Wednesday, March 7, 2012

talking points Asia: The Uncertainty Continues

The top execs of Asian Golf Business aren’t convinced that China and other Asian nations will continue to serve as the golf industry’s gravy train.

“Most everyone is flying by the seat of their pants and holding on for dear life in the hope that Asia will be the savior of the game,” writes the magazine’s publisher in the current issue. “We think this is one big pipe dream!”

I’m not sure why Mike Sebastian ended that last sentence with a screamer. Maybe he’s trying to suggest that his disagreement with prevailing sentiments is a happy one. Or maybe he’s simply opposed to the dour finality of a period.

Be that as it may, the magazine and its associated trade show have a vested interest in golf development in their part of the world. So when you hear one of them acknowledging a slowdown, it may be time to look carefully at other potential markets.

Here’s more of what the publisher had to say about the future of golf in Asia:

Japan, by far the most mature golf market, is lethargic, to say the least. South Korea seems to be following the Japanese trend of decline. China -- who knows? There seems to be a halt to the once-frenetic pace of golf course development in the middle kingdom as the industry awaits a definitive “white paper” decision from Beijing. Your guess is as good as ours!

As we wait, China’s once-booming property market is going frigid, and this will definitely impact the future of golf course development, because most projects are property driven. While all this negativism sweeps China, the China Golf Association is reported to have put out a bold claim that by 2020 the nation will boast more than 2,500 golf courses and a playing population of 30 million golfers. Hey, where is this growth going to come from?

The magazine also took the opportunity to bring up one of its favorite subjects, the need to grow the game in Asia. Philosophically speaking, I’m on board with this initiative. But attitudes about how to spark growth may be changing at Asian Golf Business. It appears that the magazine’s chief executives have grown weary of proposals offered by golf associations. They seem eager to ditch the conventional ideas and hitch up with the no-holds-barred mentality promoted by club makers and other equipment manufacturers -- the corporate sugar daddies that just happen to fill the magazine with ads.

Here’s a taste of the magazine’s new imperative:

Forget all the grow-the-game initiatives that the powers that be keep making reference to. Get down to brass tacks -- follow the example that equipment manufacturers are taking to change and introduce new technologies that make the game more fun to play. Throw out the growth-shackling rules that govern the game for club players and amateurs -- keep the rules for the professionals. Speed up the game. Reduce participation costs. Just make it bloody simple and FUN to play.

You know, that last sentence could use an exclamation point.