ORLANDO, Fla. – “Sustainability” is a word that plays over and over again in Greg Norman’s mind.
Looking back, Norman said the U.S. golf course boom of the 1980s and ’90s had dire, lasting consequences.
“We’re in such a real estate-driven market, so we overbuilt the golf courses; we spent too much money on courses; we overbuilt these enormous clubhouses,” Norman said Thursday at the PGA Merchandise Show. “(Maintenance costs) become a huge burden.”
Norman said the “unlimited budget” mentality wasn’t the right thing to do.
But he hopes golf will be different for China, which he predicts will be home to 30 million golfers within 25 years.
Norman was among an all-star panel on hand here to announce another step in China’s golf growth: The mammoth PGA Merchandise Show will expand to Beijing on March 18-20 and Guangzhou on Oct. 20-22.
“Asia is a fast-developing territory that deserves our attention and support,” said Joe Steranka, the PGA of America’s chief executive officer. That includes establishing the standards for being a PGA professional, he said.
Norman, whose 88 worldwide professional titles include two British Opens, advises Chinese officials to promote junior golf and learn from mistakes in the West.
But are developers listening?
China studied the American Social Security system but adopted a Singaporean-like model because it saw some flaws in the U.S. system. If that’s an indication, Norman, a course designer himself, said he has faith the Chinese will utilize smart growth instead.
Instructor Hank Haney had his own experiences with China.
“The enthusiasm is second to none. People are so golf hungry, and they want to get better,” said Haney, who launched the Hank Haney Golf Academy at Mission Hills – Haikou last year.
Haikou, a subtropical island off of China’s southern coast, is a booming golf market driven by tourism. Haney sees golf interest from the local population, too.
“Training the instructors is the most important thing,’’ Haney said. “Once China gets their golf instruction better. . . it’s just a matter of time before you see great players from China, as well.”
Liang Wen-Chong, No. 72 in the world, is the country’s shining example of what is possible.
The PGA Merchandise Shows in China will have a “business to business” focus, officials said, offering golf-playing equipment, apparel, golf business products and services, and golf accessories, as well as golf course construction, design and maintenance products, services and equipment. Education will also be a component.
“Golf can be a great sport that can inspire millions of men and women in China to take up the sport but can also lead to job creation . . . and help be part of its economic engine,” Steranka said.
China’s success will drive success worldwide, including in the U.S., Norman said.
“Everybody is focusing on China because it is the country that is pulling the rest of this world out of this recession,” he said. “The same thing is going to happen in the game of golf.
“At the end of the day, a rising tide floats all boats. The U.S. will get sucked into this vortex and come out of it a lot quicker.”
The trade show won’t be the first of its kind in China. Reed Exhibitions, which also produces the PGA Merchandise Show, acquired the China Golf Show in December. Launched in 2002, China Golf Show had steadily grown to become China’s No. 1 trade event for the golf industry. However, it now appears the China Golf Show will merge with the PGA show, given that the dates coincide in both cities.