2004: Park deal adds to Korean-buying boom

By Scott Kauffman

As the newly crowned Kraft Nabisco champion, Grace Park shouldn’t have difficulty booking a tee time at the course of her choice. But if she ever does, the LPGA Tour star knows that she’ll always be welcomed at The Ridge at Castle Pines North in Castle Rock, Colo.

Her parents just bought the place.

Soo Nam Park, a restaurateur and food distributor in Korea, and his wife, Jin-Ae Lee, are avid golfers and had long sought a course of their own in the United States, according to Charlie Parker, a financial adviser for the Parks.

But the deal is more than a footnote for golf’s society pages. It highlights an acquisition spree of American courses by Koreans, akin to the Japanese buying binge of the 1980s. Koreans have yet to purchase “trophy” properties such as Pebble Beach, but their appetite is growing.

In the past couple of years, Korean individuals or groups of Korean-Americans have acquired or are in the process of buying nearly a dozen courses, mostly in Southern California. The Park family purchase of The Ridge – executed jointly with Troon Golf in Scottsdale, Ariz. – may signal the start of Korean exploration in other markets.

“It’s a nice property, and Troon has been doing a good job managing it,” Parker said. “With Grace and her sister over here (in the United States), the parents wanted to have some assets for the children.”

He added that the Parks’ interest in golf won’t stop in Colorado.

“(Soo Nam Park) is looking at developing a golf course in China and buying another one in the Scottsdale area,” Parker said.

Pragmatic reasons as well as cultural factors explain the recent Korean interest.

“Many see Los Angeles as a second economic hub, kind of like how Japan thought of Honolulu,” said Jeffrey Woolson, senior vice president and managing director of golf and resort properties for CB Richard Ellis, referring to the Japanese acquisition frenzy two decades ago in the Hawaiian Islands. “It’s not like the Japanese dropping $40 million sight unseen. (The Koreans) want a return on their investment.”

Course ownership also is regarded as a symbol of prestige by Korean society.

Korean interest in courses first surfaced in the Southern California market two years ago when Young Hwan Chun paid $14.85 million for Westridge Golf Club in La Habra.

Last year, Korean-American Steven Koh acquired Castle Creek Country Club in Escondido for $6.5 million and Oak Quarry Golf Club in Riverside for $12.5 million. A Korean consortium also negotiated a deal for private California Country Club in Whittier and Palm Desert Resort and Country Club for $22 million.

Two deals currently in escrow involving Korean buyers are Coyote Hills Golf Course in Fullerton and Empire Lakes Golf Course in Rancho Cucamonga. The Coyote Hills course, managed by American Golf Corp., is available for approximately $16 million-$17 million, according to CB Richard Ellis analyst Z. Gordon Davidson. Empire Lakes is selling for $12.5 million.

“Golf is such a highly valued commodity over there,” Parker said. “It just means a lot to them to own such an honorable business.”

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