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September 26, 2006

Spike Sounds Off on the Ryder Cup

It's Now Official. The Ryder Cup Matches have all the predictability of professional wrestling - but without the excitement. Over the next few days questions will be asked in regards to what went wrong for the U.S. squad at The K Club. Instead, the questions should be about what can be done to bring back the excitement to the Matches. Think about it. How interested will the U.S. sporting public be about the '08 Matches after the U.S. team has lost the previous three events and wasn't even competitive at The K Club?

The PGA of America will soon name a U.S. captain for '08 - the frontrunner is Paul Azinger - and begin parading the poor sap around the country like he is on some kind of diplomatic mission. In a way, he will be. That mission is to sell what basically is an exhibition golf match that the U.S. hasn't competed well in at a venue (Valhalla Country Club in Louisville) that has all the appeal of a migraine.

If the PGA of America really wants to put some excitement in the '08 Matches, here's a suggestion: Put John Daly on the team as a Captain's Choice is he doesn't qualify in the points standings. That's not likely to happen in the button-down, script supervised world of the PGA, but Daly is guaranteed to create some buzz that otherwise would be left out. And consider this: How would you like to be the European player who has to play Daly in a Sunday singles match in Kentucky perhaps with the Ryder Cup on the line?

And one more bit of advice for the '08 Matches. Cut back on the all the pomp (or pompous) and circumstance during Ryder Cup week. What other sporting event asks the players to attend banquets and parties leading up the event, have them sit through a seemingly endless opening ceremony filled with pseudo celebrities and then ask them to play their best golf? The answer, of course, is none. And that's exactly the amount of times the U.S. has won the past three Ryder Cup Matches.

Ely Would Be Proud

Congrats to Callaway Golf Company (ELY: NYSE) for winning the 2006 Better Business Bureau International Torch Award for Marketplace Ethics, topping a field of more than 1,000 international businesses. The company won in the largest division, Category 1, based on businesses with 1,000 or more employees.

This past fall, Callaway Golf also won top honors in the San Diego Better Business Bureau's (BBB) 2005 Torch Award for Marketplace Ethics for the third time in five years, which made it eligible for the international competition.

The BBB International Torch Award recognizes the long-term value of honest and honorable business practices. The finalists for the 2006 International Torch Award came from the more than 1,000 businesses honored in local Torch Award competitions, which were narrowed to the 100 that qualified for entry at the international level.

Tour Experience

The PGA Tour has been in the golf course business for some time with its TPC courses. Now the Tour is getting into golf vacations and instructions with PGA Tour Experiences, which it describes as a marketing and fulfillment company focused on golf vacations, instructional academies, corporate outings and events along with exclusive packages to select PGA Tour tournaments.

In its first phase, the Tour said it plans to operate and market three permanent Tour Academies offering complete menus of golf instruction, all of which will become operational early next year. The Tour Academies will be at the TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, FL, TPC Scottsdale and TPC Canyons in Las Vegas. Also in the first phase, the Tour said PGA Tour Experiences will offer golf vacation packages, building on base of vacation options in key vacation destinations in Florida, Arizona and Nevada.

Golf Around The World

The PGA of America is building golf courses in Las Vegas and is said to be looking at China to develop a learning center, so can Iran be far behind? Yes, there is a golf course in the Islamic Republic - the Imperial Country Club in Tehran - and two more courses are under development on the coral island of Kish in the Persian Gulf.

A $2.2 billion golf resort, called the Flower of The East, reportedly is being developed by an Iranian businessman based in Germany, backed by German and Swiss investors. Trouble is construction has been slowed by the nuclear dispute between Iran and the West. If the United Nations imposes sanctions, the courses and resort could be delayed or shelved completely.

If the resort is completed, the 19th hole in the clubhouse should be interesting. Alcohol is banned in Iran.

September 20, 2006

If the Shoe Fits

FootJoy likely will raise some eyebrows in golf show market with its new ReelFit line that feature the Boa Lacing System from Boa Technologies Inc. The system, according to FootJoy, provides a precise fit and added stability throughout the golf swing and while walking between shots.

 FootJoy said each pair of ReelFit shoes (SRP $225) uses nearly two feet of adjustable steel micro-cable and a proven dial system, ensuring the ultimate fit will not loosen during the round. The Boa Lacing System can be found in several high performance footwear categories outside of golf, including the leading ski boots and snowboard footwear. Boa Technology is exclusive to FootJoy in the golf industry.

September 19, 2006

Meet the New Boss

British billionaire Peter de Savary has sold his Bovey Castle golf resort and spa near Devon, England to U.K based Hillwood Resorts and Hotels for £26.4 million. A 365-acre property alongside the moors of Dartmoor National Park, Bovey Castle was the setting for Baskerville Hall in the 1939 Sherlock Holmes move, “The Hound of the Baskervilles.’’ The hotel has 65 bedrooms, in addition to which there is also a self-contained two bedroom cottage, and 14 three bedroom lodges within the estate (eight lodges having previously been sold to Exclusive Resorts, a US destination holiday club).

 “I have spent the last 31⁄2 years with great support and help from many individuals and organizations in transforming the rundown and disappointing Manor House Hotel into the now internationally acclaimed Bovey Castle,’’ said de Savary, whose other holdings include The Abaco Club on Winding Bay in The Bahamas. “The vision has been accomplished and it is now a question of sound ongoing day to day management and the shareholders have therefore taken a decision to accept an offer of purchase from a first class group of English hoteliers being part of a major UK property fund. This transaction will take place immediately and the new owners intend to continue to build upon the business that we have created and provide our guests with the level of hospitality they have become accustomed to and enjoy.”

De Savary will remain on as Chairman of the Bovey Castle Club.

Myrtle Meltdown

The Myrtle Beach area continues to lose golf courses with Deer Track Golf resort being the latest casualty of a sluggish golf economy. Both courses of the property, operated by a company owned by former PGA of America President Gary Schaal, are now closed to play. The Toski Links North Course at Deer Track Golf Resort reportedly is targeted for redevelopment (a lawsuit has been filed to prevent that redevelopment), while the future of the South Course remains up in the air.

The Deer Track courses are only the tip of the iceberg I what has become a melting course inventory along the Grand Strand. Nearly 20 courses along the 60-mile stretch of T-shirt shops and seafood buffets have closed in the past couple of years.

Heavyweight Talks

Private-equity firm KSL Capital Partners LLC reportedly is negotiations to purchase ClubCorp USA Inc. Dallas-based ClubCorp owns such famed golf properties as the Homestead resort and Firestone Country Club. ClubCorp Pinehurst Resort in the North Carolina Sandhills, but the company has said that any of its properties won’t include its flagship property.

The Dedman family, whose late patriarch Robert Dedman, Sr., founded ClubCorp nearly 50 years ago, will retain 78 percent ownership of Pinehurst. The remaining 30 percent ownership in Pinehurst is controlled by Cypress Group, a private-equity fund.

Among its “name’’ properties, KSL Capital Partners, successor to KSL Recreation, currently has ownership of La Costa Resort and Spa in Carlsbad, Calif., and Hotel del Coronado near San Diego.

Ashworth Falling

It wasn’t long ago that Ashworth Inc. (NASDAQ: ASHW) was on top of the golf apparel world. But slow sales in its core golf division have spelled tough times for the company the past few years. Those tough times have led to the resignation of Ashworth Chairman Randy Herrel, effective Oct. 17. Sources tell Spike on Golf that Herrel’s resignation came about from pressure by a high-power group of investors unhappy with the financial performance of Ashworth, whose stock has traded between $6-7 for most of the past year.

 Ashworth reported fiscal third quarter sales of $52.8 million - up 9.3 percent over the same period last year, with nine-month sales up 6.7 percent to $159.4 million. Third quarter sales in the company’s golf division, however, fell 18.5 percent to $17.3 million versus the same period a year ago. Ashworth management attributed the decline to “overall softness’’ in the golf industry.

 What the company doesn’t mention is that rival companies, particularly Fairway & Greene on the green grass side, have cut into Ashworth sales, and that sales of high-tech performance apparel from the likes of Nike Golf, adidas Golf and FootJoy also have taken their toll.

Show Times They Are A Changin

The PGA of America and PGA Golf Exhibitions says they are “addressing the changing golf business environment’’ by introducing a new schedule of events and business partner programs for the 2007 PGA Merchandise Show & Convention this January in Orlando. That’s PGA-speak for “We need to do something to increase exhibitor and attendee interest in the show.’’

To that end, the PGA and PGA Golf Exhibitions will launch the PGA Equipment Forum in Orlando – described as an interactive platform to help PGA professionals “drive profitable retail sell-through at PGA member facilities through manufacturer presentations on equipment technology, club-fitting services and company incentives to grow equipment sales.’’

The Equipment Forum apparently has enticed TaylorMade-adidas Golf to return to Orlando after a three-year hiatus on its hard goods side. TaylorMade spokesman John Steinbach told Spike on Golf the company won’t have a booth “as such’’ on the exhibition floor, but will have “space on the floor adjacent to the demo or hitting area.’’

Regardless of how TMaG will be at the show, its mere presence is a bit of feel-good news for the show, which has lost equipment giants Titleist, Cobra and Ping the past few years.

In addition – or perhaps subtraction – the ’07 show will be a three-day event instead of its traditional four-day affair, meaning there will be no Sunday exhibition hours. The ’07 show will be Jan. 25-27 with the exhibit hall open one additional hour each day - 8:30 a.m. – 6:00 p.m. The new exhibit hall schedule reduces the total number of exhibition hours by only three hours.

September 12, 2006

Ping In Hand

Don’t expect any fanfare, but Ping Golf, perhaps the hottest company in the business these days thanks to its G2 and G5 lines of metal woods and irons, is dipping its toe (make that its hand) into the glove market with a new Cabretta leather glove called M-Fit and Micro-Fiber synthetic glove called M-Flex.

Ain't It Grand

Wasserman Real Estate Capital LLC has completed its acquisition of fabled Hamilton Hall, one of the most widely recognized and photographed buildings in the golf world. The structure, which overlooks the first tee and 18th green of the Old Course at St. Andrews in Fife, Scotland, is undergoing extensive restoration from which it will emerge as the St Andrews Grand, a high-end residential golf and sporting club. Restoration work on the interior is scheduled to begin immediately, with exterior renovations slated to begin this fall.

During its 111-year history, the massive red sandstone building that looms above the Old Course has served as hotel, a Royal Air Force headquarters, and, most recently, a University of St Andrews dormitory.

It's About Time

Pioneering African-American golfer Charlie Sifford will receive the 2007 Old Tom Morris Award from the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America when the GCSAA holds its annual conference, Feb. 19-24 in Anaheim, Calif. GCSAA's most prestigious honor, the Old Tom Morris Award is presented each year to an individual who has helped to mold the welfare of the game in a manner and style exemplified by Old Tom Morris.

Sifford, who risked ridicule and threats breaking through the PGA of America's Caucasian-only clause in 1961, certainly fits that description. Sifford won twice on the PGA Tour and won the 1975 PGA Seniors' Championship. Sifford also won the United Golf Association's National Negro Open six times, including five straight from 1952-56, and served as jazz singer Bill Eckstine's personal golf teacher.

Punta Power

The back nine holes of the Jack Nicklaus-designed Punta Espada golf course have opened at Cap Cana in the Dominican Republic. The Punta Espada course is one of three Nicklaus Signature Golf Courses that will be built for the luxury destination and real estate development. The multi-billion dollar project covers 46 square miles of beaches, rocky coastline and views of the Caribbean Sea.

Fashion Sense

Adidas Golf’s popular ClimaCool line of golf apparel and ClimaProofline of golf outerwear helped the
company win ispovision’s Global SportStyle Award in the "golf function" category. Last year, adidas Golf‘s Tour 360 golf shoe earned the Footwear of the Year award. Adidas Golf, by the way, this fall is introducing ClimaCool apparel for kids ages 6-15.

Rival FootJoy, which has struck gold with its Performance line of short and long sleeve mocks, will launch a spread collar version – called Performance Knit Layers – in January.

Nike News

Look for Nike Golf to begin shipping its new Unitized putter models in November. Nike Golf staff players have been using the putter for the past few months. On the driver side, word is that the next generation of Nike Golf’s SasQuatch driver will be called “Sumo.’’

In Annika’s Bag

Annika Sorenstam’s victory at the State Farm Rail Classic, which included a final-round 62, came with the help of a split set of Callaway X-18 Irons and new Forged Prototype irons. The fact that Sorenstam put the prototypes in play has to be encouraging to Callaway execs, particularly because the fickle Swede waits until the fall and winter months to test new equipment.

Roco Bucks

An $85-million long-term loan package has been completed to finance the continuing development of the Roco Ki luxury resort community in the Punta Cana area of the Dominican Republic. When its first phase opens in next year, Roco Ki will be one of the largest resort community developments in the Caribbean.

The financing package consists of a $61 million long-term loan with Scotiabank and a $24 million quasi-equity long-term loan with the European Investment Bank (owned by the European Union).

The transaction is the first Caribbean private hospitality endeavor by the European Investment Bank under the Cotonou Agreement, a partnership agreement between the members of the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States and the European Community.

Roco Ki features the beachfront Westin Roco Ki Beach & Golf Resort, which is currently under construction. When complete, the resort will feature a 327-room hotel, 113 Westin-branded condominiums, an 18-hole Nick Faldo-designed golf course and spa.

Callaway relaunches Top-Flite

Some critics contend its déjà vu all over again, but regardless, Callaway Golf Company (NYSE: ELY) plans what it calls a “major relaunch’’ of its struggling Top-Flite golf ball brand in 2007. Without revealing specific details, Callaway President/Chief Executive Officer George Fellows said the Top-Flite relaunch will feature “different technology’’ and a ‘different consumer orientation.’’

Top-Flite golf ball sales, particularly in its premium models, Fellows said, dragged down Callaway’s overall ball sales in the second quarter of this year. The company reported ball sales in the quarter of $69 million compared to $71 million the second quarter of 2005. For the six months, Callaway’s ball sales were $124 million versus $129 million the same period in ’05.

“Our (Callaway ball) business is extremely solid and growing quite nicely,’’ Fellows said. “The Top-Flite business (acquired in 2003) has been a difficult business. It came on board in a rather damaged state and has lost some market share.’’

Fellows said Callaway is working to resolve some behind the scenes problems to help resolve some issues with Top-Flite and move the brand forward in ’07.

“There are manufacturing operations we’re looking at that will significantly impact the cost (of producing) the Top-Flite ball,’’ Fellows said.

September 07, 2006

Golden Opening

 Jack Nicklaus’ 250th golf course designed has opened in the form of Dismal River, the highly anticipated course in the Nebraska Sandhills. Playing across the rolling, grass-covered dunes of the Sandhills, Dismal River is a minimalistic layout cutting through 400 acres of the property’s 2,900 acres. “The experience of arriving at the Dismal River site was like stepping back in time and seeing what the dunes of Northeast Scotland must have looked like a hundred years ago,” Nicklaus said. “In every direction I looked, I saw great golf holes.” Nebraska is the 38th state in which Nicklaus Design is represented, and Dismal River is the Golden Bear’s 208th solo design to go along with 30 co-designs and 12 re-designs. Along with the golf course, which plays as long as 7,600 yards, Dismal River’s amenities include an 18,000 square-foot clubhouse, four bowling lanes and a wine room. When all amenities are complete, Dismal River will include a second 18-hole course, 9-hole short course, Italian restaurant, and spa and wellness center, and general store. On-site lodging will include 160 beds broken up into single, 2-bed, 4-bed, and 8-bed cabins.