round at the CME Tour Championship, making only seven pars and recording everything from a 1 to a 7 en route to a ho-hum 71. 

This week's award winners ... 

Back Under the Knife: Davis Love III. Set to undergo replacement surgery on his left hip, Love is looking at another extended layoff, likely about four months.  

Underrated Fall Performances: J.J. Spaun and Brian Harman. Spaun, who held the 54-hole lead at the Shriners, earned his first runner-up finish at the RSM, his third consecutive top-15. Harman, who won the Wells Fargo in May, had three top-8s. 

Fill-In Duty: Cameron McCormick. Jordan Spieth’s swing coach will be on the bag for Spieth this week in Australia with his regular caddie, Michael Greller, at home with his wife and new baby.  

Get Well Soon: Luke Donald. He withdrew from the RSM because of chest pain. He spent the night in the hospital, undergoing seven hours of tests, but was given the all-clear sign. 

All the Best: Webb Simpson. Wishing the best to the Simpson family, after Webb chose to WD from Sea Island after rounds of 67-68 so he could spend time with his father, Sam, who, Simpson tweeted is “sick and living his last days.” 

Blown Fantasy Pick of the Week: Charles Howell III. Red-hot to open the season, with three consecutive top-10s, Howell missed the cut at Sea Island where he was 7-for-7 with three top-10s and a tie for 13th. Sigh. 

Love to undergo hip replacement surgery

By Rex HoggardNovember 20, 2017, 1:08 pm

ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – Two days removed from arguably the most hectic week of his year, Davis Love III will undergo replacement surgery on his left hip.

Love, who hosted and played in last week’s RSM Classic, said he tried to avoid the surgery, but the pain became too much and he will undergo the procedure on Tuesday at the Andrews Sports Medicine and Orthopedic Center in Birmingham, Ala.

“I had a hip problem the last few years, and I had a hip resurfacing trying to avoid hip surgery because I’m a chicken, but after playing [the CIMB Classic and Sanderson Farms Championship] I realized it was an uphill battle,” Love said.

RSM Classic: Articles, photos and videos

Full-field scores from the RSM Classic

Love said doctors have told him recovery from the procedure will take between three to four months, but he should be able to start work on his chipping and putting within a few weeks.

Love, who missed the cut at the RSM Classic, said earlier in the week that his goal is to become the oldest PGA Tour winner and that the only way to achieve that was by having the surgery.

“Now I’m excited that I’ve crossed that bridge,” said Love, who will turn 54 next April. “Once I get over that I can go right back to the Tour. I won after a spine fusion [2015 Wyndham Championship] and now I’d like to win with a new hip. That’s the reason I’m doing it so I can get back to golf and keep up.”

LPGA awards: Ryu, S.H. Park tie for POY

By Randall MellNovember 20, 2017, 1:56 am

NAPLES, Fla. – In the end, the CME Group Tour Championship played out a lot like the entire 2017 season did.

Parity reigned.

Nobody dominated the game’s big season-ending awards, though Lexi Thompson and Sung Hyun Park came close.

Thompson walked away with the CME Globe’s $1 million jackpot and the Vare Trophy for low scoring average. If she had made that last 2-foot putt at the 72nd hole Sunday, she might also have walked away with the Rolex Player of the Year Award and the Rolex world No. 1 ranking.

Park shared the Rolex Player of the Year Award with So Yeon Ryu. By doing so, Park joined Nancy Lopez as the only players in LPGA history to win the Player of the Year and Rookie of the Year titles in the same season. Lopez did it in 1978. Park also won the LPGA money-winning title.

Here’s a summary of the big prizes:

Rolex Player of the Year
Ryu and Park both ended up with 162 points in the points-based competition. Park started the week five points behind Ryu but made the up the difference with the five points she won for tying for sixth.

It marks the first time the award has been shared since its inception in 1966.

Ryu and Park join Inbee Park as the only South Koreans to win the award. Park won it in 2013.

Vare Trophy
Thompson won the award with a scoring average of 69.114. Sung Hyun Park finished second at 69.247. Park needed to finish at least nine shots ahead of Thompson at the CME Group Tour Championship to win the trophy.

There were a record 12 players with scoring averages under 70.0 this year, besting the previous record of five, set last year.

CME Globe $1 million prize
Thompson entered the week first in the CME points reset, but it played out as a two-woman race on the final day. Park needed to finish ahead of Thompson in the CME Group Tour Championship to overtake her for the big money haul. Thompson tied for second in the tournament while Park tied for sixth.

By winning the CME Group Tour Championship, Jutanugarn had a shot at the $1 million, but she needed Park to finish the tournament eighth or worse and Thompson to finish ninth or worse.

LPGA money-winning title
Park claimed the title with $2,335,883 in earnings. Ryu was second, with $1,981,593 in earnings.

The tour saw a tour-record 17 players win $1 million or more this season, two more than did so last year.

Ryu came into the week as the only player who could pass Park for the title, but Ryu needed to win to do so.

Rolex world No. 1 ranking
The top ranking was up for grabs at CME, with No. 1 Feng, No. 2 Sung Hyun Park and No. 3 So Yeon Ryu all within three hundredths of a ranking point. Even No. 4 Lexi Thompson had a chance to grab the top spot if she won, but in the end nobody could overtake Feng. Her reign will extend to a second straight week.

Rolex Rookie of the Year
Park ran away with the award with her U.S. Women’s Open and Canadian Pacific Women’s Open victories among her 11 top-10 finishes. She had the award locked up long before she arrived for the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship.