Golf tourism on rise in Ireland
The American love of golf has created a new form of Irish business
If all their birthdays have come together it has taken quite a while for clubs in Ireland to grasp that potential. There was never a shortage of courses as such, agrees Bórd Fáilte spokesman John Brown. But one of the problems was that 99 percent of the clubs were run by their own members and obviously member-run clubs weren't so open to the idea of tourists.
To their credit however, administrators of the game got together to review the situation and sort out a cohesive marketing plan. They saw how they could accommodate visitors by
opening off-peak playing hours to non-members. The income from green tees would defray running costs and visitors got to play. Whether the move was prompted by goodwill or business acumen it has certainly paid off. In a game notoriously unforgiving on close calls, it was a win-win situation.
Local clubs set up regional associations to promote their interests abroad. It was Denis Brosnan's idea modeled on the way the Kerry Group was formed, explains Paddy O'Looney, chief-executive of Southwest Ireland Golf Ltd. (SWING). When he brought the milk co-ops in Kerry under one umbrella they became a force to be reckoned with. He applied the same principle to golf tourism.
SWING was formed in 1988, incorporating nine clubs Lahinch, Ballybunion, Waterville, Dromoland, Dooks, Killarney, Shannon, Tralee and Dingle and pooling resources to cultivate a growing overseas market. Clubs around the country formed similar marketing groups such as West Coast Links, IGTOA, Green Isle Golf, Shannon Golf Partnership and others to make their own pitch for business in an increasingly competitive and profitable arena.
But there was no point luring tourists if facilities weren't here for them. At national level Bórd Fáilte's Operational Program for Tourism (1989) provided £9 million in funds to develop new pay-and-play' clubs as well as encourage established clubs to open up for tourists. A second tranche (1994-99) completed the agency's structural development of golf tourism.