Golf in Asia must move beyond aiming at the ‘private jet golfer’ if it is to prosper in the future, according to leading US club manager Mike Rippey.
Speaking to the Asia Pacific Golf Summit in Kuala Lumpur, Rippey, the president of Kitson & Partners, said that the Asian industry’s focus on building golf courses aimed at wealthy members of social elites had to change if the game is to grow in the region. “I’m not saying the private jet golfer is a bad business model,” he said. “But sooner or later we have to ask ourselves: how many memberships can this guy collect, how many golf trips can he take, and how many rounds of golf can he and his friends play?”
Rippey outlined four stages of golf development, firstly, the emergence phase, in which a small number of people make a lot of money building courses for the wealthy and elite. He suggested that China and Vietnam were currently in this phase. After this stage, he said, the evolution phase typically sees competition between courses increase, and the cost of developing and running golf in parallel, as operators seek to outdo each other by providing better facilities. In this phase, as golf starts to increase in popularity, public golf courses start to appear. Rippey said Korea was in this phase at the moment. The third phase, oversupply, he characterised as where the US industry is currently located, and the fourth, rebalancing, he suggested applies now to Japan.
For the emerging Asian golf industry to avoid stages three and four, Rippey said they needed to learn from what the US industry did wrong. “We believed that the business was governed by supply, not demand, and that all you had to do was build a golf course, and 40,000 people would miraculously turn up wanting to play,” he told the conference. “We made golf more expensive and believed that it would continue to grow forever.”