Updated March 28 at 4:32am

Golf bust fueling bottom-fishing investment

NEW YORK - Investors from Donald Trump to luxury homebuilder Toll Brothers Inc. are wagering there’s money to be made buying golf courses after a building boom fueled by Tiger Woods’s popularity led to a glut.

Standalone 18-hole golf properties in the United States sold for a median price of $3 million through the third quarter of 2011, which is about the threshold for a luxury apartment in Manhattan. That’s down from $4.5 million in 2006, according to data from real-estate broker Marcus & Millichap.

“Lack of financing is really causing a discount to value and investors are taking advantage,” Steven Ekovich, Florida-based director of Marcus & Millichap National Golf & Resort Properties Group, said in a telephone interview. “Golf courses may never be as cheap as they are today.”

Prices slumped after lenders including Textron Inc. stopped financing courses, and investors in commercial mortgage-backed securities retreated amid losses on deals made at the height of the property bubble. The number of courses in the U.S. has declined every year since 2006, according to the National Golf Foundation. That follows two decades of expansion, including a surge starting in the late-1990s fueled by excitement about the emergence and dominance of Woods over the sport.

“They built too many courses during the Tiger Boom and now they’re closing and disappearing,” said Trump, who announced last month he’s purchasing the Doral Golf Resort & Spa in Miami for $150 million out of bankruptcy. The resort features five courses on 800 acres, including the Blue Monster, and about 700 hotel rooms. “At some point enough will disappear that golf will be a really good business.”

Tiger wins Masters

There are about 16,000 golf courses in the U.S. and approximately 1,100 of those opened since 2000, according to the Jupiter, Fla.-based National Golf Foundation.

The sport’s popularity soared after Woods won the 1997 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Ga. In 2000, when an unprecedented 400 courses were opened, Woods captured the U.S. Open in Pebble Beach, Calif., by a record 15 strokes. When Woods, 36, is in contention to win a tournament, television ratings typically surge by as much as 50 percent, according to Nielsen Co. figures.

The golfer hasn’t won a U.S. PGA Tour event since September 2009, as his career has been derailed by extramarital affairs and injuries. He withdrew from the Cadillac Championship at the Doral Golf Resort in Miami last weekend with a strained left knee and Achilles tendon.

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