Tourism helps Spanish courses offset declining player base

An increase in golf tourism in Spain combined with the country’s enhanced grow the game efforts have helped to balance out the declining number of players in the country, according to a new report from KPMG.

Since 2010, the Royal Spanish Golf Federation has lost 18 percent of its players, according to the Spain Country Snapshot report published by KPMG’s Golf Advisory Practice. There are now 270,463 registered golfers, with an average golf participation rate of 0.58 percent, compared to 0.92 percent for Europe overall.

During that seven-year period, the country has seen a net increase of just four golf facilities, for a total of 349 in 2017. Previously, the demand by the number of golfers exceeded the number of courses. 

Sixty-three percent of Spanish golf clubs consist of 18-hole courses, while 24 percent are nine-hole clubs. Another 13 percent are 27-hole clubs or larger.

In response to the declining number of players and the closing of some facilities during the global economic downturn, Spain is focused on drawing more juniors into the sport. There are now more than 34,000 registered junior players, making the country among the top five in Europe for juniors. Women account for 24 percent of registered golfers. 

Golf is taught in some schools and junior leagues, while golf instructors are also introducing new educational programs, according to the report. 

All local federations support the Golf in Schools program, said Gonzaga Escauriaza, president of the Royal Spanish Golf Federation.

“On the one hand, all children can discover the game at school in physical education classes, as a regulated subject,” he said. “The second objective is that children, who want to take their golf a step further, can sign up for free introductory courses.”

While Spain has been a top golf tourism destination for years, there is room for more growth. Eighty million tourists visited Spain in 2017, said Vicente Rubio, president of Finca Cortesin Hotel, Golf & Spa, and that number is had been growing steadily for four or five years. 

“The local golf industry has lost a number of players affiliated to the Spanish Golf Federation over the last eight or nine years,” he said. “On the other side of things, though, tourism is growing across the whole of Spain. …  Golf is a key part of tourism here and continues to attract large numbers of overseas visitors but, from our point of view, it’s important that we differentiate from other golf markets and continue to offer a luxury golf experience that is exclusive to the area.”

Finca Cortesin is located in Costa del Sol, one of the biggest golf clusters in Europe with 69 total golf courses. It’s dubbed Costa del Golf (Golf Coast). 

The country’s top three tourism markets are England, France and Germany. 

In addition to those countries, Lynn Mitchell, business development director for Costa del Sol, said recent promotions targeted Scandinavia, Ireland, Belgium, the Netherlands and Switzerland, along with high-end clients from the United States and the Middle East. 

Additionally, there is an effort to better reach women, who exercise significant decision-making power in terms of family travel. 

“When we refer to aiming at female golf, we would be aiming at presenting the destination with all the attributes which have special importance for the female golfer,” Mitchell said. “For example we have an exceptional range of wellness amenities, spa centers and shopping facilities. These factors have a great influence on the holiday experience and are just as significant as golf. This can also be said of gastronomy, wines and the cultural environment.”

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