Play ”em down

Newsroom 19/09/2007 | 16:12

Romania plays golf in four courses
In short, there are only four golf courses in Romania and none of them with 18 holes, but acknowledged among the players and trying to offer the good conditions this special sport requires. The oldest is the Diplomatic Club (Clubul Diplomatilor) in Bucharest and owned by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the second is Lac de Verde, established at Breaza in 1997 by an Irish company, the third is at Pianu De Jos area, in Alba County and the most recent one is Club Tite Golf Resort located near Timisoara. Also, there is the Romanian Golf Federation which is headquartered in Breaza.
Romanian golf history starts back in 1923, with the first royalty stick struck, the president of the first golf club in Romania being principle Nicolae. Before the war, the main golf courses were located in Baneasa and Sinaia, of the five golf courses countrywide. During the years of communism, only one golf course survived. This sport also has legends in Romania, the most known player and golf teacher being Paul Tomita, the one who taught golf to the royal family. George Luta, golf instructor at the Diplomatic Club, remembers that communism destroyed half of the 18 holes the club owned, when the entertainment park Herastrau was established. “Where the big wheel in the park stands, that was hole number 17. Also, the club was, after the war, the most modern location in Eastern Europe” Luta said. From 1994-1995, the field was being reconstructed and shaped to its current condition, with six holes and three more to be completed by 2008, according to Luta.
Luta has been a golf instructor at the Diplomatic Club for three years and has played golf since 1969. According to him, the golf club has 100 registered golf players, compared to 15 players registered three years ago. “Fortunately, more and more players are coming to register and many others come to learn golf,” he optimistically added.
Golf is not a cheap sport to play, not only in Romania, but all around the world – club membership, equipment and finding sponsors for tournaments and challenges costs a small fortune. Luta said that a green fee, the cost of playing golf on the course, is an average of EUR 70 in other countries, with the top registered in Moscow, where someone could pay as much as EUR 300 for a green fee. In Romania, annual membership of a golf club costs around EUR 1,000, plus another EUR 500 to EUR 1,000 in equipment, to cover the basic needs. Ovidiu Brebene, general secretary of the Romanian golf federation, said that these costs do not suit the average budget and golf will remain the sport of high earners. Actually, the common profile of the golf player in Romania is the “white collars,” employees within multinational corporations, top executives socializing on the green.
Lac de Verde is located 55 minutes from Bucharest in Breaza, an area where people often go to escape the noise of the city. The club was created in 2002 with an initial investment of EUR 10 million, and Daniela Hintescu, director of Lac de Verde complex, estimates a full return on investment by 2010. This club requires a fee of EUR 1,000 to 2,000 yearly for a membership card, which includes green fees, golf cart, caddy, instructor and accommodation discounts. According to Daniela Hintescu, Lac De Verde has 110 members including individuals and members of the biggest Romanian and international corporations.
Lac de Verde was so named because on the former land there were several small lakes with several yearly tournaments organized and managed by the Romanian Golf Federation, sponsored by big names in different industries. The club intends to join the European Golf Association in order to organize international tournaments.
The golf course and club at Pianu de Jos in Alba County were completed in 1994, when the club got the name of “Professor Paul Tomita,” while the course went public in 1996. “With 58 members and 17 tournaments organized yearly, the location is an important golf attraction for Western Romanian businessman and expats. We plan to expand from 9 to 18 holes. We own 75,000 sqm of land for this and we got the money from our funds and sponsorships. We estimate we will end the expansion project by 2009,” said Nicolae Ursu, director of the club. He added that the area near the golf field will get a new investment in a hotel financed by the president of the club, Giorgio Tomaselli, an Italian businessman and a Romanian businessman.
Tite Golf Resort in Recas near Timisoara opened in 2006, with the investment of some hundreds of thousand euros by a Romanian businessman relocated in Germany, Liviu Tite. The course covers 34,000 sqm and has been landscaped on the former surroundings of Comtim, where the investors constructed the first nine greens. Tite also plans to develop a golf field up to international standards, a restaurant, a hotel and some other facilities which could raise the membership fee to EUR 1,000 yearly, according to golf club representatives. Through the investment at Recas, the golf course can compete with the other three existing golf fields in the country, said Tite.
According to the Romanian Golf Federation, there are 450 golf players in the country, of whom 250 are registered at the four golf clubs in Romania. To learn golf, Obidiu Brebene, who is also a golf instructor at Lac de Verde golf club, said that 10 to 15 lessons and three to four months of practice through the holes are enough to learn at least the basic info about this sport.

Neighbors playing with handicap zero
While Romania struggled to find golf's golden years in the inter-war and post-war period, it seems that the neighboring countries were quick to do so. Golf has spread rapidly in Central and Eastern Europe in recent years.
For example, Hungary combined the sport with tourism activities at the local resort Zala Springs, where EUR 75 million will be spent on a golf course worth EUR 6 million and a spa center. Bulgarian-Romanian tourism competition in the last two years spurred the EUR 30 million put into two golf courses located near Varna and Balcic, besides the other three which already exist. A KPMG study revealed that Eastern Europe has only two percent of the total number of golf courses on the continent and only one percent of the total number of golf players. The researchers blame the small numbers on the sad history of communism which deprived all the Eastern European countries of the benefits of a capitalist sport. In 1990, the eastern part of Europe had only 10 golf courses and 2,000 players. The Czech Republic counts at this time 68 of the 134 existing golf courses in Europe, nine times more than in 1990. Romania is left behind also by Slovenia which counts a population of some 2 million inhabitants but which numbers nine golf courses and 7,500 players.

How much does it cost?
A fully equipped player must pay at first from EUR 500 to 1,000 for the equipment, EUR 10 for a full day on the golf field, a registration of EUR 200 monthly plus a EUR 50 club fee, or annual membership worth from EUR 1,000 to 2,000. The same KPMG study found that there were solid differences between Eastern and Western European countries. The average initial fee is EUR 2,400 (with a maximum of more than EUR 4,000 in the Czech Republic), and the yearly registration costs some EUR 700, less than in France and Great Britain but more than in Sweden and Denmark. Green fees have an average value of EUR 54 for the Eastern European countries, higher than in Scandinavia where it stands at EUR 39.

Golf triggers real estate projects
According to golf club representatives, there is no course with a full 18 holes in Romania, with Lac de Verde the only course which is internationally licensed, but offering only nine greens. Still, there are projects around the country announcing expansion for this sport and large sums of money to be invested. Near Bucharest, at Zurbaua in the Buftea area, Swiss Golf & Leisure Development plans to build an 18-hole course on land which will also host the headquarters of the Golf&Country Club Bucharest Association, as well as tennis courts, a four-star hotel, shops, a health center and a residential complex with 300 homes. The developer put EUR 1.5 million into the first phase of the project, with the company estimating a final investment reaching EUR 80 million. The project at Bucharest competes with some others in the country. Brasov could see a golf course of 18 holes spread on almost 44,000 sqm, resulting from a private-public partnership. Another project was set to be developed at Fagaras, on 1,200,000 sqm which could host a course of 18 holes and a residential compound with 500 plots for construction, with a total investment of EUR 20 million. The county council in Cluj plans to develop a course on a location where the town's water reservoirs are constructed. The local council intends to make a profit from the land, despite the local limitations. The city council is planning starting in 2008, the development of a golf course resulting from the association with several local businessmen which, according to council representatives, might come with EUR 15,000 each to start the base for the course. Florin Segarceanu, the former tennis player and now a current golf player participating in different golf tournaments, said that the sport of golf and the development of this business in Romania are closely related to real estate projects. Actually, the golf clubs and the developers of courses worldwide and now also in Romania, gain their revenues not from the fees or different other payments required by the golf club, but from the real estate projects developed close to the club.
Eastern European golf complexes register an average of EUR 680,000 earnings yearly with operational costs reaching EUR 590,000 and a profit of EUR 90,000. According to the KPMG study, there are 1,000 new golf courses developed each year which is caused by the real estate and construction developments on the emerging markets, with many Central and Eastern European countries a target for big real estate investors.

Magda Purice

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