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The number of people teeing off from the fairway is on the upswing as golf tourism bounces back from the global economic downturn, and Portugal and Spain score the highest in popularity among destinations worldwide.

According to a global survey of 90 golf tour operators in 35 countries by accountancy firm KPMG, 60% of golf tour operators experienced an increase in bookings in 2011, compared to only 38% in 2010. LateRooms.com, a website specialising in hotel rooms, deals and reservations, also saw a 46% rise in the number of golfing hotels featured on its website in the last year. The directory Golf Shake now lists 30,000 reviews of courses worldwide.

The games’ increase in popularity is due in part to lower costs for a round of golf, keen pricing for equipment and no membership fees for some courses. Golf is also becoming a more popular pastime for emerging economies such as Brazil, Russia, India and China.

“Golf has become more accessible on the international stage and is less stuffy and elitist,” said Gareth Hunt, head of ATP Select, a concierge travel service. “It’s not just die-hard golfing enthusiasts, but also the casual or inexperienced golfer who are keen to participate.”

Emerging destinations such as Turkey, Vietnam and Thailand are seeing fresh interest, while up and coming hotspots in the KPMG survey include Italy and Bulgaria. Argentina and the Dominican Republic have also become increasingly popular among US golfers. All have invested in new courses and golf infrastructure, some of which were designed by well-known golf architects or celebrity designers.  

“This kind of tourism is on its way back to what it was before the crisis,” said Oliver Ruthemeyer, a golf director at Penha Longa, a golf-focused resort in Portugal. “[But] golf for many is an additional holiday to the family or business trip. If people have to compromise, they are still leaving the golf behind.”

This is partly why golf tour operators have become savvier about offering a variety of value-for-money packages, where course fees and equipment hire are often combined with spa breaks and hotel stays.

For executive travellers, golf is often part of a pre- or post-conference, or corporate event programme. Most golf hotels now have 3G mobile phone access on their courses and free wi-fi in the clubhouse, allowing golfers to dip in and out of work and more easily keep an on the office.

According to the KPMG survey, the cost of a golf package in Portugal and Spain dropped an average of 10% to 20% between 2010 and 2011, yet in Southeast Asia prices rose by 30% to 50%.

“The fact is there are too many golf courses in some places, which is driving prices down,” said Dan Chidley, marketing manager at Dartmouth Golf and Country Club in Devon, UK. “Although this is [also] making it more accessible and more affordable which is great for golfers.”

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