With representation from five continents, the first ‘Business of Golf’ Conference organised by the Golf Consultants Association (GCA) was a truly international event. Held at the St Andrews Bay Hotel from 11th to 13th October the programme attracted delegates from nineteen countries, ranging from newly developing golf markets in Eastern Europe and South America to the more established markets of the UK and the United States.
Members of the GCA include specialists who will assist both a new development to establish its market position and its business plan and also an existing operation which wishes to improve sales and profitability. The Conference gave several members an opportunity to demonstrate their professional knowledge and to pass on some highly valuable commercial intelligence, unfortunately too much to include in what must of necessity be a selective report.
Stephen Proctor, managing director of Sports Marketing Surveys, got the conference off to a very positive start. He pointed out the unique characteristics of the game that have established its long-term popularity and will continue to do so. “It appeals to both sexes, all ages and people with widely different abilities. The handicapping system ensures that players of different standards can still enjoy a meaningful contest. The game has undisputed benefits for good health and can be played in an infinite variety of locations.”
He estimated that the growth in the number of European golfers over the past 15 years or so has been of the order of 5-7% per year. “If that rate of growth continues for the next 15-20 years,” he said, “It will mean that around 5,000 new courses will be required. The amazing thing is, even then, Europe will still have a golf participation level that is below that which exists in the United States now. The USA has about 16,000 courses for a population of 296 million people and Europe then would have around 12,000 courses for a population of around 580 million.”
Mike Shields, chairman of the Golf Consultants Association, talked about the importance of market positioning and his comments were given added emphasis in an excellent presentation from Roger Pride, the director of marketing for the Wales Tourist Board, who explained how his organisation is trying to attract more golfers to visit Wales where golf is ‘as it should be’ – a marketing campaign through which Wales, as the ‘challenger brand’, competes with the rival attractions of Scotland and Ireland.
The conference programme gave delegates ample opportunities to ask questions both in public and in private and the networking away from the formal conference sessions proved fertile ground – providing at least one delegate with the opportunity of a quiet word with a senior manager from a major bank while others were able to discuss their ideas with golf course architects and builders.
Most delegates rated the event as ‘successful’ or ‘very successful’ and said that their expectations had been fully satisfied. The only point of disagreement seemed to be over where the event should be held in 2006, with delegates from Morocco, South Korea and Wales all making a bid to act as the host country.
The presentations followed a logical pattern. The first full day was devoted to feasibility study, the role of market research, the importance of identifying the correct market position, course design and construction, and types and sources of funding including the opportunities for all types of property investment that, through good master planning, can benefit from an association with golf and vice versa. Particularly enlightening were the comments from Russell Bragg and Graeme Grant, both of Premier Resorts, a GCA member company which is involved in the sales and marketing of several quality leisure development projects around the world.
Guest speaker at the conference dinner was Peter McEvoy, the chairman of selectors for the GB & I Walker Cup team, and head of Sporting Concepts, an organisation whose activities include golf course design and development.
On day two attention turned to operations with marketing and management coming under scrutiny. The marketing expertise came from GCA member Andy Hiseman and Peter Walton, chief executive of the International Association of Golf Tour Operators (IAGTO), who were joined by Golf Foundation director Mike Round and David Piggins, the chief executive of Playgolf. They were followed by Ian Bulleid and Jonathan Barker who gave a detailed and fascinating account of the design and development of the clubhouse at Surrey Downs Golf Club.
The Conference was supported by UK Trade & Industry, Scottish Development International and Welsh Trade International all of whom should be pleased that their investment has shown such a positive and early return.
Mike Shields said, “We had a large turnout, an excellent mix of delegates and two days of well informed debate. So we were delighted with how our first Business Of Golf Conference went, and we have received several invitations from countries keen to host future Conferences. We will shortly announce a venue and an Agenda for the 2006 event, which we expect to be bigger and even better.”
Golf Consultants Association www.golfconsultants.org