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Tiger's golf course ventures beset by delays

By Paul Gittings and Anouk Lorie for CNN
  • Tiger Woods' luxury golf venture in Dubai beset by delays and global economic downturn
  • The signature golf course was due to open in 2009 but only eight holes have been completed
  • Two high profile golf courses designed by Woods in North America both delayed
  • Project chiefs at Cliffs in North Carolina and Punta Brava in Mexico stay loyal to disgraced World No. 1

London, England (CNN) -- The golfing industry may be breathing a collective sigh of relief after Tiger Woods penciled in his return to the game at the Augusta Masters, but it may not be enough to help golf courses bearing his name around the world.

The global economic downturn and the recent scandal involving Woods have left doubts that a billion dollar golf course in Dubai, designed by the world number one, will ever be completed.

"Tiger Woods Dubai," a 5 million-square-meter project, was to consist of a signature golf course by the 34-year-old, a luxury boutique hotel, clubhouse and 287 luxury villas.

It should have been completed by September 2009, but to date only a handful of the 18 holes have actually been finished and real estate sales remain slow.

Woods is also the figurehead for two other multi-million dollar developments in North America and both have also been delayed, but project chiefs have told CNN this is down to difficulties in obtaining planning permits rather than the recent adverse publicity surrounding the legendary player.

Can Tiger's return restore his legend?

Khalid Al Malik, CEO of government-owned Dubai Properties Group, remains upbeat despite the big delays.

"Part of the project is sold and the other part will go to the market once it's completed because we believe it's better to do it then," he said.

Tiger's troubled course

But economic and golf industry experts say doubts remain over the immediate future of Tiger Woods Dubai, not least because the real estate market in the emirate has collapsed.

Mohammed Shaqeel of the Middle East Economist Intelligence Unit told CNN that many sporting projects in the region are "financially unstable."

"Projects are just frozen, he said. "Many buildings are simply standing there, half finished."

Shaqeel added that the location of Tiger Woods Dubai, several kilometers from the heart of the commercial center, was also a problem.

"It's over a half hour drive, and that's even more problematic in terms of selling the properties," he said.

No matter what, Tiger Woods is the world's greatest golfer and there is no vision or design that we would rather have
--Punta Brava project chief Brian Tucker
  • Golf
  • Tiger Woods
  • Dubai
  • Race to Dubai

Golf expert and Platform editor Richard Gillis told CNN that in his opinion the recent scandals involving Woods had not been the main reasons for the problems being encountered, rather the rationale behind the projects.

"The business model that sees a big-name signature design allied to an expensive clubhouse leaves the developers with enormous overheads, meaning they can't afford to bring the prices of memberships down as the markets for them contracts ... they are stuck in a luxury trap.

"Don't believe anyone who says they are making lots of money from golf courses," he added.

"It's an industry funded by debt. And right now, that's not a good place to be."

But despite his gloomy prognosis, Woods' business partners in North America are staying loyal to the 14-time major winner and their original concepts.

Jim Anthony, who heads up the Cliffs complex in Asheville, North Carolina, says the delay in completing their new 18-hole layout, designed by Woods, is more down to getting permission to build on wetlands than the real estate collapse or the problems of their star endorser.

"We are still aiming for 2011 but it will probably be spring of 2012," Anthony told CNN.

Anthony, who was an invited guest to hear Woods break his silence over his marital indiscretions, is most definitely standing by his man.

"We support Tiger and believe he will make amends," he said. "I saw remorse, I saw gratitude, all those things," he confided.

"All of us shared the remorse and accept his forgiveness," he added.

Anthony admitted that numbers of people buying real estate just based on golf facilities was "dwindling" but said the sport was only one of the many attractions of the Cliffs community and that the risk had been spread.

"We engaged Woods not for his endorsement rather his expertise," he said.

"But since his involvement became public we have had about 30,000 enquiries about property from all over the world."

It's a similar picture at Punta Brava in Ensenada, Mexico, about 100 kilometers from San Diego, where there has been a two-year delay.

But Brian Tucker, the founder Punta Brava's Development Company, told CNN that "major construction work" would begin later this year.

Tucker claimed that, in retrospect, the delay in getting planning permits for a spectacular site which adjoins the Pacific Ocean was a "blessing in disguise" which had enabled them to avoid the peak of the global downturn.

Like Anthony at High Carolina, Tucker says that his business model was robust.

"This is not just a real estate development with golf. When you have a piece of land that is surrounded on three sides by the Pacific you have a once in a lifetime opportunity."

And like Anthony, he is standing by Woods, who returns to golf at next month's Augusta Masters.

"No matter what, Tiger Woods is the world's greatest golfer and there is no vision or design that we would rather have for Punta Brava than his," he told CNN.

"Our goal is to shape golf history by creating the most spectacular golf course on earth. If we do that we will be successful," he added.

But back in the United Arab Emirates, Middle East expert Shaqeel has no doubt Tiger Woods Dubai is in deep trouble.

"Celebrity status means a lot in Dubai. The fact that his reputation has been tarnished may affect whether the government may want to even promote it," he told CNN.

But project chief Malik refuses to be drawn on the subject of Woods' marital indiscretions.

"We do not comment on the private lives of our partners," he said.