Golf life: The Ryder riddle - Why doesn’t it drive more tourism?

PARIS, FRANCE - JULY 01: Sergio Garcia of Spain plays his fourth shot on the 18th hole during day four of the HNA Open de France at Le Golf National on July 1, 2018 in Paris, France. (Photo by Warren Little/Getty Images) Warren Little/Getty Images

Golf life: The Ryder riddle - Why doesn’t it drive more tourism?

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Golf life: The Ryder riddle - Why doesn’t it drive more tourism?

This month France will be at the center of the golf universe when the United States meets Europe in the Ryder Cup at Le Golf National near Paris.

When it’s over, it’s likely most golfers will forget about France.

One of the reasons for holding the Ryder Cup in France for the first time is to drive more tourism to the country. But will it inspire more golfers to visit France and play its courses?

“Short answer, no,” said Gordon Dalgleish, co-founder of PerryGolf, one of largest golf-tourism operators in the U.S. Dalgleish pointed to the 2010 Ryder Cup in Wales and the 1997 tournament in Spain as examples of countries that never got the desired tourism bump.

“I’m not sure that we’ve ever sent anyone to Wales,” he said. “And it wasn’t like people were beating down the doors wanting to go to Spain after the Ryder Cup. …

“You might get a different answer from someone who’s selling it within Europe – the Swedes, the British, the Germans. But for the U.S. market, our phones aren’t going to be lighting up for golf in France.”

Sam Baker, founder of Haversham & Baker, another large tour operator, expressed a similar sentiment.

“Among our travelers, they haven’t moved the needle at all,” Baker said. “Over the past year, we’ve had a grand total of one (France) inquiry, and it wasn’t about the Ryder Cup. This is the first time I can recall a Ryder Cup anywhere where we had no interest in the host country. That to me means it’s a completely unadvertised product.”

Baker said he hasn’t seen any signs that French tourism authorities are interested in promoting their golf courses to North American visitors. The irony, he said, is that France has a good story to share with visitors.

“The golf lineup in France is actually pretty solid,” Baker said. “But it hasn’t been promoted.”

He compared it to China, which created a lot of buzz in tourism circles a decade ago with its splashy course openings, but never generated any momentum.

“The response you get from people is, ‘I’d like to go to France, but not to play golf,’ ” he added.

Indeed, there’s no shortage of North Americans who want to visit France, but golf tends to be low on their list of priorities.

One company that has had success selling France is Kalos Golf, which operates luxury cruises. It began running cruises to France more than 20 years ago, according to vice president Brett Kist. The company now operates at least three cruises annually in and around France – to the Riviera, Normandy and Bordeaux. Those cruises typically have anywhere from 80 to 120 Kalos clients, depending on the size of the ships. Invariably, those cruises are sold out well in advance, and some years more France cruises are added if ships are available.

“It’s pretty high up there on our demand list,” Kist said.

Kalos Golf’s clientele consists almost exclusively of couples, and that’s the sweet spot for French tourism. The company’s itineraries include golf – an 11-day Bordeaux cruise next year includes six rounds of golf – but that’s not the primary attraction for most clients, many of whom don’t play golf.

“France is interesting for us as a golf destination because not all of the couples who travel with us both play golf,” Kist said. “So it’s important for us to have a strong touring program on each of our trips. France is one of those destinations – we see it in Bordeaux – those who don’t play golf go out and have a great lunch at a Grand Cru Classe Chateau, come back and tell their spouse (who played golf), and the spouse is jealous about what the touring passenger did. That doesn’t always happen on our trips.”

Kist shares Baker’s view that there is plenty of outstanding golf in France, though he notes that much of it is private. Kalos Golf is able to arrange rounds at some of those clubs with which it has long relationships.

PerryGolf also operates a strong cruise business in and around France, but Dalgleish said that golf is a low priority for the couples who make those trips. He doesn’t expect the Ryder Cup to alter that reality.

“It’s one of these destinations that’s much like Italy,” Dalgleish said. “The golf is good, but you have to sell the full experience – the lifestyle, the food, the wine, the culture, history, sightseeing. You combine that with a good golf program – it doesn’t have to be off the charts – and people will enjoy it.” Gwk

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