One of the oldest continually played sports in the world has always been the home to some of the most beautiful and impressive locations globally. Sprawling greenery, decadent food, and a peace which can seldom be found in today’s modern cities and lifestyles. But the consistent growth of the industry is backed by a love of the game which only increases and never fades.
The beginnings date to its first documented mentions in 1457 in Scotland. Ironically, these documents ban golf, describing it as a hinderance to other practices such as archery and other sports which were useful for the military at the time. It was such a hinderance that the bans had to be reiterated more than once, in 1471 and again in 1491 for good measure.
As it has been played for almost 600 years, golf is a game of tradition, but it has grown with the times. Since then, the sport has not changed much. It truly is a special feeling when walking through 18 holes pretty much anywhere. But, while in many ways the tradition and gentlemen style and rules of play have been kept, golf has moved forward, and it has been keeping up with the modern needs of today’s clientele.
So, what is it about golf? The team at The Collection Magazine is embarking on a journey to present opportunities and what golf is all about. Golf is truly one of the activities which embodies everything this magazine presents and stands for. From the luxurious and healthy lifestyle, the competition, its surroundings and the services within golf resorts with residences, clubhouses, and courses, we want to show the best of what golf has to offer on a regional and global level.
Courtesy of One&Only Resorts, One&Only Palmilla, Los Cabos
As the pandemic has changed tourism and the way most resorts operate throughout the world, golf has still represented one of the most dynamically growing segments of worldwide tourism. Both from perspectives of pure tourism, but also through the actual competition. To give some numbers: The Ryder Cup is the greatest event in golf, hosted every two years between US and European venues. It lasts 3 days, and since 2008 for that period it generated over $ 140m in local economic activity on average per venue, with over 200,000 people attending. That is one tournament.
Now this gives a simple taste of the impact golf has, but it has constantly fuelled the increasing number of golfers to play more courses, at more exotic locations. The simple fact that golf participation numbers have managed to ride the wave of the pandemic not only without losing numbers, but even increasing them, is another showing of how much this industry is key. Global numbers are clear:
United States of America: 25.1 million golfers
Asia: 23.3 million golfers
Europe: 10.6 million golfers
Canada, Central and South America: 5.9 million golfers
Oceania: 1.3 million golfers
Africa: 439,000 golfers
To these numbers, the tourism industry has not been silent, and has played a key role in this rise. New resorts have been inaugurated almost constantly, with existing ones being updated and renovated to keep up with today’s needs.
Locations cover every continent. From New Zealand to the Himalayas, going through old world locations like Italy, Ireland, Portugal, and Greece, to of course the Americas, the Caribbean and all the way to South Africa and Hawaii.
Four Seasons Hotels, Banyan Tree, Dusit Thani and One&Only link up with some of the most renowned architects in the world to offer the greatest golf experiences.
Courtesy of One&Only Resorts, One&Only Palmilla – Resort Aerial View
The major golf designers, who are mostly renowned for their breath-taking landscapes which complement the location of their settings, offer challenging courses which use the local terrain to give at each swing golfers new ways to improve. These are often ex-players, veterans who have written the history of this sport and decided to leave a further permanent mark: Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Greg Norman and nowadays even Tiger Woods (albeit he has but scratched the surface of this area as he is still very much active) have all put their signatures to some of the most iconic golf courses today. They have become a synonym with golf course design excellence, continuing in the traditions of Old Tom Morris, Robert Trent Jones, and Pete Dye.
Some of these names, Dye Design and Gary Player to name a couple, have started to leave their mark in south-east Europe: Thracian Cliffs and Black Sea Rama in Bulgaria as well as Lykia World and Links Golf in Turkey.
Slovenia, being a country that has been in love with golf – it has most of the structures of the countries which used to be Yugoslavia – has also developed its gastronomical culture in the past few decades, having been able to offer Michelin-starred experiences and incredible wineries. It has married the two wonderfully, with modernity but always with an eye to its traditional roots.
The Royal Bled Golf Club (since 1937) has become the synonym with golf and exclusivity in Slovenia. Having undergone ownership and management changes in the past few years, it has truly received a ‘touch up’ that makes it one of the most beautiful locations in Europe.
As our region is dynamically developing through FDIs, many countries in the region have earmarked golf as a key industry to expand the tourism seasons. Montenegro, for instance, will be home of one of the most stunning future golf courses in Europe. Lustica Bay has in plans to build the first 18-hole championship golf course in the country, and saying the location looks promising is a euphemism. Perched on top of the Lustica peninsula, it will offer stunning views of the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Bay of Kotor, as well as on the open Adriatic Sea and surrounding mountains. Designed to maximise sea views and offer a challenging course for future visitors to enjoy, this golf course will be part of a fully integrated new town which will include real estate, multiple hotels, other sports facilities, commercial areas, two marinas as well as key infrastructure and amenities such as medical centre, police and fire brigade station and school.
Courtesy of Thracian Cliffs Golf & Beach Resort, Bulgaria
Just as one sparrow does not make a summer, one golf course is only great when there are more to sample and compare – ideally within a 4 hour drive (by road not by club!) as that is the desire of the world of golfing tourism – to play a different course each day. Imagine if we had one great course in each country in the region – then we would have traction to establish a golf destination.
Moving more southwards, we find Turkey and the burgeoning Belek near Antalya. Turkey has made golf an integral part of their tourism development where resorts with multiple courses have been springing up almost continuously for the past decade, making it a must visit destination in this part of Europe.
20 golf courses to chose from, hotels, restaurants, all packaged for to offer golf tourists the best of the best, and for all levels. Sueno Resort’s courses, the PGA Sultan, and Gloria courses are just a few of the resorts that have helped put Turkey on the map of every golfer that wants to discover this fascinating ancient area of the world. All these resorts have offers for even the most demanding of clients, both from a golfing and from a lifestyle perspective.
As written earlier, the Bulgarian Thracian Cliffs is another perfect example: a Gary Player Signature course located on the cliffs overlooking the Black Sea. With an offering of various restaurant, real estate and positioned within Kaliakra National Park, it is a mesmerizing location that offers a truly beautiful experience overall.
Golf and luxury have been linked for a long time, making the lifestyle side of this sport key to its growth. The inclusion of restaurants that mix the traditional and the modern, offering everything from a fresh beer and a beautiful roast, all the way to the finest of wines and spirits to pair with a tasting menu and satisfactory score at the end of the 18.
And the SPA centres. Who can imagine a 4 or 5 hour game of anything, let alone the rollercoaster of emotions that is golf, without a relaxing trip to a sauna or a swim in a heated outdoor pool, while indulging in spectacular green views? Golf really is the indulgence of all the senses, and Resorts and Clubhouses offer their clients exactly that.
Of course, a segment which is key to the lifestyle of golf is the real estate that often surrounds the fairways. Some say that privacy has always been the real luxury, and if you don’t mind perhaps the occasional ball landing around your house, golf courses are ideal places where to invest in a little slice of heaven for you and your family.
Courtesy of Thracian Cliffs Golf & Beach Resort, Bulgaria
What about the rest?
Golf has often caught the attention of worldwide audiences for commercial reasons too.
From watchmakers to banks, insurances, car manufacturers and fashion brands, almost all of them have invested heavily in the world of golf and have had their returns. Many remember the Tiger Woods contract with Nike back in 1996, but the investments from companies such as NetJets, Rolex, BMW, KPMG, and MasterCard have been of paramount importance to the development of golf. Through their important presence in tournaments, player sponsorships and overall engagement in the sport, these companies have allowed golf niche companies to thrive: Taylormade, Titelist, Callaway, FootJoy are just some of the golf specific brands that have built this sport and that have succeeded in the last past period.
But money and ‘market share’ have caused some turmoil too. The entry of the Public Investment Fund (Saudi Arabia) through GolfSaudi with LIV Golf (an alternative to the already historically established PGA – Professional Golfers’ Association) has certainly allowed more promotion of the sport. Even if coming under heavy criticism from ‘traditionalists’ for being ‘separatists’ from the establishment, the fact of the matter is that the interest in golf has never been higher also thanks to them.
All of this reflects on the ever so religious crowd of golfers flocking to courses to improve their game and take their families with them to enjoy the beautiful settings and facilities around this incredible sport.
And that is key to golf: as mentioned earlier, it is not only a sport. It is a lifestyle. A beautiful medley of competition, fresh air, beautiful settings, indulgence, fun and comfort that leaves nobody for wanting. From the youngest to the oldest, from the more to the less active, for women or men. Golf is without age and without limit. Something for everyone to build beautiful memories with their loved ones and from a macro regional perspective, this is a wonderful industry to promote tourism in the region – where traditional golfers will gladly travel from one country to another to experience our incredible variety of scenery backdrops that rival anywhere in the world.