Is the future bright for golf resorts? Luxury and the great outdoors are both major trends for travel and hospitality, and a golf course may tick the right boxes for amenities to include in a resort project.
Global golf tourism organisation IAGTO last month urged tourist boards and golf tourism suppliers to be prepared to invest into promoting golf travel as soon as possible. In its fifth annual golf tourism report, IAGTO saw signs of optimism in the recovery of the golf market in Asia and in the growth trend experienced in the sector pre-Covid. Chief Executive Peter Walton said: “While golf tourism is not immune to global or regional crises – be they economic, security, environmental or health by nature – we have seen over the past two decades that golf travel bounces back quicker than most other tourism industry sectors once the risk or fear has run its course”.
How can resort developers and operators prepare for the resurgence of golf tourism once travel picks up? Developer Arum Group partnered with golf development expert Jeremy Slessor, Managing Director of European Golf Design to look at the top trends to keep in mind when preparing for the recovery: “Golf development is ever-evolving, and it’s important to stay on top of trends in the industry” they say.
Here are five of the new focal points developers and operators need to take into account to integrate golf successfully into a resort project.
Sustainability now needs to encompass wider environmental, social and governance (ESG) goals. Most importantly, each pillar must be addressed to arrive at a development solution that is truly sustainable; if one is neglected, the others cannot compensate.
Environmentally, each project, and each element of that golf course development project, must have a positive impact in terms of protecting the landscape, creating habitats, and increasing the diversity of flora and fauna. Natural resources must be used as efficiently as possible; non-natural resources should be used as minimally as possible.
From a social standpoint, developers must consider the impact a project will have on local and regional employment, as well as the impact it will have on the tax base. What can the development do to increase revenue generation and employment beyond the limits of the project? Culturally, how will the development contribute to local customs and heritage? If all these questions, and others, can be answered positively, and if the economics stand up for themselves, then there is every indication a successful project can be developed.
As a business, golf has in the past been accused of not catering well to the beginner or anyone that has not grown up in the traditions of the game. That’s changing as more and more golf course development companies realise, especially in parts of the world where golf is a relatively new sport, that while ex-pat or tourism play is important, it is equally important to develop a local market.
The best way to do that is to have proper facilities where people can learn to play in comfort and safety. Properly run, academies can add significant revenue streams to the overall bottom line. Similarly, in developments that offer a “full-length” golf course, adding a shorter course can offer golf that is less time-consuming and more forgiving for the poorer player, while still providing the same level of quality as the overall development.
Just as the membership model is making a comeback in hospitality, the old models of club or membership are changing, and so too the golf club business plan. Numbers of categories of membership are being reduced, and the traditional 5-versus-7-day membership model is fading.
Many golf facilities are moving to membership based on points. This allows golfers to tailor, as much as possible, their membership level to their situation, and is proving very popular where it is being offered. This new flexibility and creativity is opening doors and economic opportunities not only for users, who now demand a higher degree of personalization in everything they do, but for course owners as well. And there are a lot of very interesting data to be gleaned from allowing golfers to set their own timetables and frequency of play.
Golf is no longer a male-gender-dominated sport. There is still much to do to achieve true balance, but in many countries around Europe, particularly in Scandinavia, this objective is getting very close.
Women and children are already finding exponentially more opportunities to play than even a few years ago. And this trend can and should remain on the rise, as a factor of both social and economic sustainability. Logically, the broader the audience, the better the market for the course you are developing. Involving children deepens the love of the game from an earlier age, and provides opportunities for the expansion of academies and holiday programmes as well.
We have seen that, particularly in resort settings, rules (especially relating to dress codes) are being relaxed. If you want to play golf in shorts and a pair of sandals, why not? If you want to walk off the beach and straight onto the course, why should you have to change clothes to do so?
These are just a few of the questions that people are beginning to ask. Each course or resort must find its own way, adapting itself to its players and their expectations, of course. But the fact that many golf destinations are asking these questions is an indicator that golf development and strategy is evolving with the times.