This summer is bound to be busy for many golf courses as they see an influx of visitors from all around the world teeing-it-up at their golf courses.
According to the Tourism New Zealand, September 2017 statistics showed that 2% of holiday visitors to New Zealand played golf in the last three years, that’s approximately 35,000 people who stayed on average 27 nights versus 16 nights for an average ‘non-golfing’ visitor. Visiting golfers also spend $4,800 versus $3,900 during their stay and are most likely to visit Otago, Waikato, Northland, Nelson and the Hawkes Bay.
Our biggest market for golfers come from Australia, China, the UK and the USA.
New Zealand Golf Magazine spoke to some of the leading club golf courses around the country to ask them a few questions. We wanted to hear how their summer bookings were looking, where the golfers were coming from if the growing cruise market had any effect on golf bookings and what was happening locally with the regional tourism office promoting golf tourism.
Starting in NZ’s golf tourism capital, the Queenstown Golf Club derives about 50% of its income from international play. Australia is the predominate market, thanks to the direct flights from Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne. These golfers are generally staying for a week and playing four to six rounds.
The summer is looking slightly softer than last year but the club does experience a steady “walk-up” tourist market.
The club has established some strong relationships with inbound golf tour operators plus it provides multi-lingual course information in Chinese, Korean and Japanese. The cruise market is not really applicable but they do have strong group and convention play.
According to the club’s GM, Matt Judd, Destination Queenstown has promoted golf in the past but it is time for them to refresh the golf marketing story.
“It’s time for them to work more closely with the golf courses and local operators, with a focus around increasing international visitors in the off-peak months as November, February and March are already at capacity”.
At the Otago Golf Club, Director of Golf, Shelley Duncan says that the club has invested in attending two inbound travels shows in the last two years and the club does consider international greenfee play as an important part of the club’s income.
The club is seeing a growth in income with some more international group bookings, more golfers coming via cruise ships as well as local group bookings.
“Overall, 30% of our greenfee income comes from international golfers from a variety of countries. We are seeing more European golfers and less Australians coming to play. The North American market also seems to be growing steadily”.
“We do see golfers coming off cruise ships but these golfers are generally ‘freedom travellers’ but we are seeing more groups booking in as well.
“As a club, we went to the lower South Island inbound tour operators show in Auckland, hosted by the Dunedin City Council. This was a really positive couple of days and we have seen an increase in bookings from the 35 to 40 speed dates we had.
“It has been an education process with the inbound operators as many didn’t realise there was a golf offering in Dunedin”.
Shelley Duncan and the Otago Golf Club believe that golf in Dunedin and the surrounding areas has been overlooked; the main driver has been Queenstown mainly because of access and the amazing courses that are in the Queenstown area.
“Our city does have four great 18-hole clubs: Chisholm Links, St Clair, Taieri Lakes and Otago Golf Club. Playing golf in New Zealand did start in Dunedin and we have a great variety of courses to play plus a number of 9-holes clubs to experience”.
Duncan also believes that golf in New Zealand, given our size and population, punches above its weight with regards to the quality of golf courses and variety. She would love to see the promotion that’s been conducted over the last few years resulting in continual growth and attract more golfers from all over the world to come and play.
Leo Barber, the General Manager at the Paraparaumu Beach Golf Club, sees tourism play as vitally important and a great source of additional revenue to complement membership and domestic play.
“The International players we see are high yielding and we try and offer them a unique experience. Many are aware of our history as being ranked in several of the “World Top 100” golf courses lists and having hosted the NZ Open on a record twelve occasions including when Tiger Woods played.
“International greenfee play is approximately 20% of our visitor rounds with the east coast of Australia being our biggest market. According to Leo the club international rounds have doubled since 2015 and they are continuing to see stronger numbers year on year. This summer is looking a busy one for international forward bookings.
“When cruise ships had on-board golf professionals (5 – 10 years ago) we saw organised groups coming off the ships. Today it is the passengers themselves organising their golf and as we are a good 40-minutes to an hour from the ship it can make for a long day.
“We do have packages with a couple of shore operators but with the amount of commission taken by the ship it does become an expensive day option and so has limited appeal. We are continually looking at opportunities to grow this market and an improved connection with the completion of Transmission Gully would give operators more certainty and shorter travel times to make it appealing.
“The trends we are seeing are an Asian market that is growing albeit smaller numbers in Wellington in total.
“European golfers tend to stay for longer and travel more overland in say camper vans. There is an increasing demand for caddies and a greater requirement for golf carts.
“Working with Ryan Brandenburg at Golf Tourism New Zealand (GTNZ) and trying to be on the golf list for visiting golf travel operators and journalists is important to keep the course in the thoughts and conversations.
Growing our social media and web presence is all part of telling the story to the visiting golfer so they see us a “must play” destination. Overall the work that Ryan has been doing over the last 5-years has really lifted the profile of New Zealand as a golf destination and this has in turn assisted individual clubs like ours.
“We feel Tourism NZ plays a vital role in assisting courses to attract visitors and need to continually fund this work as it is particularly important for many medium and small golf clubs. Golf clubs alone cannot afford the level of marketing spend required to make the dent that GTNZ has made and the benefits are widely felt across the whole tourism industry.”
Brett Allan, who is the Golf Professional at the Hastings Golf Club, is seeing strong local tourism play with boys and girls and pennant trips.
“Our location lends itself to people coming down for a weekend and making the most of golf in the region and the wineries. We do have some groups from North America, Europe and Australia already booked in.
“We tend to get a lot of off-the-cuff bookings too. This is predominately from golfers that may have a spare day before or after playing Cape Kidnappers and we find they come to visit us. We do work well with the team at Cape Kidnappers in providing a secondary golf option.
“Less than 10% of our greenfee play comes from international play but it is slowly growing. Unfortunately, we don’t attract many cruise-related golfers as we seem to be a little too far away from the Port of Napier”.
“We have not seen our local regional tourism office promoting golf except with a focus on Cape Kidnappers. The busier the Cape gets, the benefits do flow across the region.
“We are seeing a growth in golfers that are staying in the country longer and not interested in paying the higher prices of the resort courses but enjoy playing the ‘club’ courses. We are offering different services including free plug-in for those staying overnight in campervans.
“We also have about 30 members that join for the summer that escape the Northern hemisphere winter to reside in our region and enjoy the weather plus our great wine and golf”.
However, Brett is concerned about the “race to the bottom” over greenfee prices and believes there needs to be more ‘value add’. It is for this reason that from the 1st April 2020, the Hastings Golf Club will be rolling out some cool things that will enhance their visitor experience.
Doug White is the Director of Golf at the Titirangi Golf Club and has seen many changes in the New Zealand golf tourism scene over the last decade. But he is quick to recognise that “Titirangi is a members’ club first and foremost that offers limited tee times for guest play where we can accommodate both international and local guests”.
“As a club, we really appreciate the golf tourists that come to play. They add an energy and offer a fresh view, appreciation, and perspective of your course that can often be easily forgotten by the members or those that play it regularly.
“It’s a real boost to the staff and green staff and board who all put in the hard work to improve the club’s experience and offering, to have it recognised”.
Doug has seen a steady increase in advance visitor bookings over the past four years.
“This summer, again, we have a large number of international guests pre-booked and we will also get a number of walk-ups; those that will call when they are in Auckland on the off-chance we can fit them in.
“Australia is still our biggest market, and they tend to travel year-round for numerous reasons including sporting events, concerts, business and golf trips. Approximately 50% of our green fees collected come from our international golf visitors”.
“The trends we are seeing from our international guests fall into three categories: ones that are looking to play the architecturally significant courses, those that are purely looking for the most recognised courses, and then there are those that are just playing in a certain area or city.
“We do tend to find that we are the first course or last course on their trip itinerary. We are continually trying to showcase the course, so we use many platforms to help promote our club as a great place to play.
“We use social media, and print along with accommodating recognised and reputable golf course raters and reviewers. We nurture relationships that have been built with visitors and tour operators over the years, as these are great promoters of our club”.
Gulf Harbour’s Director of Golf Frazer Bond sees international tourism play as being very important for the golf club.
“This year’s upcoming summer play is looking to be up on last year, even though there looks to be less large groups but more individual or foursome groups coming to play. Currently, we are seeing 20% to 22% of total green fee players coming from international players with Australia and China being our top two markets”.
“The main trend is overseas players purchasing ‘$99.00 online memberships’ and then booking and receiving affiliate rates. I know this is an issue across the country with many clubs that receive international players, so it will be interesting to see how this space changes”.
“With a Chinese owner, we are targeting the Asian market a lot more. We are looking at the Chinese, Japanese and Korean markets but we would like to see ATEED and Tourism NZ provide more assistance in this area.
“We have strong relationships in Australia and are also seeing good interest from German tour companies”
“As a golf club, we are always very focused around what we can do to better promote and grow our golf facility. We are very excited about the opportunities offered to us by the upcoming America’s Cup; where else could you have a better spot to play golf and watch the racing!
“We are providing a service with the ferry from downtown to the Gulf Harbour Marina and then picking the golfers up for the two-minute drive to the golf club. This provides a seamless service for the big downtown hotels and the cruise industry to get their clients to and from the golf course without getting caught up in the Auckland traffic”.
Summer Golf Tourism
In summary, as golf tourists stay longer and spend more, we anticipate that you will meet many tourists enjoying playing your golf course this summer. It is important that you and your fellow golf members take the time to say “Hello” and welcome these players as they enjoy your course and clubhouse.
More importantly, you want to make sure that they love your part of New Zealand so much that when they get home, they are telling their friends and fellow golfers about the great people, wonderful golf courses, incredible food and wine along with the amazing sights they saw.
New Zealand is a great country to visit but it is an incredible golf destination.