Golf Development Is Booming Outside the U.S.

Though a slumping economy has stalled construction in the U.S., golf development is flourishing in many parts of the world, in destinations as diverse as Dubai, Moscow, China and the Dominican Republic.

In fact, it could be argued that development, more than any other catalyst, is driving the growth of the game in these emerging markets where new wealth and golf's affluent appeal intersect. But it's important to note that nurturing grass-roots participation often is a byproduct of other motives: selling real estate and fostering tourism.

Developers are doing more than just altering the physical landscape of international golf. In some cases, they're even shaping the future of professional tours overseas, creating a hierarchy among them and influencing when and where tournaments will be played. And in an ever-shrinking world, that trend ultimately will determine where the world's top golfers - and sponsors - will go.

China's Mission Hills Golf Club - at first regarded as little more than a novelty by Western golf aficionados, the massive resort north of Hong Kong continues to expand and enhance its global profile.

Initially, Mission Hills marketed itself as the largest golf club in the world, with 180 holes. Today, it still holds that honor, adding two more layouts for 12 courses at a single compound. ("Our members were getting bored with only 10," says Tenniel Chu, the resort's executive director.)

Last November it began a 12-year deal to host the Omega Mission Hills World Cup through 2018.

"Let me be very frank: If holding tournaments was for the profit making, we wouldn't break even, not even close," Chu says. "At the beginning, we underwrote it all just to make the (World Cup) deal happen. The prize money alone was $5 million last year. This is truly to raise awareness of the game in China. If you grow the pie, we will all win at the end of the day."

Mission Hills' investment already is paying off. In its early days, the resort relied almost exclusively on golf tourists from Hong Kong. Now, 40 percent of rounds come from domestic play, another 40 percent from Hong Kong and 20 percent from international guests.

"When we first started, there were less than 10,000 golfers in all of China, so it was a very scary proposition to build a golf club," Chu says. "But we wanted to create a platform to complement the economic boom of China. Mission Hills was made to do business networking, inviting expatriates and foreigners to invest and have confidence in the new China."

The significance of that mission finally might be dawning, especially with the Beijing Summer Olympics providing a global audience a close-up of China's economic might.

If you take in the staggering statistics about China, and there are people who will say the same thing about India - if you ignore these markets, you do so at your own peril.

This article originally appeared in Asian Golf Business