Golf Course Developers, Tour Organizers Betting On Huge Potential Demand In The Chinese Market
We have written before on the vast potential that many golf course developers and organizers see in the Chinese market, where the number of golfers has risen exponentially over the last 10-15 years (and continues to rise rapidly). With world-class courses already existing near Shenzhen and Hong Kong, and more expected to be completed in the next few years, it looks like China is already well on its way to becoming one of the world’s great golf destinations.
Today, Golfweek looks into China’s potential as a world market for golf, pointing out excellently that although China may not have a long golf pedigree to push the sport forward, this is not necessarily a handicap, as, “a lack of golf history can be a disadvantage for an emerging market, but freedom from a past also can lead to innovation.”
It is this “innovation” that will make the Chinese market so attractive for world golf, I think, because like some sports without a long history in China — thinking of basketball here — golf has the potential to appeal to millions of enthusiastic and motivated players across the country. Although, granted, golf is more of an “elite” sport than basketball — and requires significantly more practice to develop proficiency — that hasn’t stopped it from taking off among the country’s wealthy and upper-middle-class individuals.
Gene Yasuda goes on to write that the vast — and yes, innovative — putting green installed at Mission Hills is a uniquely Chinese feature to a distinctly non-Chinese sport:
The “world’s largest putting course,” as Mission Hills is touting it, is a promising development on two fronts: It reflects China’s awakening to much-needed beginner facilities, and perhaps more important, continuing capital investment in one of golf’s most vital emerging markets.
Today, there already are roughly 300 courses in the country, and even conservative growth forecasts are eye-opening. According to consulting firm KPMG, if 0.1 percent of China’s population plays golf by 2030 – a hundredth of the North American participation rate today – the country would have 1.3 million golfers. That demand would call for the construction of 1,700 courses in the next 20-25 years.
But there are challenges to golf flourishing in China, the least of which might be the recession. For starters there is a central government-mandated “moratorium” on course development. And though that dictum can be averted with support of local politicians, according to Curley and other architects, course construction often is relegated to land that’s difficult to develop. Curley says that’s one of the contributing factors to green fees that are among the most expensive in the world. An average weekend green fee in China is $161 – more expensive than any market surveyed by KPMG in Europe, Middle East and Africa; Dubai ranks second at $152.
“The reason is that the rapidly expanding economy in China has generated corporate demand for the game, as well as the burgeoning leisure and tourism industry,” says Andrea Sartori, a partner who leads the KPMG Golf Advisory Practice based in a Budapest, Hungary.
That boom has led to golf development primarily in China’s southern provinces and major cities such as Beijing and Shanghai. But large stretches of the country remain untapped. Indeed, “second-tier” markets in China can be quite attractive. “They’re still cities with populations in the millions and without a single golf course,” says Paul Stringer, Nicklaus Design’s senior vice president for business development.
Another boost to an economic recovery would be if golf were to be selected as an Olympic sport. Such recognition could be profound in a country such as China. Beyond sparking interest among potential new golfers, it could lead to government subsidies for course construction, Curley says.
It’s a scenario that should make a fast-rising sport that much more popular.
“Living in a golf community is the ultimate feather in your cap in China,” Curley says. “It’s like the equivalent of moving to Beverly Hills.”