Making the pitch to bring Chinese golfers to Ireland

After Riverdance, one of the things Chinese people associate with Ireland is golf. With golf an essen- tial lifestyle option for the swelling ranks of wealthy Chinese, there is great market potential for Irish companies keen to bring the tycoons to Ireland to play.

"Tourism data from the Chinese Tourism Academy is showing an 18 per cent outbound increase for this year so far," says Prof Jim Deegan, an economist at University of Limerick who is non-executive chairman of Riordan's Travel.

“If Ireland can adapt to and accommodate the high spending Chinese tourist, then we could catch a reasonable proportion of what will be a growing and high spending source of tourists into the future.”

Riordan's has been nurturing the elite Chinese market to Ireland since 2011, with a heavy focus on golf, and has sponsored a number of events in China and hosted some very influential Chinese golfers in Ireland.


“The Chinese want links courses and high profile-best in class courses – like Royal County Down, Portmarnock, Lahinch, Ballybunion, K Club etc,” says Deegan.

There are about 600 courses in China, which is not much when you consider there are 450 courses in Ireland, and many Chinese golfers are thinking of golf holidays.

“Potentially, it is huge business. Golfers in China are businessmen, so getting them interested in Ireland is the first link to developing a very profitable sector of the tourism industry.”

Golf has had a patchy career in China in recent years. There have been some spectacular successes, with the construction of major golf courses, the development of young players and the rising middle class and the way it has taken to the links.

However, it has also suffered from the government calling a halt to the construction of new courses because of land grabs angering local farmers who are forced to watch helplessly as their arable land is turned into a sand trap. Then there is the Communist government’s suspicion of what is the ultimate bourgeois pastime.

However, at the upper end of the market, golf is thriving.

Last week, Riordan's made a presentation about golf in Ireland at an end-of-year dinner for Beijing's top five private clubs – the Beijing Hong Kong Jockey Club, Beijing's Premier Business Club, the Chang An Club, the China Club Beijing and the Beijing American Club.

"We have golf and many of the products which high net-worth Chinese want but we are not really in that space yet," Deegan says. "We are working with COTRI – Chinese Outbound Tourist Research Institute – to develop this market and to teach and train Irish businesses on how to make the Irish tourism product more attractive to Chinese visitors."

There are signs that it is spreading beyond the elite, while golf’s inclusion as an Olympic sport from 2016 will do a lot to boost its profile in Olympics-mad China.

Recently, the Shichahai state-run sports school, which is probably the best known of China’s training centres for young athletes, has started training children to putt and drive.

Getting in there early to promote the sport could well reap dividends further down the road.

After all, the Chinese do claim to have invented the sport in 945 and to have even laid down the first rule set of rules in a 1282 book called Wan Jing or Manual of Ball Games.