New R&A golf survey reveals that game is expanding

The Trump International Golf Links in Aberdeenshire. Picture: Contributed
The Trump International Golf Links in Aberdeenshire. Picture: Contributed
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IT’S no real secret that Scotland boasts 552 golf facilities, making it the fourth top in terms of size in Europe behind England (2,084), Germany (747) and France (648).

At least one golf-mad Scot has played all those courses while others, including current Lothians Golf Association president Allan Shaw, are edging towards completing the same epic golfing journey.

Even the anorak of golfing anoraks, however, would surely be hard pushed to come up with the right answer if asked if they knew how many golf facilities there are in the world.

The answer, in fact, is 34,011 and we now know that because it has just been revealed in the most comprehensive study ever carried out in the sport on a global scale.

Involving over 25,000 hours of labour and funded by the R&A along with 15 of the world’s leading golf companies, “Golf around the world 2015” delivers a fascinating insight into the state of the game.

On the one hand, the number of courses in the United States, where building booms gripped the country in two separate spells over the past 50 years, is dropping. From a peak of 16,052, it was down to 15,372 at the end of last year.

On the other, golf is growing elsewhere, notably in Asia, where 207 new courses – the most in the world at the moment – are under construction. Before too long, both China and South Korea, with 473 and 447 respectively, are likely to boast more courses than the game’s cradle.

Worldwide, there are the equivalent of 696 new 18-hole courses under construction or in advance planning which, if all were realised (and no existing courses closed), the total world supply would increase by around two per cent.

While 80 per cent of these projects are located in Asia, Europe and North America, the sport is reaching parts of the world where golf has not been present before. Last year, for example, Georgia opened its first course while the Royal & Ancient game is also just about to be introduced in Macedonia and Sao Tome and Principe, a Portuguese-speaking island nation in the Gulf of Guinea, off the western equatorial coast of Central Africa.

“The new report provides a fascinating insight in to the development of golf around the world and gives us a precise measure of the number of facilities for the first time,” said R&A chief executive Peter Dawson. “It will provide a benchmark for future monitoring and enable us to identify areas of potential growth.”

The report reveals that Europe is home to 22 per cent of the world’s total golf supply. In 40 out of the Continent’s 50 countries, it had 7,403 golf facilities at the end of last year, with “several” European countries boasting the highest golf participation rates in the world.

In looking at development of the game, the report found that trend in Europe is towards “short compact courses that are public and family friendly”. In many cases, those courses comprise of just six holes. There are already close to 300 of those in Europe with five more under construction along with close to 70 nine-holers.

While the report describes Africa as a “burgeoning golf destination”, it’s Asia that has been designated as the Continent that has “room for golf to grow”. With 2,383 golf facilities, Japan is by far the region’s biggest supplier for the sport, though no new courses are currently under development there due to a lack of suitable land.

In contrast, 56 courses are in the pipeline in China, despite the government having imposed a ban on golf course construction in 2004. Other emerging golf nations in the region include India, where 32 courses are under development, and Vietnam, with 18 new layouts on the way.

“The National Golf Foundation [a golf market research organisation based in the USA] has done an excellent job in conducting this research, which we believe will be extremely useful for the golf industry at large,” added Dawson.

In Scotland, the Trump International Golf Links north of Aberdeen is the most recent new course to have opened – it will be three years old officially in July – and, by the looks of things, the North-East is also set to deliver one of those new developments referred to in the R&A report. That’s because a proposed £80m project for a Jack Nicklaus-designed course at Ury Estate, near Stonehaven, is back on course, having been put on hold after it was first mooted before the financial crash in 2008.

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