Winners in a swingers' market

Club class ... Tiger Woods at a golf clinic at Mission Hills in Guangdong, China.
Club class ... Tiger Woods at a golf clinic at Mission Hills in Guangdong, China. Photo: AFP

From eastern Europe to Asia and the Pacific, golfers are on the move, writes Susan Bredow.

Golf is emerging as one of the strongest and most stable travel markets as an influx of new players and changing travel patterns among existing ones builds on a trend that began almost two decades ago.

The chief executive of the International Association of Golf Tour Operators, Peter Walton, says former eastern European countries such as the Czech Republic, along with China and south-east Asian countries, are leading the way in the growth of the sport.

"In the 1990s because of Tiger Woods and, during the following decade, Sergio Garcia and the Australian Adam Scott, golf suddenly became cool and kids began to play," Walton says. "In 1999, in the US alone there was a 32 per cent rise in youth golf."

These players are not content with the traditional day or so spent each week at their club and will increasingly travel to experience new courses. In the next five years, Walton says, new players from developing countries will join them.

According to consultancy firm KPMG, there will be 1 million Chinese golfers by 2020. They play at key domestic locations such as Mission Hills (missionhillschina.com), which owns and operates 12 courses at Guangdong and 10 more at Haikou, on Hainan Island.

But it's not just the Chinese who are working on their handicaps. There are an estimated 800,000 golfers in Thailand, 400,000 in Malaysia and healthy golfing communities in Indonesia, Hong Kong, Vietnam, Cambodia, Taiwan and the Philippines. They will soon join 15 million Japanese and 8 million Koreans as golf travellers.

Golfers are spenders. US Travel Association and National Golf Federation figures show that the 12 per cent of adults who play in the US are responsible for 27 per cent of total travel spend in that country alone. Walton says the average golfer spends 120 per cent more a day than the average tourist.

Mark Siegel, of GolfAsian, the largest dedicated inbound golf tourism operator in south-east Asia, says the 10,000 golfers he books holidays for each year do even better.

"In Thailand, for example, they spend five times as much as the average tourist," Siegel says. "We are seeing golfers spending $400 a day compared with about $70 for general tourists." He has had growth of 30 per cent for each of the six years he has been in business and expects that to continue.

Australians make up the largest proportion of GolfAsian's customers and account for 55 per cent of golf tourists to New Zealand.

In turn, Australia is working hard to entice international golfers to our world-class courses. Elizabeth Sattler oversees Great Golf Courses of Australia, a recent initiative by Tourism Australia and the industry to help the country win its share of the market.

"The response has been quite astounding, particularly out of the eastern [Asian] markets," Sattler says. "We expect about 500 rounds a month out of China alone." She says the response from North America, Britain and Europe has been good, too.

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