Clemson University hosted a symposium on Monday aptly titled “Golf SOS: Symposium of Sustainability” which brought together a co-founder of a Lake Keowee, SC, golf community we have visited, a major golf community developer, the head of National Golf Foundation and a well-respected golf course designer.
According to the Anderson (SC) Independent Mail, the death of golf course development might have been greatly exaggerated by NGF President Joe Beditz.
"I would say from looking at this, that the development boom is over," Beditz told the audience, pointing to a graph of course development that resembled the profile of Mount Kilimanjaro, according to the article in the Independent Mail.
Other highlights of the conference included Buddy Thompson’s view of The Cliffs Communities’ financial situation. Thompson is one of the founders of The Reserve at Lake Keowee, both a competitor and a former beneficiary of The Cliffs’ wild marketing spending before the fall. (Cliffs advertising had driven many people to the Lake Keowee area, and some of them stopped to tour The Reserve, thinking it was one of the Cliffs communities.)
At the Symposium, Thompson said of the Cliffs situation, "I don't want to use the word Ponzi scam, but it's almost using one community to pay for the next," Thompson said. "When the music stops, everyone has to sit down, and there aren't enough chairs." The bet here is that Thompson, probably used the word “scheme,” not “scam” and was misinterpreted. (Update: When we visited with Thompson some months ago, he was sympathetic to The Cliffs' current plight and careful not to appear critical of the community or its founder, Jim Anthony. Subsequent to the publishing of the Anderson Independent Mail news article about his comments, Thompson told us he indeed did not use the word "scam" and prefaced his remarks with compliments about The Cliffs and its founder. We are sure he is rooting for their comeback; a healthy Cliffs drives traffic to the gates of The Reserve as well.)
John Reed, who attempted to purchase The Cliffs Communities before it entered bankruptcy, also participated in the panel discussion at Clemson. According to the Anderson paper, Reed admitted that he had “developed too many courses over the years,” among them Belfair, Berkeley Hall and Colleton River just off Hilton Head Island. Talk about developer remorse; Reed said golf will no longer be the core of residential communities like those he developed.
“Five hours on a course — nobody wants kids and grandkids around for that," Reed said, according to the newspaper. "You wouldn't want to be around them even if they want to be there."
But the confab wasn’t entirely a downer, thanks to Bobby Weed, who earned the Golf Community Sustainability award at the Symposium. Weed, who has a number of excellent golf community courses credited to him, including the Wild Dunes Links Course in South Carolina, struck a practical and more optimistic note.
"Good courses will survive," Weed said. "There's still profitability. That's my new definition of sustainability. We've got to put business back in this industry.”