The rise of Asia as a region with major golf appeal and potential and the global growth of golf set the agenda at the 2014 HSBC Golf Business Forum.
More than 260 golf business leaders from 30 countries attended the three-day event at the Westin Abu Dhabi Golf Resort & Spa, connecting leading companies, organisations and individuals.
Focusing on the dramatic rise of golf in the Far East over the past 30 years and the region’s growing influence on the global golfing landscape, an expert Asian panel highlighted the successes and challenges facing the sport in the fastest growing market for golf development in the world.
The panel was made up of Dominic Wall, Director Asia-Pacific, R&A, Mike Kerr, Chief Executive, Asian Tour, Nathan Andrews, President, Lavasa Corporation, and Midori Miyazaki, Executive Director for International Affairs, ISPS.
During the session moderated by Spencer Robinson, Chief Communications Officer, Asian Golf Industry Federation, it was revealed that 600 courses are already open in China while it is estimated up to 1,500 courses are required to satisfy current demand in the world’s most populous country.
Not only did the dedicated 45-minute discussion focus on the shift of blue riband sponsors such as HSBC to the professional game in Asia, but also the launch of The R&A and Masters Tournament-inspired Asia Pacific Amateur Championship.
There was also an update on the pressing issues of land and water shortages that face the game across Asia and threaten to continue the slowdown in golf course construction.
While Wall spoke about the impact of the China Government’s continuing moratorium on golf course construction, Andrews explained the hurdles that developers in India must tackle.
Robinson, meanwhile, outlined a recent announcement from the Singapore Government that confirmed a decision not to renew the leases of a couple of courses when they expire and also the loss of six holes at Tanah Merah Country Club’s award-winning Garden Course, a past venue for the HSBC Women’s Champions.
Based on widespread media reports, concerns have also been raised about the long-term well-being of the venerable Hong Kong Golf Club with the China Special Administrative Region Government saying more land is needed on which to build housing for a spiralling population.
In regard to the burgeoning professional game in Asia, Robinson said the number of tournaments had grown from less than a dozen in 1984 to more than 150 now with the Japan Golf Tour, Asian Tour, OneAsia Tour, ASEAN Golf Tour and PGA Tour of China among those vying for sponsors and media space.
The continued push into the region of the European Tour, US PGA Tour and LPGA Tour was also discussed while Kerr predicted that the ‘fragmentation of the Asian market will lead to consolidation of the professional Tours’.
Despite the significant impact that Japanese poster boy Ryo Ishikawa has had on raising the profile of the game in his native Japan, Miyazaki highlighted the worrying decline in number of players in the country and spoke of the necessity for sponsors to think ‘outside the box’ to capture the imagination of the public at large.
Other prominent golfing figures also predicted a greater prominence for Asia in the golfing world with IMG’s Guy Kinnings suggesting the next global superstar will come from either China or Korea, while R&A Chief Executive Peter Dawson responded to a call for a Major championship in Asia.
Dawson said: “Clearly, it is illogical that as golf in Asia grows there would be three Majors in America and one in the UK. It is not possible for a golfing body to determine an event in Asia should become a Major, but I have no doubt it will happen in due time.”
Speaking about the international opportunities for the golf business, Giles Morgan, HSBC Global Head of Sponsorship and Events, called for a customer-centric approach to drive increased participation in established and emerging markets.
“Golf needs to take a broader approach, it is not just about the game,” he said. “Golf must be flexible, it must reflect the zeitgeist for inclusion, it must ensure it is sustainable, and it must uphold the traditions of the game but instigate innovation.”
The opportunity for golf to capitalise on its inclusion in the Olympics at Rio 2016 was discussed in a leaders’ question time featuring Antony Scanlon of the International Golf Federation, sports executive Donna Orender, Dawson and Kinnings.
Scanlon said: “Golf at the Olympics has a potential TV audience of 3.4 billion. I don’t think everything will change immediately, but we have an opportunity around the halo effect – three weeks after the Olympics 75% of viewers will have seen a sport they hadn’t seen before.
“I think it is a great opportunity to showcase men and women being equal in golf.”
The R&A’s Wall added: “I can see an Asian player taking the golf medal in Olympic golf in the next 10 years.”
As if further evidence of Asia’s standing in the global game was required, it came during the wrapping up of the conference when Kinnings dropped a strong hint that the 2015 HSBC Golf Business Forum would be heading to Shanghai.