It was a newsworthy year for golf, highlighted by Jordan Spieth's historic run at a Grand Slam, Tiger Woods' tumultuous season, controversy at the Solheim Cup and Jason Day's major breakthrough, not to mention the continued countdown to golf returning to the Olympic Games in 2016.
Golf Channel has covered the 10 biggest newsmakers in 2015, but we thought we'd look back on some of the biggest stories that affect public courses and travel. High-profile names such as Trump and Keiser continue to invest in the game (in entirely different ways, of course), while drought and rising real estate values have threatened many west coast courses.
For me, these were the biggest stories and trends in courses and travel, all of which have future implications for those of us avid golf travelers.
A tumultuous year for Donald Trump's golf product
Where do we begin with Donald Trump's year in golf? It started out quite positive. He announced renovations to iconic Turnberry, including new holes on the Ailsa Course, and also prepped to officially open the long-overdue and overbudget Trump Golf Links at Ferry Point in the spring. Courses at Trump National Doral Miami were also undergoing upgrades, and Trump International Golf Links & Hotel Ireland (formerly Doonbeg) is also receiving major investment.
But as his political rhetoric intensified with his run for President, capped by controversial statements about Mexican immigrants, many in the golf industry distanced themselves from Trump. The PGA of America announced the PGA Grand Slam of Golf would be moved from Trump National L.A. (the event was eventually cancelled all together). Weeks prior to the Ricoh British Open at Trump Turnberry, LPGA Commissioner Michael Whan condemned Trump's comments, which led to some sabre-rattling from Trump, but the tournament was held as scheduled.
Meanwhile, as Puerto Rico's economy struggled this year, owners of Trump International in Puerto Rico (who used Trump's name under a licensee agreement) went bankrupt and renamed the course Coco Beach Golf Club.
Most recently, the R&A announced that Turnberry is not in contention for any upcoming Open Championship dates.
Without a doubt, Trump's investment into golf the last few years has been a positive for the industry. But in 2016, it's reasonable to wonder how some of his more extreme positions that have surfaced during his presidential run will affect his core businesses.
China becomes largest player in Myrtle Beach golf scene
The Myrtle Beach golf scene in the 21st century has been defined first by overgrowth, then closures, then consolidations and mergers, and now acquisitions from abroad. A Chinese investor group now owns 27 courses in the Grand Strand, thanks largely to a 22-course acquisition early in 2015 from National Golf, who were previously the largest owners and operators on the Strand after MBN merged with Burroughs & Chapin.
The new investment group has the hopes of bringing more Chinese golf travelers to the Grand Strand. In doing so, exactly how much will the fabric of this Southern destination change?
First Tiger Woods design opens
At long last, you can finally play a Tiger Woods-designed golf course. Woods announced his first design project in January 2007 in Dubai. But finally, in 2015, he held his first grand opening: El Cardonal, a private course near Cabo Del Sol, Mexico. Golf Advisor's Jason Scott Deegan visited the opening.
And late this year, he had a soft opening of seven holes at his first U.S. course, Bluejack National, a private club located near Houston.
Golf development mogul Mike Keiser shows no signs of slowing down
Mike Keiser had a big year in the news. Wisconsin's Sand Valley is progressing nicely and Cabot Cliffs had a soft open this summer to rave reviews. He also announced initial plans to build a links golf course in the Highlands of Scotland, Coul Beach. When Trump himself is trying to take you down in a tweet, perhaps you know you're doing something right.
Both Aberdeen and Turnberry in Scotland, and the soon to open Doonbeg in Ireland, blow Bandon Dunes away. Bandon is a toy by comparison!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 20, 2015
Keiser also recently announced interest in two Oregon golf projects -- Bandon Muni and Tillamook, Matt Ginella reported. There's clearly no signs of slowing down for golf's more soft spoken, big-time developer.
Alternative golf continues momentum
One of the successful segments of the golf business this year has been alternative golf methods, from transportation to the game itself. 2015 saw the explosion of Golf Boards, the surf-style board that golfers can cruise along fairways on.
In 2015, the company added partnerships with Billy Casper Golf and Troon Golf among others. Golf Boards tells Golf Advisor they've expanded their total footprint from nine to more than 130 facilities and counting, racking up more than 500,000 rentals.
Meanwhile, FootGolf continues to grow across the U.S., and this fall, the AFGL hosted its first ever National Championship at Sidney Marovitz Golf Course in Chicago. FootGolf can now be played at more than 400 U.S. courses.
TopGolf, meanwhile, has continued to add to its footprint, now with 22 locations open. Among eight new locations coming in 2016 TopGolf Las Vegas at the MGM Grand as well as TopGolf Orlando near the Orange County Convention Center.
Keeping with the theme of outside-the-box golf experiences, we were smitten by the temporary nine-hole course at San Diego's Petco Park. These pop-up golf courses could be set up in all sorts of urban venues and help expose the game in a fun new way to beginners.
Gary Player, pros dog Chambers Bay
The U.S. Open at Chambers Bay was historic for many reasons, most notably due to an unprecedented amount of grumbling over the conditions of the baked out, poa-fescue greens.
Gary Player fueled the fire with his weekend visit on Golf Channel's "Morning Drive" -- a bizarre rant in which the Black Knight confused "growing the game" issues with the quest for a proper major championship setup. In slamming the length of Chambers, Player failed to recognize some of his own designs are long and hard, such as the Links at Fancourt, Mike Bailey wrote.
Some players reached a breaking point on Sunday in slamming the greens. Billy Horschel's buffoonery (for which he later apologized) topped the charts, while Ian Poutler, just about an hour before the game's finest putter won his second consecutive major championship, posted an Instagram condemning the USGA's handling of the greens.
I look forward to congratulating the 2015 US Open Champion very soon, I simply didn't play well enough to be remotely close. This is not sour grapes or moaning or any of that crap. It simply the truth. Mike Davis the head of the @USGA unfortunately hasn't spoke the truth about the conditions of the greens. I feel very sorry for the hundreds of greens staff who spent countless hours leading into this week and this week doing there best to have it the best they could and I thank them for that. But look at the picture. This was the surface we had to putt on. It is disgraceful that the @USGA hasn't apologized about the greens they simply have said, "We are thrilled the course condition this week." It wasn't a bad golf course, In fact it played well and was playable. What wasn't playable were the green surfaces. If this was a regular PGA tour event lots of players would have withdrawn and gone home on Wednesday, but players won't do that for a major. They were simply the worst most disgraceful surface I have ever seen on any tour in all the years I have played. The US Open deserves better than that. And the extra money that they have earn't this year from @FoxSports, they could easily have relayed the greens so we could have had perfect surfaces. Simply not good enough and deeply disappointing for a tournament of this magnitude. I don't like it when people lie on camera to try and save face. And to all you fans that paid good money to try and watch us play golf but couldn't see anything on most holes because it wasn't possible to stand on huge slopes or see around stands, I apologize and I'm sorry you wasted your money traveling to be disappointed. I hope we all learn something moving forward to not have these problems in the future. Happy Fathers Day.
The virtues and faults of Chambers Bay will be dissected at length, which includes not only agronomy and design but spectator movement and safety. Will the U.S. Open or other events be back? Time will tell, but for now the big wild card is 2017 U.S. Open venue Erin Hills.
Drought continues in California
Drought has continued to wreak havoc on California golf courses grappling with drying up water, increased irrigation costs and heightened restrictions. Thirty-six-hole Stevinson Ranch was a high-profile course that shuttered its doors, but it wasn't alone. Carmel Mountain Highlands shut down its William Bell design in San Diego. Bass Lake Golf Course closed, and the city of Livermore, Calif. has struggled with what to do with its municipal golf facilities.
Golf Channel's Water Week addressed some of the biggest issues pertaining to the game and its use of water, as well as some bright spots in innovation and practice.
With an El Nino event this winter, there is hope for some relief, but will it be too little too late?
Toronto, Las Vegas real estate squeezing out golf courses?
The bouncing back of the economy over the last few years has boded well for golf in terms of rounds played, but the real estate recovery has also put pressure on golf courses to sell land and convert into development. The squeeze has been particularly prevalent in Toronto, with two high-profile sales that threaten the future of venerable clubs. This spring, members at York Down Golf Club voted to sell their property for an astronomical $412 million.
Then it was announced ClubLink had sold Glen Abbey Golf Club, the first course design by Jack Nicklaus and the 2016 RBC Canadian Open host.
Meanwhile, in Las Vegas, a saturated golf course market in a part of the world that's drying out has spelled troubling news for area courses. In September, Silverstone Golf Club abruptly closed its doors with plans of developing the property. Shortly after, 27-hole Badlands Golf Club was sold, with many speculating the end result will be housing as well. Meanwhile, an old beacon of the Las Vegas golf scene, Las Vegas Country Club went on the block, but plans here will only be for some partial development, and the course, which has solid water rights, is expected to remain open in its entirety.
Top-rated new golf courses
Championsgate Country Club, planned to eventually be a private golf club anchoring a new residential community in central Florida, opened early this year and has been allowing public play. It was, in fact, the most reviewed course on Golf Advisor in 2015, and the reviews are pretty positive. With more than 250 year-to-date, the course has found its way into the ninth spot in Golf Advisor's Top 10 Orlando courses.
Another course of note on Golf Advisor is Wickenburg Ranch in Arizona. The long-delayed opening finally happened this February, and the course has received five stars in all eight reviews, which includes a review from our own staffer, Mike Bailey.
St. Andrews finally ousts Old Course Experience tee times monopoly
Any golfer who's ever considered a golf trip to the Home of Golf received some very encouraging news earlier this month when the St. Andrews Links Trust announced that in 2018 they would finally end their exclusive guaranteed tee time golf package partnership with the Old Course Experience. In recent years, premiums for a guaranteed tee time on the Old Course have soared up to $2,000 a pop (compared to the 175-pound direct rate).
Now, the big question is exactly which tour operators will be granted access to these tee times and how many they'll get from the Links Trust.
So what was the biggest news in golf for you in 2015? Let us know in the comments below, or tweet us at @GolfAdvisor.