Norman & Sorenstam Attend Golf-Business Forum in Turkey

KPMG's seventh annual Golf Business Forum was held at the Gloria Hotels and Resorts in Belek, Turkey, May 12-14. The event featured Greg Norman and Annika Sorenstam, who were presented with special awards for their service to the sport. More than 250 industry professionals from around the world attended the three-day conference, whose theme was "Developing Networks, Knowledge and New Business."

Norman received KPMG's Lifetime Achievement Award 2010 in recognition for his contribution to golf, while Sorenstam, who has developed a portfolio of successful businesses under her own brand, received the Forum's Entrepreneur of the Year Award.

In a career that has spanned more than 30 years, Norman has won more than 90 tournaments worldwide and become an influential business leader, building his hugely successful Great White Shark Enterprises as chairman and CEO. Addressing the audience, Norman said: "It's been a tough time for the golf business, but things are picking up and credit is being freed up, although it's not like flicking a light switch on.

"Will we ever get back to the halcyon days? It's difficult to say. But the era of unlimited budgets for golf developments, as we experienced in the 1980s and 1990s, are gone. I've told people in countries such as China that we don't want to repeat the mistakes of the past, because that has a lot to do with the situation we are in now."

Norman added: "In the bad times you forge the best relationships and this is why this event is so important. To be given this award is humbling. The golf business is something I'm truly passionate about and to be recognized by a business brand like KPMG is a genuine honor."

Sorenstam's businesses now include ANNIKA Academy, ANNIKA Course Design, ANNIKA Financial Group, an online retail shop, a high-end wine business, a clothing collection and a perfume range.

During a live on-stage interview with CNN Living Golf's Don Riddell, Annika said: "My life has moved on since my playing days, both from a business and personal perspective and I now enjoy golf in a different way, which is equally rewarding and still allows me to give something positive back to the game."

During an opening session discussing the new golf business landscape, an electronic poll of delegates was taken to determine when they expected to see an end to the economic downturn; 44% believed it would be during 2012 or later, 40% said 2011, 11% thought the latter part of this year, and 5% were already seeing signs it was over.

Andrea Sartori, head of KPMG's Golf Advisory Practice in EMA (Europe, Middle East and Africa) said of the survey: "It is our opinion that it will take some time for the golf industry to recover. Many developments have stopped, been delayed or even cancelled due to the global economic crisis and this is being driven by a lack of confidence, liquidity in the market and a change in consumer demand."

This view was reinforced by Giovanni Gregoratti, director of European real estate investment banking at Citigroup, who said: "It has been a tough couple of years for real estate finance, in particular. There has been a massive shockwave where lenders were unable to fund new projects and the equity markets have collapsed. Golf, in particular, has been hit badly and it may take longer than most industries to return to where it was."

Turkey Emerging as Golf Destination

It was Norman's and Sorenstam's first visit to Turkey, and both highlighted the huge potential the region has as an emerging golf destination. Sorenstam revealed her golf course design business is currently working with developers of the Olivion resort in Belek on an 18-hole "family-friendly" layout.

Norman said of the country, "To Turkey I say, good luck. It has made an incredible start as an emerging golf destination."

Sartori added, "It was exciting to have Greg and Annika in Turkey to witness for themselves the huge strides this country is making as an up-and-coming golf destination. Our recently published Golf Benchmark Survey spotlights Turkey as a significant emerging destination and shows how this region is currently bucking the downward trend seen in more traditional golf markets. KPMG's study showed that 85% of golf course owners and operators in Turkey indicated they had not been affected by the global economic situation and 90% have positive expectations for this year."

The success of the Belek golf cluster in southern Turkey shows how much a central government can foster progress. Recently, golf was chosen as a key element in the nation's long-term tourism strategy, aiming to flatten seasonality and to attract an affluent segment of tourists, the international golfing community. The Belek region has already 11 golf resorts and was voted Golf Destination of the Year by IAGTO (International Association of Golf Tour Operators) in 2008. As stated by Ahmet Ašaošlu, President of the Turkish Golf Federation, the ambitious plan is to build altogether 100 courses throughout Turkey by 2014, growing both domestic and international tourism demand.

Continued Slow Progress in Central and Eastern Europe

Although the CEE region is still considered an emerging region with huge development potential for golf projects, the development of the sector proved to be significantly slower than expected.

"Far too often we see a lack of knowledge on the complexity of golf development projects from planning through construction to operation, and a lack of understanding that having solid financial background in all those phases is a must. In addition, in some countries property taxation, in others the red tape of bureaucracy or overly strict environmental requirements hinders progress," Sartori commented.

In addition, golf is still regarded as the sport of the elite in most of CEE. This is a fundamental obstacle that makes local people reluctant to join in the game and governments to support golf developments.

"Five years ago, Hungary was predicted to have approximately 25 operating golf courses and 12,000 registered golfers by 2013," Sartori said. "The country is far from that - there are eight courses and some 2,000 registered players today, displaying very little progress in the past five years. All that is mainly due to the lack of strategy to include golf in national tourism development plans or to help local demand grow by building affordable courses."

Nevertheless, there are promising signs, too. New courses around Lake Balaton have proven that a well-designed combination of golf, "sun and water" and gastronomy can be a winning set of attractions. Also, Hungary has a huge potential to include the spa, health, wellness and wine elements in that combination.

"Knowing who you are targeting is key: focusing on golf tourism is sensible and feasible around Lake Balaton and Budapest, where both air accessibility and supplementing attractions are available, while in other parts of the country, developers should target mainly local residents with a different product, affordable and playable courses, thus helping local demand grow. Involving the whole family in the game can also raise its popularity significantly - this latter being a topical universal challenge for the game today," Sartori explained.

Some countries in the CEE region provide source for optimism too. In sunny Bulgaria, golf was made part of the country's tourism strategy, with the government providing preferential regulations to acquire land and easing on the administrative burden, mainly hoping that developments will offer more jobs and polish worsening unemployment statistics.

"As a result, there are eight golf courses in operation today, including signature courses designed by Nicklaus, Player, Harradine, McGinley and Woosnam. The facilities are around the capital Sofia and on the Black sea coast and provide second homes mainly for foreigners," explained Kiril Nedev, founder and owner of Golf Club Ibar near Sofia, the first Nicklaus design golf course in South-Eastern Europe.

Estonia provides an alternative example of success. With a climate unlikely to attract golf tourists, developments target local communities. Seven affordable courses have been built in recent years, resulting in a boost in demand and penetration, and the number of registered players has grown to about 1,500, almost as many registered golfers as in Hungary, which has a population of nearly seven times higher.

Poland is also in the forefront of progress in the region, with its 34 clubs, including 13 18-hole courses, several nine-holers, and also some stand-alone driving ranges. The latter ones are key in helping penetration grow; according to the Polish Golf Union the number of golfers has risen to 9,000 in the past years.

"All these elements create very attractive market prospects for the future of golf in Poland. Right now there are three ongoing projects, and we see many investors considering new developments, therefore some further projects are expected to be completed within the coming years," Maciej Kawecki, president of Warsaw-based commented.

The Czech Republic, where golf was not banned in the communist era, displays a unique success story in the region. Both demand and supply are far above the regional average with approximately 80 courses attracting some 35,000 local players.

Sartori summed up the 2010 Golf Business Forum: "The global golf industry clearly has many challenges and this year's Golf Business Forum has been an incredible opportunity for over 250 industry professionals to network and share business opportunities and best practice."

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