Golf in the Developing World

We’re real lucky here in the US. Golf is a game that virtually any one can enjoy no matter what state they live in. According to the National Golf Foundation, in 2009 there were 9,132 daily fee facilities (i.e. privately owned but provide public access) and 2,449 municipal facilities (i.e. owned by a tax-supported entity and open to the public). That’s not even counting the 4,398 private facilities that restrict play to members and their guests; even if you’re not wealthier, there is still plenty of access to the sport. When Ol’ Scratch here started playin’, there was just 1 course and it was Neanderthal-only. We might forget then that people in other countries can’t just spend an afternoon on the links as easily as us. But there are people tryin’ to change that…

Around the world, golf courses are springing up in unusual location. In Morocco alone, thirteen courses are being built in in its major cities over the next 3 years. Investors from the Europe, American, and the Persian Gulf are looking to profit from its growing tourism sector even as the Eurozone declines. However, as Brent Ruth points out, “In the developing world… golf remains a hobby for tourists and the local bourgeois.” A quick internet search will bring up many of these increasingly exotic and expensive hotels. There is an obvious economic advantage to courting these tourists. In the US, a Professional Golfers’ Association (PGA) Championship can bring the host community between $40-80 million. There’s a missing link here if you haven’t caught it. What developing golfers within these countries?

Unless there is equal access to golf facilities, a local golf community can’t develop. Ruth puts it this way,

“It is clear that the golf industry can provide significant benefits for a country’s economy. The U.S. saw a boom once it popularized the sport for the  masses and made it accessible to people from the middle and lower class. For countries looking for an economic boost, particularly in terms of job creation, golf seems to be a good option. The problem is that golf is available at expensive venues but remains out of reach for ordinary citizens.”

This is developing much more slowly than the expensive course. The World Golf Foundation works to track and develop the sport around the world. Locals are also doing this on their own. In Nigeria, the government has pledged $200 million to develop a golf complex that will help boost economic growth. Nigerians are also looking to organize the Nigerian Golf Federation and strengthen the PGA of Nigeria. They want to attract golf professionals to the country in order to teach youth golf and grow the sport across the country. In the Mumbai, weekly “Slumdog Golf Tournaments” are played through and even on the roofs of the slums. The players use plastic ping pong balls and clubs made of bent metal rods to play for the tournament’s purse of $5. It might not seem like much to us, but that $5 can feed a family of five for a week.

So what should we Rockheads take away from this? Well, it’s incredibly positive that this sport is spreading around the globe. However, it’s still very difficult for many to access. I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait until Disney changes its famous ride to “It’s a Golfing World.”


Check out this amazing mini-documentary about Mumbai Slum Golf from ESPN

Mumbai Golf from Evolve Digital Cinema / IMG on Vimeo.


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