Circulating the golf industry in China at the moment are rumours that England’s Paul Casey is to receive a seven figure sum for putting his name to an IMG course on Hainan Island, while 21-year old Rory McIlroy is apparently set to receive even more (approx. $1.2 million) to co-’design’ a new course near the Olympic precinct in Beijing. McIlroy’s deal is said to include at least two site visits.
Aside from virtually guaranteeing that the first McIlory and Casey courses will be stinkers, longer term they risk damaging their brand in the sphere of golf course architecture. Should either player decide later in life to seriously pursue an interest in golf design, everything they ‘collaborate’ with IMG on should, and will, be held against them and their prospects for future work.
Clearly neither man is yet qualified to design golf courses, and what’s even more obvious is that golf course design is hardly a genuine passion for them. If it were they would instead partner with quality golf architects, capable of producing the sort of courses they would be proud to put their names to.
Consider the opposite end of the spectrum, and the design partnership entered into by recently crowned Australian Open champion Geoff Ogilvy and fellow Melbournian Mike Clayton. Ogilvy lives and breathes golf course architecture, and chose his partner carefully. To Ogilvy this new business represents an opportunity to learn more about an art form that interests him greatly, while also creating some really cool golf courses. Having won a major and multiple WGC events, he could have easily named his price and sold out to any project wanting to use his smiling face to adorn their advertising.
The Clayton Ogilvy model is to do the hard yards and focus on quality over quantity. It will take them time to establish their reputation and be able to charge the sort of fees that IMG can demand with one of the big ‘design’ stars. Young guns like McIlory and Casey will certainly get rick quicker, but one has to ask, at what cost?
One of the hotbeds for new golf development in China is Yunnan Province, a certified tourism area where golf development is powering forward at break-neck speed. A prominent signature ‘designer’ who seems to be struggling to attract work in the area is Nick Faldo, possibly due to the fact that the IMG/Faldo course in Kunming, called Lakeview, which he supposedly co-‘designed’, is poor. Lakeside opened prior to Faldo taking the business seriously and establishing his own design practice. He is unlikely to send prospective clients to see the Lakeview course, but I’ll bet that competing architects suggest such a trip as soon as they learn Faldo is being considered for work. I have no idea what Faldo was paid for that project – but it turns out that it wasn’t enough.
For Casey and McIlroy, who will make close to double the design fee charged by Ogilvy’s business – and not have to worry about actually designing and supervising the construction of the golf course – there seems little downside to taking the money. If your golfing legacy is important, however, or you wish to establish a ‘proper’ design business in later life, then signing your name to golf holes churned out by a production factory might not be such a smart move.
My guess is that McIlroy and Casey will earn significantly more from design than Ogilvy during their playing careers, but that neither will enjoy longevity in the business nor leave the golfing industry with anything that future generations might admire and study. Shouldn’t that be the overriding ambition of every serious golf designer? I suspect that it is for Geoff Ogilvy.