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Outside the Ropes July: Golf Course Development Meets Social Engineering in Chicago

Golf Course Development
Meets Social Engineering in Chicago

In the midst of the continued industry supply contraction pattern, there are still new developments in planning or under construction.  What's interesting to follow are the characteristics of the new supply that's being created and what unmet needs or underserved markets they're addressing.  In a number of cases, they're "moonshots" for resorts in remote locations trying to capture the lightening-in-a-bottle of Bandon Dunes or Whistling Straits (think Cabot Links or Streamsong).  While there's more dispersion within the public access facilities across the Premium-Value-Price spectrum than back in the BCD days (Build a Course a Day), the current developments moving forward still have a noticeable "tilt" to the value-added (Premium and Value) vs. the value grouping (Price and Learning & Practice).

Against this backdrop, occasionally there comes wind of a course that seeks to transcend current market forces, span the differences between Premium and Price golf experiences and be a catalyst for economic growth for its community.  While that makes a wonderful vision statement, history suggests that it's likely a bridge too far for a single golf course in a US major metro market to achieve.  Against this reality proceeds the conversation of a Tiger Woods-designed course on the south side of Chicago by repurposing land currently occupied by the Jackson Park and South Shore municipal golf courses.  In this issue I'll outline why I believe that, while on paper it's a wonderful strategy and it could be operationally tortured to be reasonably developed and maintained, the odds of it being financially viable beyond the first two years of operation are somewhere between slim and nil:

  • What is the basic premise and intent behind this Cinderella story of a proposal to bring a championship golf experience to the masses on the south side of Chicago?
  • Have we as an industry attempted anything similar in the past, how did it work, and what were the learnings?
  • Are there more intelligent options for using golf as a catalyst for social engineering that have lower risk and higher chance of success?
Those who know me (or have read my work) know that I rarely ask questions to which I don't believe I know the answer.  So, as a preview, the answer to the beginning of questions 2 and 3 above are "yes" and "yes."  While I would love to believe in a world where the "right golf course" could advance the cause of social justice and promote more equitable income distribution, the more realistic answer is that we'll have to do that with our existing supply, owner/operators and creative programming while still recognizing and respecting the forces of market conditions, the consumer base and fundamental economics (profit & loss).  I think there's a way but this proposal being advanced and reviewed isn't it.

For our subscribers, read on to get the supporting facts to the above arguments.  For our Executive Summary recipients, you can get the rest of the story one of three ways (all can be previewed and purchased at Pellucid's website  (www.pellucidcorp.com):
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