Golf tourism: getting into the swing of things with the international golf markets

Over the last 8 months of 2019 I was introducing the number one golf travel publication on Google – Destination Golf Travel (DGT) – into our region in preparation for the launch of the publication’s regional (Southern Africa and the Indian Ocean Islands) golf courses’ guide.

As background, DGT is a marketing platform. Through its structure it offers its partners (golf clubs, golf estates, tour operators and tourism bodies) an interactive dialogue with its subscribers and network of golf industry associates. This is achieved through an online publication (, which has 26 multilingual individual regional guides, an overarching annual global publication (with quarterly updates) and over 560 000 subscribers and users.

More detailed local content will be supplied by DGT’s information partner – GolfVistaSA (GV). Listing on GV ( is free of charge to SA’s clubs and includes things to do and see and options on where to eat and stay in proximity to each golf course.

My interest in the publication as presenting an effective shop window for our region appears to have been vindicated when DGT then won the prestigious ‘world’s best golf travel magazine’ award at the World Golf Awards in October last year.

In preparing the ground, my journey has involved broad reaching discussions in person and via phone and email across the region with dozens of golf clubs, resorts, hotel companies, travel companies, tour operators and venues.

The following is a high-level summary some of the key points that have arisen from these discussions and my thoughts on them:

A wish to get more of the tourism spend for golf

The bottom line here is that we cannot hope to get more of our share unless we tell our markets that we are here. Discussions with a number of individuals in SA’s regions highlighted the feeling that the Western Cape is spoiling or overly ‘milking’ the international travel market by ‘over-charging’ for golf.

It was said to me that a golf tourist will pay more for a single round of golf in the Western Cape than for a whole four-ball in Gauteng, the Eastern Cape and KZN.

Whatever the truth, or the merits, of this argument there might be (caveat emptor springs to mind); this must surely present an obvious positive aspect for the other regions?

What are perceived to be ‘high’ prices in the Cape can open the door to talk about and present the ‘value’ of golf in SA’s other regions and be used as a platform to further market the attractions, other than golf, that make these regions singular.

However unless we tell this story, then no one will know.

The concern that Gauteng, especially (although there are other regions that feel the same), is missing-out on its fair share of the golf travel market

Essentially this is a soft repeat of point 1, and I am not sure how an international golf traveller or tour operator will know whether to stay in Gauteng (or any other region), as opposed to using it as a through point, if we don’t tell them what we have got to offer?

Chris Bentley (Royal Johannesburg and Kensington’s CEO and an early adopter with both DGT and GV) was a quick to agree with the need to showcase the region as a destination. However, he also pointed out that it would need a collective effort, rather than the initiative of one or two clubs, to generate any meaningful change.

Comments about the lack of support for golf from the tourism bodies in the region

The tourism bodies have their own regional or overall SA tourism package to consider, in marketing the broader region as a whole. These entities are very often parastatal, with the usual issues of inefficiencies coupled with the staffing and resources issues associated with this type of body everywhere in the world.

My analogy is that the tourism spectrum in SA is like an umbrella. This is an umbrella in which golf would represent one single rib in the complete canopy, from beaches to safaris and deep-sea fishing to heritage sites.

A sometime golfer and friend of mine, who is in the tourism industry, believes that if golf gets up off its ‘collective backside’ and starts the ball rolling for itself, then the tourism bodies will help to keep it moving. This is a fair comment and they are certainly not going to pay for the round, caddy and then hit the shots for us as well. This does underline another essential challenge, in that golf is not a team sport.

The truth in this, and the fact that it seems to have sneaked off the golf course and into the business of golf’s management DNA, often becomes very apparent when one tries to get the industry to think and or act collectively.

The $ million question – what do we do?

Market, market, market and then market again! Of course, this will not be easy. This in an industry, which, in many cases, steadfastly refuses to step into the present. It is also one where in too many cases a golf committee will think that a single DPS placement or review in the Compleat Golfer, on GolfVistaSA, or in Estate Living Magazine, will be the club’s marketing done and dusted for the year!

How shallow these waters really are, can further be illustrated through the outcomes when I canvassed various golf clubs and golf estates and asked how they ran their marketing initiatives for golf.

Eleven out of the first 12 had no dedicated marketing budget for their golf course at all. This is quite depressing and is despite the fact that without exception for the estates, the course will be the largest single asset in the development and the most expensive element to run.

How do we do it and what is the message?

The SA based tour operators will certainly market the region, but only within the narrow confines (quite naturally) of their own interests. The same applies to those venues which have gone ‘out to market’ at their own expense, to the international trade shows and fairs, with their product.

There may be some collateral value for ‘you’ and ‘your club’ in other people’s activities, such as the work done on the road every year, at the travel fairs and travel conventions, by Peter Dros from Fancourt or Jeff Clause from St Francis Links. However, this passive approach is a very dangerous foundation on which to build any business marketing strategy!

PR plays a key role in selling golf and the region, and we have a great story to tell. However to be effective PR needs to be a continual and positive narrative stream.

In this context, golf has been very slow in telling its version of a great regional story and to use a local music analogy, when we do, we tend to either hit the side of the drum, or miss it altogether!

The raw content for our region’s golf story is all there and the ‘how’ in essence is simple; do it iteratively. Marketing is something that you do every day. Therefore – every morning when you wake up, be prepared to market.

I was once talking to a client who did not seem to be ‘getting’ this truism. I therefore switched tack and asked if he would be happy if I only cut the golf course’s greens once a year – and all the lights went on!

Pecanwood Country Club’s GM Morne Botha put it succinctly when he described marketing as “the oxygen in the system”.

The ‘what’ is also not too difficult. Apart from the golf-centric elements we have at our disposal – the great golf courses, great weather, great players, great history, etc. we simply have to back golf into the other perennial key tourism driver – game viewing – to have a winning recipe.

From this platform, we can then accentuate all the other plusses, such as how great this region is for a family vacation, the property investment options and the lifestyle. Underlying all of this will be the need to develop a series of specific calls to action.

It might be true that one picture is worth a thousand words, but to someone in the northern hemisphere sitting watching the rain and snow slanting across their back garden, showing the pictures in combination with a solution for how to get here and what to do when they do, will be a much more compelling mix.

If travel and tourism is set to become as important in this region, as it is in the rest of the continent, and golf wants to get its share of the pie, then this is the proverbial 11th hour – and to modernise Geoffrey Chaucer’s original quote, “it is better (for golf) to be late than never”.

John Cockayne has been a Professional Golfer since 1977 and is a fully qualified founder member and Life Member of the PGA of South Africa. He is a former Head Professional at Royal Oak, State Mines and Benoni Country Clubs and Director of Golf at Southbroom, during which period he was involved in the organisation of golf tours, numerous professional and amateur tournaments and as a consultant on the Sunshine Circuit.