The owners of Classic Golf Group’s three courses did not have their properties listed for sale last year, but they were quietly shopping them in the Myrtle Beach golf market – quite unsuccessfully.
“You had a few low, really insulting offers that really weren’t offers,” said Ed Jerdon, a partner in the courses.
Then the owners were contacted by Jane Zheng, the Keller Williams Myrtle Beach Realtor who represented the Chinese family that had purchased their former course, Black Bear Golf Club, earlier last summer. She had a new group of investors from China who might be interested in their properties.
After a short period of negotiation, Jerdon’s group sold the Founders Club of Pawleys Island, Indian Wells Golf Club and Burning Ridge Golf Club in September for about $11 million – much more than anyone else in the market was willing, and in many cases able, to pay.
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“As far as selling a golf property now it depends on the purchaser, whether they can even get financing,” Jerdon said. “The Chinese, they came with cash ... and they continue to buy.”
Jerdon’s experience is becoming more commonplace as well in other parts of the United States.
China’s companies and a significant number of its 1.4 billion people have to varying degrees amassed wealth over years of impressive growth. Spurred by their government’s relaxed foreign investment regulations in recent years, they are spending it in other countries, with the U.S. the biggest single destination.
Over the past couple years, they increasingly have been investing in U.S. real estate, key industries such as energy and information and communication technology, and in Myrtle Beach area businesses such as golf courses and the former Waccamaw Pottery.
“China has too much money right now. [The government] is encouraging companies to invest overseas,” said China native Xian “Nick” Dou, a New York City immigration attorney and partner in Yiqian Funding, the Chinese investment company that purchased Classic Golf Group’s courses and five more since then. “... They have a lot of money, and where to go? Go overseas.”
Investors from China have already spent approximately $47 million acquiring 13 Grand Strand golf courses over the past 20 months, with several more purchases expected in the coming weeks. Other Chinese purchases include Waccamaw Pottery in 2011 for $7.5 million, an undeveloped portion of Grande Dunes for $5 million and at least 100 area homes.
While no one can say for certain, spending on the Strand by investors from China could increase significantly.
“I have two clients from Beijing, each one has 200 million U.S. dollars and they asked me to find them property in Manhattan,” Dou said. “They want Manhattan, not here, because they don’t know Myrtle Beach. Where is Myrtle Beach? … Right now I’ve been looking for a project for them. For myself, I think here is good. Maybe later I have some other friends that come and invest.”
Myrtle Beach Mayor John Rhodes said he has talked with investors from China about a couple of projects that are close to shovel ready, including a 300-unit to 500-unit oceanfront development.
“I would like to see a nice high-rise hotel that would cater to the Asian culture,” Rhodes said.
The staggering dollar figures could increase further, as Dou said one Chinese friend has billions of U.S. dollars to potentially invest.
“He could buy Myrtle Beach,” Dou said.
For decades, China was known as the world’s economic wonder with annual double-digit gross national product growth, according to the World Bank. Though the overall growth began slowing in 2011, the 7.3 percent climb it measured last year was still impressive, especially considering the 2.2 percent GNP growth the World Bank reported for the U.S. in 2014.
China’s central bank holds $4 trillion in foreign exchange reserves, which is greater than the next six largest reserve holders combined, including the U.S., and the country’s companies and wealthy individuals are eager to diversify their assets overseas, according to a just-released report from the U.S.-China Investment and Security Review Commission, created by Congress to keep an eye on the country’s biggest economic rival.
That transition is well underway. According to China’s State Administration of Foreign Exchange, between the first quarter of 2011 and the second quarter of 2014, China’s cumulative assets from outbound direct foreign investment increased nearly twofold, from $323.4 billion to $640.2 billion.
Chinese invested $418 million in South Carolina between 2000 and 2014, the 14th highest total among U.S. states, according to the Rhodium Group, which details the spending in its China Investment Monitor.
The S.C. Department of Commerce touts an even higher $650 million Chinese investment statewide, but its total dates back to 1999, when the Chinese made a major manufacturing investment in the Upstate.
Chinese investments throughout the U.S. and along the Strand have spiked since 2012, said Rhodium — an often-cited investment advisory group — when the total nationwide was nearly $8 billion. The amount jumped to nearly $15 billion in 2013 as private investments surged.
The 2014 total, Rhodium said, was about $12 billion.
Besides predominantly paying cash, Chinese investors differ from domestic investors in that they look at a much longer return-on-investment cycle, said Brad Dean, CEO of the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce who has been to China twice in the last few years.
“They’re looking more at where Myrtle Beach could be 25 to 30 years from now,” he said recently.
THE STRAND CONNECTION
To date, Zheng has been the Strand’s connection to Chinese investors.
The Realtor and Myrtle Beach president of the Chinese Chamber of Commerce of the Carolinas brokered most of the golf course deals, the purchase of Waccamaw Pottery and the sale of more than 100 single-family homes to Chinese.
She travels regularly to China to stimulate business, but much of the activity she has generated so far has come from contacts she made within the Chinese community around northern New Jersey in the time she lived there.
Born in Beijing and raised in Shanghai, Zheng moved to Myrtle Beach 10 years ago and has been actively building her business since then.
She arranged for Keller Williams to finance Rhodes’ first trip to China and left Saturday for her most recent trip with a fellow Keller Williams Realtor. Rhodes has made five trips to China in all.
Dou said he has looked at potential investment properties in cities including New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Detroit, Miami, Orlando, Tampa, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, New Orleans and Austin.
Like most Chinese who have bought Strand properties, he didn’t know about Myrtle Beach until Zheng introduced him to the area and the investment possibilities of its significant golf business.
“I’ve been to a lot of places,” Dou said, “finally I found this one. It’s good. The price is good. The land, the houses and the taxes are good. It’s a diamond in the rough. I want to be here.”
Zheng has gotten some help, at least in the golf business, from Myrtle Beach Golf Holiday, which has been affiliated since 2012 with tournaments in China in which the winners qualify for the Myrtle Beach World Amateur Handicap Championship. Golf Holiday has also helped Myrtle Beach get featured in magazine articles, television shows and digital billboards in China.
Within the last year, other Strand marketing in China has come from the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce, which has hosted a crew from CCTV, China’s largest cable network, for a travel piece that included the Myrtle Beach area.
It also produced a short video with a Mandarin-speaking host that is shown on one Chinese international airline.
The Strand golf course purchases began in June 2013 when a Chinese businessman known as Mr. Pan purchased the three Sea Trail Resort courses out of Chapter 11 bankruptcy.