Boosting golf and tourism

THOUGH Slovakia cannot yet be considered a major international golf destination, it is already home to several outstanding courses which host top global golf events. More plans to expand Slovakia’s golfing opportunities for visitors and locals are in the pipeline.

THOUGH Slovakia cannot yet be considered a major international golf destination, it is already home to several outstanding courses which host top global golf events. More plans to expand Slovakia’s golfing opportunities for visitors and locals are in the pipeline.

“We have added a third thing to skiing and summer hikes in the Tatras,” Sylvia Hrušková, director general of Golf International operating the Black Stork golf resort in Veľká Lomnica, below the High Tatras, told the Hospodárke Noviny daily in April 2014. “Thus, hotels can offer tourists another attraction and we get players from them.”

According to Hrušková, golf is slowly taking root in Slovakia and is proving to have a broad appeal, noting that the number of golf players in Slovakia exceeds the number of ice-hockey players.

“Juniors in Slovakia, with respect to their performance, are comparable with [those] abroad,”
Hrušková told The Slovak Spectator. “The number of nine or more-hole golf courses in Slovakia has increased, and this has increased its [golf’s] accessibility.”

Tomáš Stoklasa, vice-president of the Slovak Golf Association (SKGA), highlighted for The Slovak Spectator that apart from the increasing number of golf courses and players, Slovakia has also managed to organise significant international tournaments for the European Golf Association (EGA) for seniors, mid-amateurs, girls and boys, as well as professional tournaments of the Ladies European Tour (LET). This event took place at one of the best golf courses in Slovakia, Gray Bear in Tále. This year the Penati Golf Resort in Šajdíkove Humence will host the Challenge Tour.

“Tournaments make Slovakia more visible on the world golf map and introduce golf resorts, as well as Slovakia, to golf players abroad, and to the general public,” Stoklasa said, adding that, for example, the Allianz Ladies Slovak Open presented by Respect, which was part of the Ladies European Tour, was broadcast on TV in more than 50 countries.

Hrušková also highlighted the results of Slovak golf players on international golf fields, like Zuzana Kamasová’s 2011 victory in Morocco, the first ever win for a woman from central and eastern Europe on the LET, as well as the victories of Natália Hečková at the Faldo Series and the successes of Peter Valášek, Ján Friesz and Jakub Hrinda.

But for now, according to Stoklasa, Slovakia is more of a destination for local golf players, even though the association is making efforts to increase the number of golf courses in Slovakia and to better promote the country as a golf destination for visitors from abroad. Toward that end, it has started working with the Slovak Tourist Board (SACR).

“Golf tourism undoubtedly brings benefits to the sector of hotels, gastronomy and tourism, and thus we believe that we will manage to get business entities from these sectors more involved in promoting golf more intensively than in the past,” said Stoklasa.

There are 20 golf courses in Slovakia, while all of them are accessible to non-members of golf clubs, and nine are public golf courses.

“The number of golf courses is linked to the number of golf players, to a large extent,” said Stoklasa, adding that while they are also trying to win new golf players, the fact is that many golf countries have been struggling with a decline in the number of golf players in recent years.

In spite of this, the proportional number of golf players in Slovakia is lower than in neighbouring countries. According to Stoklasa, Slovakia, with its population of 5.5 million, has 7,500 registered golf players and 20 golf courses, compared with the Czech Republic, with its population of 10.5 million, which has 56,000 registered players and 100 courses.

In Austria, with almost 8.5 million citizens, there are 104,000 registered players and 156 golf courses.

Hungary, with 10 million citizens, has 1,400 registered players and 15 golf courses and Poland, with a population of 38 million, has 3,300 players and 27 courses.

Stoklasa considers the number of golf players and courses to be a relative parameter linked to several factors, like the specific features of individual countries, the history of the development of golf in these countries, the mentality of the people, standards of living and economic and legislative conditions.

According to Hrušková, the number of golf courses is dependent on Slovakia’s economic situation, and she views the current development as appropriate.

“I perceive it as a healthy development: a steep increase in the number of courses under a low number of players would mean the cannibalisation of courses, and this is not the way,” said Hrušková.

Suitable for Slovakia as well as Slovaks

Hrušková highlights that golf can be played in almost all weather conditions, except for winter.

“The climate in Slovakia, as well as its setting in nature, like its moderately hilly terrain and natural scenery with mountains in the background … [are conducive to] golf,” said Hrušková. “Golf extends the tourist season and draws tourists from April until October, and, depending on the weather, also beyond.”

SKGA is starting more projects with the goal of promoting golf as sport and a form of leisure time for the wider public, which appeals to a broad age range. Stoklasa recalled that thanks to its handicap system allowing players of different proficiency to play against each other on somewhat equal terms, it is an ideal family sport.

“We are fighting to change the image of golf [in Slovakia], which undeservedly has the label of an elitist and unaffordable sport,” said Stoklasa. “This is not true. Golf, from the viewpoint of cost, is comparable with other sports [which are] popular in Slovakia, for example skiing.”

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