Golf's new horizons


Sean Dudley
By Andrea Sartori

One only has to read the pages of Golf Course Architecture, with its regular announcements of new courses being built, to understand that golf development continues to grow at a rapid rate. Such growth is particularly evident in many of the world's new emerging economies such as the Middle East, China, Central and Eastern Europe and India where literally hundreds of new courses are in the planning, construction or pre-opening phase.

A major driver of this growth is, of course, greater levels of disposable income. In developing economies, this serves not only to grow the popularity of the game but also to increase demand for high-quality residential developments in which golf plays a complimentary role.

However, it is not solely economic growth and increased spending power that supports the expansion of the game and it is important for developers of new courses to appreciate the additional factors driving demand.

One key factor is the changing face of the travel and tourism industry. Recent trends in this sector include more frequent travel, lower air fares, greater accessibility of new booming destinations, the increasing popularity of sports and activity based holidays and increasing single and multi-generational family travel.

Such trends would appear to bode well for the golf travel industry. To explore the issue of tourism and its impact on the golf industry further, we interviewed 70 golf tour operators in the Europe, Middle East and African region. We first asked: What will characterise the change of the golf travel market in the next 15 years? The results show that an impressive 89 per cent of the tour operators surveyed expected either steady or spectacular growth in the golf travel market.

Specifically, 33 per cent expected growth to be spectacular, while 56 per cent said it would be steady. Nine per cent expected the market to stagnate, while two per cent voted for a steady decline.

We next asked how the market position of a selection of traditional golfing destinations might change in the next 15 years in light of the new emerging destinations? The most stable markets (see diagram) were seen to be Ireland, Scotland and England. Although growth is still expected in both Portugal and Spain they were also seen to be the most threatened by the emergence of new golf destinations.

In addition to the golf tour operators, we interviewed 50 golf course architects and asked both groups to judge the potential of certain countries/regions to become a significant golf tourism destination by 2020? The results showed that both architects and tour operators agreed that Dubai, South Africa and Turkey had the highest growth potential from a golf tourism perspective. It was also noteworthy that the Caribbean and Latin America were widely viewed to offer significant potential. Croatia and the Middle East (excluding Dubai) were judged the lowest potential growth destinations.

In summary, we can assume that the golf industry as a whole will benefit from the continued growth of the broader travel and tourism industry. However, the traditional golf markets of Europe and North America can expect increasing competition from the emerging golfing destinations, some of which offer high quality golfing experiences at affordable prices.

Such trends are of interest to the developer of individual golf courses, but the potential to attract a critical mass of golf tourists remains very much dependant on the quality and the location of the course in addition to the broader tourism offering of the region.

Before proceeding with detailed design and construction of the golf course it is critical that developers fully understand the characteristics of the market specific to their development.