Developing success

Sean Dudley
By Andrea Sartori

Golf is experiencing significant growth across Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

KPMG predicts that by 2020, Europe alone will have approximately 10,000 golf courses. This is over 3,000 more than today. It is also foreseen that several of these courses will be part of integrated tourist resort and housing communities.

And while the opportunities and potential financial returns for this type of development are attractive, the risks are also great.

The temptation for investors and developers embarking on this type of project for the first time is to rely solely on the skills that made their existing businesses successful, and believe they can make their golf and real estate community project work by doing it 'their way'.

In KPMG's experience, the odds are stacked against such people and, sadly, the golf industry is littered with horror stories of golf developments that have gone wrong in this exact way. Conversely, it is clear that among the most prosperous developments there are a number of common, key success factors.

It may sound obvious, but many developments go wrong simply because they ignore the needs and demands of the market. As with any business, it is imperative that developers do their market research and have a clear understanding of what is happening in the sphere within which they will be operating.

Understanding the market trends is essential: who is buying real estate; what they are buying; where they are buying it; and why? It is common knowledge that consumers from the UK and Ireland have been major drivers in the second-home real estate market, but did you know that Russians are prominent among the emerging buyers? What is it that different consumers from different countries want? Their reasons for buying may vary considerably.

It's essential to have a clear understanding of the characteristics of supply and competition, but most important is identifying the fundamental demand itself.

As mentioned in the introduction, too many first-time developers attempt to do it 'their way', relying on their own instincts rather than the professional experience of others. Our advice is always to invest in professionals who know what they are doing and have trodden the path before.

So who exactly are these professionals? A market advisor and a financial advisor are necessary to help you understand the market, maximise return and work on business plans and financial projections.

A masterplanner is invaluable to the development, helping you optimise the potential of real estate, golf and other facilities, while an experienced golf course architect will ensure that you end up with a golf course that helps sell the development. An experienced golf course constructor will also make sure that the architect's plans are properly realised and that your expensive greens aren't flooded every time it rains.

The key is to involve key consultants at an early stage of the development and, as long as they prove their professionalism throughout the development process, to trust them.

The golf resort and community sector is an increasingly competitive market and to be successful you have to make your golf development stand out. Think about what your unique selling point is. What is going to make the development different to competing ones? Too often, too many developments are just too similar.

Having a clear vision is crucial for the success of the development. Working closely with your project team, map out the vision for the development and maintain a clear picture of the details. How many residential units are you developing, and of what type? Who are the buyers and what is going to make them buy at your resort? What is the development's unique selling point and what other facilities will you be offering? Approximately, only one third of owners of real estate in resorts and communities are actually golfers themselves, so it is important that the golf and real estate complement each other. One of the key tasks for a masterplanner is configuring the golf to optimise property values. This aspect is fundamental to the success of the business, so it is essential you have a clear vision of it.

After identifying the market and the potential buyers a clear understanding of why people buy and what their purchase is for is required. Is it a first or second home, is it for pleasure, retirement, an investment, or a combination of factors? When it comes to marketing and sales, you have to find the best ways of reaching your target customers and creating persuasive communication to make them take the next step. Such communication can be via PR, websites (increasingly important in today's world), real estate fairs or other events.

Of course, there are different ways of selling. It may be best to manage sales internally, or work with external partners such as real estate agents, or a combination of both. Crucially, plan to phase sales so you don't sell all the most expensive properties first.

Lastly, invest in providing a unique golfing experience. Initially this is achieved through the involvement of a professional golf course architect, but it is equally important to ensure that the course is professionally maintained and operated.

Sustaining high standards is important to prevent the devaluation of the development over time.

High quality will differentiate your development from the competition and it is through this differentiation that you will get ahead.