Macau’s golf courses host big swingers who seal deals on fairways and greens

Club memberships, a set of clubs, and all the paraphernalia are an investment thanks to the long-held connection between golf and the world of business

PUBLISHED : Monday, 19 June, 2017, 1:25pm
UPDATED : Monday, 25 September, 2017, 4:17pm

For many, the golf course is an extension of the boardroom, but it isn’t to everyone’s taste. Famed humorist Mark Twain called it a good walk spoiled, and Scotland’s King James II banned the game in 1457 because it was an unwelcome distraction from learning archery, but for all its detractors, golf is big business.

Golf is not a sport for the masses. It is a sport that is, practically speaking, impossible to play without certain financial means. Club memberships, a set of clubs, as well as all kinds of paraphernalia – including the natty clothes that golfers love to wear – do not come anywhere close to cheap, but for many it is an investment thanks to the long-held connection between golf and the world of business.

While the United States leads the way when it comes to the number of players and courses, Asia is home to the most new golf projects, with the majority of the growth coming in China which has almost 500 courses. Hong Kong and Macau have just seven and two, respectively.

Macau’s two courses take up a paltry 44.5 square kilometres, but thatrepresents a full 1 per cent of the country’s land mass. If China had 1 per cent of its land mass as golf courses the area would be bigger than Hong Kong. The world’s largest golf resort is just 80km away in Shenzhen and its 12 courses and 216 holes take up an area equivalent to almost 20 per cent of Macau’s land mass.

The story of golf in Macau is not dissimilar to the story of Macau itself. While the Orient Golf (Macau) Club was established in the late 1970s, it became a target of American gaming interests in the late 1990s. Caesars Entertainment Corporation bought the 71-hectare, 18-hole, par-72 course and rebranded it as Caesars Golf Macau in 1997. Today, it is a popular choice for visitors and expatriates, but it has not been as popular as the purchasers had hoped.

The other course in the former Portuguese enclave is the Macau Golf and Country Club (MGCC). Opened in 1993, it is one of the oldest clubs in southern China, but if there was a battle of the courses, the MGCC won in 1998 when it was chosen to host the Macau Open. Since then, the 18-hole championship course has attracted the biggest names in golf, including Ernie Els, Nick Faldo, Darren Clarke, John Daly, Padraig Harrington, Miguel-Angel Jimenez, Ian Poulter, Lee Westwood and Colin Montgomerie. Chinese golfers Liang Wenchong and Zhang Lianwei, who has won the event twice, have also become fixtures over the years. The event was first broadcast live in 2011 to more than 200 countries reaching 850 million viewers.

Rebranded the Venetian Macao Open in 2012, the tournament is one of the most prestigious golf events in the region. It continues to attract the biggest names in the sport thanks to World Golf Ranking points on offer, prestige, and a purse that is now more than US$1 million.

Wilfred Wong, president of Sands China, says sponsoring the tournament last year was a shrewd move from the Venetian, as it capitalised on its growing prestige. “This prestigious event is the perfect platform to showcase Macau to the world as a top golfing and travel destination.”

The Sports Bureau is currently negotiating with another title sponsor for this year’s Macau Open.

But has this international appeal and the annual journey of golfing greats translated into an increase in the appeal of the sport generally?

“[Golf] came to Macau in the early 1990s as the game started to boom around Asia,” says a representative from the Golf Association of Macau. He goes on to say that the game has gradually increased in popularity in Macau from those early days. “Golf getting back to the Olympics family has also helped to popularise the game.”

According to Christine Lam, vice-president of the Sports Bureau, the Golf Association of Macau plays an important role in the development of the sport.

As for the Macau Open, the representative says it is very important to Macau. “[The Open] adds a glamour element by having some of the biggest names in golf come together in the city,” he says. “[It also helps that the] Open is in line with the Macau government’s plan to build Macau into a world tourism and leisure centre.”

Lam says that “the Macau Open has firmly established it as one of the leading sporting and social events in the [city’s] annual calendar”.

Although Macau has just two courses, it is a popular destination for visitors from mainland China and Hong Kong. The championship course is just an hour away by jetfoil from Hong Kong and is a popular choice for weekend getaways that combine golf and Macau’s nightlife offerings.

Hong Kong Football Club, one of the most popular clubs in Hong Kong, has a dedicated golf society with almost 900 members. Members can play at the Macau Golf and Country Club thanks to the purchase of golfing debentures. The society plays an annual game against another Hong Kong club, the Little Sai Wan Golf Society, in Macau.

For those looking to really splash out and make a luxurious weekend of it, Grand Coloane Resort offers a package that includes a guest room, a round of golf, access to the Club (the resort’s fitness studio, sauna, steam room and swimming pool area) and complimentary round trip shuttle bus between the resort and Macau Ferry Terminal. For those who like to make an entrance, take a helicopter to Macau if you want to get there in style.