From the hand of businessmen and international tournaments, golf wants to get into the sporting tastes of Mexicans.
To build a classical field of golf requires a space equivalent to the two terminals of the Mexico City International Airport (AICM) and to play on it for the first time would be necessary to disburse about 40 minimum wages, nearly 5,000 pesos, a monthly amount that does not even receive 29 percent of Mexicans.
The numbers explain why golf is still far from the habits that the average Mexican has, whose Sundays take place between football matches, family meals. But then why is the country hosting more frequent international competitions for that sport and the capital has been hosting the World Golf Championship (WGC), one of the six most important golf tournaments in the world?
The answer is not only in the bets of some companies that bring the tournaments (Grupo Salinas in 2017 acquired the rights of the WGC until 2024), but in the increasing amount of Mexican millionaires able to pay private fields and – paradoxically – in the efforts of a group of investors to democratize this sport.
The status of this sport in the country contrasts with the constant closure of fields in the United States, where golf has lost ground as a business.
“Although it is still an expensive and difficult sport for Mexicans, there is no doubt that the future of golf in Latin America is in the public fields. We must evolve to grow as a business, ”says Federico Valdez, general director of the Mexican Golf Federation (FMG).
That is already happening, for example, in the United States, where there is a scheme of municipal fields that are subsidized – totally or partially – by local governments. There, ‘men’s sport’ can be played by the plumber or the millionaire investor. A panorama that is very well reflected in his Hall of Fame, which includes figures ranging from Arnold Palmer to Tiger Woods. Each of them represents a different American archetype: the first, the ordinary American; the second, to the yuppie of Wall Street.
The same does not happen in Mexico, where golf is still considered, rather than a sport, a status. Of the 240 golf courses that the FMG has registered, 90 percent are private or located within a tourist resort, which makes accessibility difficult.
In private fields, you can only play with an invitation from the owner – in addition to paying a membership – and in the beach resorts, a first play can cost between five and eight thousand pesos, already counting the membership and the purchase of equipment, according to figures compiled by Bloomberg Businessweek.
One of the few public fields that exist in Mexico is Zibatá Golf, in Querétaro, for which membership is not required. It was the first field of its kind in the country, designed by the former coach of Lorena Ochoa, Rafael Alarcón.
“It’s already a gain that golf clubs charge you in pesos because much of the market is still aimed at foreign golfers and they charge in dollars,” says Valdez of the FMG. “A single play in a resort-type field, such as Diamante Los Cabos, one of the best in the world, can be around $ 150 plus the equipment rental and the cost of lodging and travel. Indeed, it is a public field, whoever wants to enter can enter, but being able to pay it is another matter . ”
In the United States, since it is the municipality that builds and administers the field, any citizen has the right to enjoy its benefits. In the end, it is the taxes that pay for the project. In a public field, an American can play for prices ranging between 10 and 60 dollars . This means that playing golf there can be up to 90 percent cheaper than in Mexico.
” An example of a first-class public field in the United States is Torrey Pines, in San Diego , where locals have a hard time playing between $ 40 and $ 60, while foreigners have a cost of over 200,” said Mexican businessman Agustin Pizá, who has been building golf courses in the world for more than 20 years.
The Tijuanense Agustín Pizá and his company called Pizá Golf Design represent a good example of the dichotomy that the golf industry is going through in Mexico, whose annual economic spill exceeds 25 billion pesos, according to the calculations made in 2017 by the extinct Tourism Promotion Council.
On the one hand, says the architect, there are plans to democratize golf and popularize it with hours of transmission on the open television signal (TV Azteca), but on the other there is also the fact that playing it today is more expensive than a decade ago, which has increased the demand to build private fields in ranches or estates that belong to large entrepreneurs.
“My business has grown especially in the private fields of my ’boutique design’ line. This private branch of building fields in ranches and farms of entrepreneurs has grown quite a lot. There has also been growth in the construction of multipurpose golf spaces, which go hand in hand with sustainable urban development, ”says Pizá, whose company has participated in more than 60 projects in Mexico, the United States, Latin America, and Europe, and has grown by up to 25 percent since it was founded in 2006.
Despite the above, the architect states that there are other types of projects. First Tee Mexico is a program that arrived in the country three years ago by the World Golf Mexico Championship with the aim of promoting golf among new generations, especially aimed at the less favored segment. Pizá is the director of that project, which has benefited more than 200 children and young people.
” Today we have people asking for more golf areas and we have consolidated programs such as First Tee, which drive golf at the base of the pyramid,” says Pizá, who has the firm conviction that this sport should not only democratize but change its concept through the design of more sustainable, more accessible, easier to play and even smaller fields. Because maintaining an 18-hole course costs around $ 100,000 annually, according to estimates from the National Golf Foundation.
According to Grupo Salinas, its commitment is not only to popularize the WGC-Mexico Championship among Mexicans but to design a strategy with the government and the private initiative to have a system of public fields throughout the Republic that allows the average Mexican to make his first swing without spending your entire fortnight.
While efforts are being made in Mexico to increase the popularity and economic spillover of golf with numbers always in green, in the United States there is a doldrums environment. Only in 2018, they closed down 198 golf courses in the country, according to the latest industry report published by the National Golf Foundation in 2019.
Bloomberg estimates that around 800 to 2016 they closed around 800. Many of them ended up abandoned, invaded by pests or even consumed by fires . In a derogatory way, many Americans refer to those territories where Tiger Woods once played as “rabbit hutch” or “goat farms.”
The data from the National Golf Foundation draws a not encouraging picture for American golf. It is estimated that every 12 months, they close between 130 and 160 fields, the majority of 18 holes. In 2018 there were 12 openings. In fact, since 2006 the number of closed fields exceeds the inauguration of clubs, and that trend does not seem to change, according to experts consulted for the report.
“It is a problem of continuous correction of the supply and demand caused by an unsustainable construction boom: in 20 years more than 4,000 golf clubs were opened, which triggered the offer at very high levels,” the document said. All in all, the United States remains the best-provided golf market in the world, with 16,693 courses, of which 75 percent are open to the public . This infrastructure is used by about 107 million people – almost a third of the population of that country – among players, direct or indirect employees, tourists, and national spectators.
The National Golf Foundation announces each year that the number of golfers in the US is stagnant or growing very slowly . In 2015, it revealed a fact that worried many: “There are about four million players less than there were a decade ago.” In Mexico, on the other hand, the numbers keep growing. In 2009 there were between 15 and 16 thousand golfers with handicap; Today there are about 27,000 registered, an increase of 68 percent, according to the FMG. And if you count the floating population of foreign players, the number rises to 90 thousand.
“ A decade ago, the Federation had affiliates to 90 fields, while today we have 142, ” adds Valdez.
The WGC-Mexico was one of the favorite tournaments of President Donald Trump, who in 2013 invested about 250 million dollars in buying and remodeling the Doral complex in Miami, only to host the event, which was held there since 1999. His investment, however, was unsuccessful. An unexpected Cadillac movement – which withdrew as a sponsor in 2016 and left the road clear to other brands – ended the plans they had.
It was then that Mexican businessmen took advantage of the withdrawal of the automaker to keep part of the rights of the WGC. The headlines of the international newspapers then exploded: “Mexico ‘snatches’ Trump golf tournament. ” The Republican was in the middle of the electoral campaign, even months before settling in the White House.
“ Mexico has a lot to offer this sport. There has been no better time for golf in Mexico than we are living, ”says Rodrigo Suárez, who is currently the director of the WGC-Mexico, and whose economic spill is in 2 thousand 140 million pesos for operating expenses, media coverage, consumption in the event and television broadcast value.
“While in the United States they are closing more and more fields, here we inaugurate new programs that seek to promote golf among the members of the new generations.” The challenge now is: can golf fall in love with more and more Mexicans?
Source: el financiero
The Mazatlan Post