The development of smaller, more affordable and faster-to-play golf courses in urban areas across France has helped encourage new golfers, create jobs and drive revenue.
With a continued emphasis on shorter formats of the sport to entice beginners, encourage lapsed golfers back to the fairways and give more options for golfers short on time, the work of the French Golf Federation has delivered success in offering an additional string to golf’s bow.
To capitalise on the staging of the 2018 Ryder Cup at Le Golf National near Paris, ffgolf has overseen the construction of more than 100 non-traditional new courses and venues across a 10-year period. These are primarily nine-hole, six-hole or pitch-and-putt courses with short yardages and an emphasis on ease of playability in less than two hours.
With a previous supply of similar golf facilities, namely large 18-hole layouts often located in rural areas away from main population areas, there was a need for ffgolf to develop shorter, more accessible and affordable facilities to meet modern consumer demands for leisure, speed, health, nature and well-being.
In doing so, short-form courses in urban areas – close to a city and reachable by public transport – have created new affordable leisure options at local levels, boosted employment and enhanced tourism. Alongside public support, much of the funding for the new facilities has come from private enterprise investment.
Christophe Muniesa, the foundation's executive director, said, “Any proposed change in the image of golf implies a change of user population and thereby a need to change the facilities on offer. Offering new facilities to the general public has a direct impact on participation in terms of age group, gender and playing frequency. Our research demonstrates that through these short course facilities we are able to attract more juniors and women.”
Last year, the 101st facility was opened in Toulouse and, in the past decade, 80,000 golfer licence (handicap) cards have been delivered through these new facilities. Encouragingly, among this number are 17,000 new golfers, while it is likely the facilities are also playing a role in retaining existing golfers within the sport in France.
In addition, more than 250 jobs have been created and demand for coaching from golf professionals has increased with the economic sustainability of the courses demonstrated through an average revenue of €220,000 for each golf centre and 3,000 green fees for each course (with an average of €18 euros a round).
Revenues also have been boosted by a number of venues boasting practice facilities – including putting greens and driving ranges – and social areas such as bars and restaurants.
Market research commissioned by The R&A and ffgolf and undertaken by Sports Marketing Surveys through a survey of 17 compact course facilities and 20 golf venue operators in France, suggests that the facilities can incentivise play, improve enjoyment and therefore generate new players.
The short courses provide an important bridge between trying golf and taking it more seriously, offering a course experience without the levels of commitment required to play a full 18 holes. Indeed, 81 percent of respondents felt short courses made golf feel more accessible and 78 percent of respondents were repeat visitors, visiting more than 20 times.
Kevin Barker, director for golf development at The R&A, added, “Organisations are learning that there is a place for all manner of alternative forms of golf, as the time and work-pressure demands placed on people in everyday life can make it difficult to commit to traditional forms of the sport.
“We are consuming more information and engaging with things faster than ever before, so golf needs to keep pace and innovate in so many different ways. Compact courses, such as that seen in France, are a great way to do this.”
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