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Bahamas bogies on golf course offerings

There is a gaping whole in the tourism product, according to one author, accountant and renowned golfer who says the right mix of golf courses could attract 2.5 million stopovers in two-to-three years.

Foreign air arrivals to The Bahamas were 1.294 million in 2010, comparable to numbers not seen since the mid 1980s, with 2011 looking to close three-to-four percent below 2010, according to a recent statement by the minister of tourism.  Lockhart says there is a direct relation to those numbers and the lack of a variety of well-priced golf alternatives, with tourists flying beyond The Bahamas in droves to sate their golfing hunger.

“We are the only destination in the world that’s closed golf courses,” Lockhart said.  “We had 17, 18 at our peek period, now we have like 11 or 12.”

Lockhart used Jamaica as an example.  That nation’s tourism minister, Edmund Bartlett, recently projected they’d beat last year’s 1.7 million stopovers after a stellar performance in October.   While there are many factors influencing stopover numbers in both countries, Lockhart attributes much of the stopover success Jamaica’s enjoying to its attention to the leisure sport.

According to Lockhart, Jamaica made a policy decision that golf would be an attraction – an integral part of its tourism product.

“As I understand the policy, any property with over 40 rooms and available land would have that land claimed and golf courses built.  So now Jamaica is doing about 30 percent more overnight visitors than us.”

According to Lockhart, a leading golf magazine says 48 percent of North American travelers are golfers. Using that as a base for calculation, it means for every 100,000 visitors, there’s an implied demand for a golf course.   A golf course can only comfortably play 65-to-70,000 rounds per year, he explained.

Using Cat Island as an example, he said, “If you want to attract 100,000 visitors there, well … that’s why the PGA is putting two golf courses there”.

With the right number of courses in The Bahamas, he estimated a major boom for tourism and the economy.

“The impact would be, in my estimation, we would attract in two-to-three years time between 2.5 to 3 million stopovers.  That would mean we have just stretched our economy by three billion dollars,” Lockart said.  His calculations were based on having about 50 golf courses in the country. He estimated another 1.5 billion as an indirect contribution to the economy.

Over in Grand Bahama, Grand Lucayan’s new Golf Director, Christopher Lewis, said golf was an integral part of a resort’s marketability.  He spent 17 years at a Cable Beach property prior to making his Grand Bahama move.

What may be lacking in The Bahamas, though, is not just the number of courses, but golf offerings that are affordable for a broader swath of tourists.  Coming to The Bahamas for golfing is a pricey proposition now.

“You need to have a diversity as far as your product offerings,” Lewis told Guardian Business in an interview yesterday.  “Right now it’s hard to see The Bahamas as a golf destination [because of the pricing].”

Lewis listed prices around New Providence of $265 for a round at one resort, $2,000 for tee-time at another, and so on, each property with offerings that may have excluded non-guests from using the facilities.

“You have to have a broad base if you are going to compete with other markets in the region – the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, and Jamaica for example.  Not everyone can afford $250 for a round of golf.”

From Lewis’ perspective, winter travelers from northern states want a three or four day getaway, and the golfers among them will want to ensure they can get on the greens in their chosen destination.  He’s not surprised if they fly over an expensive destination with $265 courses to fly an extra hour for an affordable golf vacation break elsewhere.

At the Grand Lucayan, he says prices are designed to be competitive, with a rack rate of around $105 .

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