Far East boom shifts focus

The outburst of course building that swept across China over the past decade has slowed down, partly because of a moratorium designed to prevent farmland from being turned into fairways, according to Brian Curley of Schmidt-Curley Design of Scottsdale. But planning work on many projects continues.

"Work is alive there even though it's tempered by the knowledge of controls being in place," said Curley, whose firm has been heavily involved in golf throughout Asia for more than 10 years.

Despite the downturn in China, Asia in general is still booming, he said, including places like the Philippines, South Korea, Vietnam and Malaysia.

What's going on in South Korea doesn't seem to attract much media attention in the West, perhaps because projects are being done by local developers. It's a building surge born out a mania for golf that swept Korea in the 1990s with the success of Se Ri Park on the LPGA Tour.

An estimated 4 million South Koreans play on the nation's 250 courses, swarm driving ranges and crowd cafes that offer virtual golf. In March, the first European Tour event was held on Jeju Island.

"What's being built [in Korea] now are mostly private clubs with membership fees that are extremely high," said Scott Ferrell, president of Gary Player Design, which has several projects under way in Korea. "Most of the projects are not real estate-driven but initiation fee-driven."

Nicklaus Design has built four courses in South Korea and 10 more are being planned. Greg Norman has three projects in progress. Schmidt-Curley and Robert Trent Jones II are designing courses there as well.

Jeju Island, a popular Asian resort destination just off the southern tip of South Korea, is the site of many of the new golf developments. It's known for scenic seaside views and a mild climate.

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