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The Global Life: Australia: Golf’s New Frontiers

3 minute read
Jeremy Caplan

Tasmania has long been known for its beaches, not its golf. But having opened on the island’s northern coast last December, Barnbougle Dunes is already considered one of Australia’s top courses, drawing planeloads of new travelers to its sandy hills. As international developers look farther and farther afield at exotic settings for new world-class sites, Tasmania is one of the surprising places attracting growing interest from golfers worldwide. “Ten years ago, the concept of Barnbougle Dunes would have been laughed at,” says Tom Doak, its designer, “because there had never been a course in a remote location that was financially successful.”

But with top courses taking shape in unusual spots, from Africa to the Caribbean, the trend is catching on. Last year courses outside of North America were opening at a rate of more than one a day, on average, ranging in construction cost from Barnbougle’s bargain $2 million to luxurious $50 million projects in places like Barbados. “There’s a great demand from golfers looking for new and interesting courses around the world,” says Bill Hogan, president of Wide World of Golf (WWG), a purveyor of luxury golf trips. “They’ve done Scotland and Ireland, and now they want something new, so they’re reaching out to places like China, Sweden and Australia.”

Sparked by the increasing popularity of golf travel, WWG has been averaging a 17% growth rate for several years. At prices ranging from $1,000 for a weekend at Pebble Beach to $40,000 for a country-hopping golf extravaganza, 500 groups traveled on the company’s exotic tours in 2004–double the number of those taking such trips in 1999.

Last year players flew off to places like Kruger National Park, home to Leopard Creek, one of South Africa’s top courses. There they played amid giraffes and rhinos, with colorful birds overhead. The Middle East is another hot spot for luxury locales, especially in places like Dubai. “They realize their oil is going to run out and they need something to fall back on,” says Hogan, “So they’ve gotten serious about building golf resorts.”

In addition to the new exotic golf tourism, increasing affluence in countries like China and South Korea is fueling a golf-course boom. Although construction is slowing in the U.S., in China’s Guangdong province alone, there are now 60 golf courses. The country’s first professional golf tour was launched this month. The China Golf Association will have four tour events, each with $100,000 in prizes. On Cheju Island, off the tip of the South Korean mainland, 40 new courses are set to open by 2010 as a result of golf’s exploding local popularity. In several cities in Russia, where golf was rarely played until recently, construction is picking up too. “It’s not just about the golf,” says PGA pro David Frost, who has played on many of the newest courses around the world. “To attract travelers these days, golf courses have to offer an extra feature. Spain has the Riviera and the nightlife, Hawaii the swimming, Africa the safaris.”

But it’s the sight of acres of land naturally contoured, unobstructed by sport shops, that inspires the new intrepid golf tourists to lug their clubs across oceans. “You can’t make something spectacular like that with a bulldozer,” says Mike Lardner, a WWG co-president. “These are the kinds of courses that are basically designed by God.”

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