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.”