Golf tourism is an important sector in the tourism industry, especially for the luxury tourism segment. This type of tourism is extremely attractive to the elite and high-class customers. The investment and development of golf tourism also bring positive impacts not only for the economy but also for the environment.
Golf is both a sport and an exciting leisure activity. It has been strongly boosted due to its inclusion in the Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games in 2016, or recently the Olympics Game in Japan in 2021. Golf and tourism are closely related, so their combination constitutes one of the most critical sectors for the tourism industry.
According to the MDPI publisher, the popularity of golf and the motivation of trips related to this sport have increased among tourists. Furthermore, golf courses have become an attraction for a tourist destination. Golf tourists often have higher average spending than other tourists. In addition, it’s quite easy for golf courses to attract tourism investment, improve employment and regional competitiveness, and compensate for the seasonality of traditional tourism. Consequently, the authorities of many regions show great interest in incorporating golf into their tourism development plans, including Vietnam.
Golf tourism to economy and environment
According to the book named “Golf Tourism” by Louise Hudson and Simon Hudson published in 2009, golf represents the largest sports-related travel market. Golf tourism has been valued at some 20 billion USD with over 50 million golf tourists travelling the world to play on some of the estimated 32,000 courses.
Golf tourism has no longer been a new or strange type of tourism, especially in developed countries like the US or European countries. The We Are Golf organization stated that since its emergence as a major spectator sport in the 1920s, golf has provided recreational opportunities and enjoyment for millions. Golf is also a major U.S. industry generating jobs, commerce and economic development. According to We Are Golf’s report in 2016, golf is a 84 billion USD industry and impacts nearly two million jobs. Particularly in golf tourism, the US is home to half of the world’s golf courses and offers visitors year-round opportunities to play, which generated 28.5 billion USD of tourism spending in 2016.
Golf is a nature-oriented and nature-based sport. Simultaneously, the construction of a golf course can utilize non-agricultural land and fallow land, contributing to the natural landscape beauty. Being a large grassland, golf courses are often considered green infrastructure. Lawns can help reduce topsoil erosion, keep and filter rainwater, lower temperatures, etc.
It is known that more than 70% of the area of most golf courses is rough hills, natural grass, trees and bushes. Pesticides and fertilizers are only used on a certain part. To support golf courses in sustainable development, the United States Golf Association (USGA) and Audubon Association have teamed up to build the “Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary” program. This is a curriculum that aims to enhance wildlife in and around the golf course, as well as protecting native flora and fauna.
However, many have argued that the opening of golf courses can affect agricultural land and food security. Watering the lawn consumes an extremely large amount of water or chemical spraying for the lawn may also badly affect the environment and people living around the area. Therefore, golf course investors need to be careful in balancing environmental protection and economic benefits.
The potential of Asian countries
Besides the development in the US and European countries, some Asian nations also stand out with golf tourism, for instance Thailand, which has long been considered “Asia’s golf capital”. From January to May 2015, the number of golf tourists to Thailand was 12.4 million in total, up 25 percent on the same period in 2014. They generated 592.9 billion Baht in tourism income. In order to develop golf tourism, a destination needs to prepare a lot from the course, location, equipment to promotional campaigns, additional services, etc.
Golf course design: A challenging and quality playground will often create a feeling of conquering more for players. As a result, their victory will also become a lot sweeter. Currently, destinations have also increased investment in professional 18-hole golf courses, based on international standards.
Full service from A to Z: Many hotels and resorts have offered golf service, so their guests can play golf and enjoy more facilities such as accommodation, dining, spa, relaxing massage or health treatment after each golf match. People’s demands are increasing day by day and meeting many needs at the same time will bring customers complete experience.
Flexible response: In uncertain times, flexible improvisation is very essential. In the new normal, playgrounds also need to be focused on safety to ensure the mental and health of players. For example, in February this year, the Thai government launched a “golf quarantine” program to boost its tourism sector during the pandemic. Accordingly, visitors have two weeks to relax and play golf at a luxury and isolated resort with a good price.
In addition, available factors such as favorable terrain and weather conditions or the friendliness and hospitality of local people also contribute to a great experience in the hearts of golf tourists.
Vietnam is also aiming to develop golf tourism in the coming period. Lately, the Vietnam National Administration of Tourism, the People’s Committee of Quang Ninh Province and FLC Group jointly held a seminar on “Golf tourism – a new advantage for Vietnam to attract international tourists”, evaluating the country’s potential for developing this type of tourism.
In 2019, Vietnam was honored as “Asia’s Best Golf Destination” for the third time in a row at World Golf Awards (WGA). Passing 7 countries nominated, Vietnam received the title of “World’s Best Golf Destination” for the first time in 2019. Vietnam now has around 100,000 golfers and about 100 golf courses. It has a favorable geographical position, long-standing culture, friendly people, diverse cuisine and increasingly modern upgraded infrastructure.
It is likely that in the near future, when it comes to golf tourism, people will not only remember the mighty countries in Europe or America but also see the clear imprints of Asian countries. Along with great economic potential, countries and investors also need to pay attention to environmental impacts when building golf courses. From choosing a location, planning to taking care of the golf course, all need to be carefully discussed to avoid economic benefits but environmental harm.