Over 300 delegates from 45 countries came together for KPMG’s eighth annual Golf Business Forum, at the Dubai Creek Golf and Yacht Club, Dubai, UAE, April 17-19, to be a part of the industry’s biggest networking event of the year.
In the company of His Highness Sheikh Ahmed Bin Saeed Al Maktoum, CEO and Chairman of The Emirates Group and Chairman of Dubai World, delegates from across the globe, including influential real estate developers from India, Morocco and China, discussed new business opportunities and shared best practice on key issues currently affecting the world of golf.
In addition to lively debates and insightful Q&A panel sessions, one of the highlights of the three-day conference was an on-stage interview with Colin Montgomerie, the victorious 2010 Ryder Cup captain.
During the interview with CNN’s Don Riddell, Montgomerie offered fascinating insights into his glittering career, re-living Europe’s famous victory at Celtic Manor, Wales, and also suggested why he believes the Middle East could be a potential Ryder Cup host in years to come.
Montgomerie said: “The UAE has been a fantastic supporter of The European Tour and it is absolutely superb that the end of season world championship event is now held in Dubai. In the many years I’ve been visiting the region, I’ve witnessed incredible growth, the pace of which has been quite staggering.
“The region is now strategically very important to the growth of the European Tour, and I see absolutely no reason at all why an event such as The Ryder Cup could not be held here in the future.”
Andrea Sartori, head of KPMG’s Golf Advisory Practice in EMA (Europe, Middle East and Africa), added: “Colin’s attendance, alongside that of George O’Grady, Chief Executive of The European Tour, underlines the importance of the annual KPMG Golf Business Forum to decision-makers in the global game.
“This year’s three-day event in Dubai was outstanding, our best yet, and it brought together some of the most influential people in world golf to discuss many issues currently influencing the growth of the game. It was heartening to hear that so many business leaders are now seeing positive signs of growth in what has been a period of sustained economic uncertainty.”
Following in the footsteps of the game’s great ambassadors, including Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Gary Player and Greg Norman, this year’s KPMG Lifetime Achievement Award was given to Dr David Chu, one of the driving forces behind the growth of the game in China.
This special award, accepted by his son, Tenniel, highlights how Dr Chu, Chairman of Mission Hills Group and Mission Hills Golf Club in China, has been at the forefront of exploring new horizons for the game and popularising golf in his homeland.
“Dr Chu is a true global ambassador of golf. He was the one who brought the Chinese golf industry to the world. Giving our highest honour to Dr Chu is our tribute to his vision and contribution to China golf,” added Andrea Sartori.
The European Tour has been a strong and committed partner of Dubai since the first Dubai Desert Classic was staged at the Emirates Golf Club in 1989. This visionary move heralded the birth of a most significant stage in The European Tour’s development and the global expansion of world golf, and also showcased Dubai and the region as a business, tourist and leisure destination.
In his keynote speech to delegates, Mr O’Grady commented: “In 1989, few believed a golf course could be constructed and maintained in the desert, but history has proved them wrong. The standards firstly at the Emirates Golf Club, and then at all the other courses subsequently built, have always been excellent. Dubai immediately became known around the world for golf – through golf.
“The economic growth in Dubai since 1989 has been staggering, matched in a golfing sense by the growth of the European Tour. Although the Tour had held events in Tunisia, this was our first significant venture outside mainland Europe. This venture in Dubai was the catalyst for change – to what we have today: 50 events in 29 destinations.
“The region has been, and will continue to be, a stronghold for The European Tour. The early season ‘desert swing’ has become the focus of the golfing world.”
During a captivating opening session, key stakeholders in Middle East golf discussed the current marketplace and the steps necessary to grow the game.
Chris May, General Manager of Dubai Golf, which owns and operates Emirates Golf Club and Dubai Creek Golf and Yacht Club, commented: “Due to the current economic climate, every golf course has had to look at its cost base and work more efficiently. In saying that, our last three or four months have been extremely positive with a 50% growth year-on-year, driven from all areas, including food and beverage sales and an increase in local participation.”
In addition, Peter Harradine, Principal and Senior Architect at Harradine Golf, gave the Forum a reminder of the impact the economic downturn had on his business, but went on to raise hopes for growth: “Before the crash we had 47 projects on our books across the world. In two months we lost 20 of them, and for two years we received no further inquiries.
“But, as a positive sign, in the last 12 months we have had 20 new inquiries for golf facilities, seven of which have led to new jobs.”
The Golf Business Forum heard renewed optimism from a number of speakers and panellists who reported seeing signs of improvement in their businesses over the past 12 months after a period when prudent cost-base management has been vital.
Bill Brown, Vice President for International Business at Toro, said: “Customers around the world are a lot more demanding now. The economic crisis has made us focus more on returns but there is an opportunity for innovation to solve many of the problems we currently face.”
David MacLaren, Director of Property and Venue Development for The European Tour, added: “Golf’s challenge is to manage what we need to do in the short term without jeopardising our position for long-term growth. We have got to make the game of golf adapt to the way people live their lives. Golf has to be open-minded about change and sort itself out at grassroots level.”
Andrea Sartori, head of KPMG’s Golf Advisory Practice in EMA, commented: “In the short term we have noted a more positive feeling and sentiment about the economy. Over the last six months there has certainly been a marked increase in the demand for additional services from the global golf industry.
“Projects are re-starting and speeding up, but there is still a lack of urgency from banks towards financing projects. The moment we see a renewed interest from financial establishments, the golf development landscape will improve even faster.
“In south-east Europe, in particular, we are seeing some big opportunities for growth. Cyprus, Turkey, Greece and Italy all offer huge opportunities for developers to reach new audiences in developing markets.”
KPMG Golf Business Forum www.golfbusinessforum.com