Last week’s three-day Asia Pacific Golf Summit, the fourth in the series but the first to be held in Bangkok, was hailed as the region’s most important gathering of decision makers in the golf industry.
“This year’s Summit was totally different in its mission in that it was designed to identify some of the most pressing challenges faced by the golf industry in Asia and to seek out solutions, both short term and long term,” explained Mike Sebastian, chief executive officer of the Asia Pacific Golf Group, the organizer and owner of the Summit.
More than 50 world class speakers and panellists addressed a wide-range of topics which included the future direction of golf in Asia, the promotion of junior golf and the importance of keeping golf relevant in these rapidly changing times.
Some of the game’s biggest legends were on hand at the Summit and these included Gary Player, Greg Norman and Annika Sorenstam.
The keynote address was delivered by Hud Hinton, president and chief executive officer of Troon Golf, widely reputed as the top name in golf club management. Hinton, head of one of the game’s most powerful organisations, warned that golf was facing tough times.
“The game is too expensive to play, too difficult to play, too expensive to operate – and the pace of play is too slow,” said Hinton, who set the tone with his keynote address entitled Getting from ‘Here’ to ‘There’: Building a Culture of Alignment and Accountability.
In these difficult economic times, Hinton said it was essential for the golf industry to pull together and work to get through the problems it is facing.
Gary Player, in an impassioned speech talked about the need to focus on junior golf development. “Not enough is being done to get our young to play golf and if we do not do something radical now, the game will suffer going forward.” Player also took a strong stand on the development of the golf ball. “Something needs to be done about the golf ball – it is just going too far and I urge the USGA and the R&A to do something quickly before these new balls make today’s golf courses obsolete.”
Greg Norman led the call for a paradigm shift in the mindset of the golfing industry. Echoing the sentiments of many of his fellow high-profile speakers and panelists, Australia’s Great White Shark delivered a timely dose of reality, saying the game needs to broaden its horizons and become more inclusive.
Himself a strong advocate of junior golf, Norman said: “We have to get more players into the game and be increasingly creative in the ways to attract them. Golf has to become more accessible and affordable. It has to open up.”
One of the most active golf course architects in the region with on-going projects in China and Vietnam, Norman said there was a need to ‘think outside the box’ when it comes to golfing facilities.
He cited a 12-hole course he has designed in South America as a potential model for Asia. “There’s nothing to say that a golf course has to be 18 holes. Why shouldn’t 12 holes courses be successful in Asia?” said Norman, adding that such facilities would encourage more people to participate and would also take up less time to play.
Norman’s concerns about the lack of newcomers entering the game were also voiced by women’s great Annika Sorenstam and Erik Larsen, president of the American Society of Golf Course Architects.
In his welcome address, Pornsit Sriorathaikul, the Summit’s patron and president of the Thailand Golf Course Association, hailed the staging of the three-day gathering and said, “This is an event of true global proportions and it augurs well for Thailand as it strives to become the golf hub of Asia.”
Delivering a Ministerial address on the opening day, Chumpol Silapa-Archa, Thailand’s Minister of Tourism and Sports, said: “We are delighted that Thailand is the home to these important events. As well as having more than 270 courses we believe Thailand is the ideal place for overseas companies to come to grow their businesses in Asia.”
The 2011 Asia Pacific Golf Summit will be staged in Bangkok from 17-20 October.
Asia Pacific Golf Summit www.golfconference.org