Where do you think of when you think of golf in Europe? Is it the links courses of England, Ireland and Scotland which of course includes St. Andrews, the spiritual home of the game, or do you think of the sun-kissed courses of the Algarve and Spain that attract holidaymakers in their droves especially during the autumn and winter seasons?
Well now it may be time to review those perceptions as if one country in Europe can lay claim to being the next golfing hotspot in this part of the world, then it may just be the verdant green courses and magnificent surroundings of Switzerland.
Switzerland may be a country better known for winter sports, but it is fast becoming one of the most popular golfing destinations in Europe and the game is enjoying a state of rude health in the country, in stark contrast to many of its European neighbours.
A study by KPMG on Golf Participation in Europe 2011, revealed that in 2011, European golf suffered its first downturn in participation numbers in many years, a net loss of 46,000 registered players.
Yet there was one established golfing country which bucked that trend while many other established markets, such as Sweden (-4.1%), the UK & Ireland (-3.1%) and Spain (-2.9%), Switzerland saw participation rise by 4.1% from 2010.
So what is it that is driving this popularity in Switzerland when so many other established golfing countries are feeling the effects of the economic downturn?
In truth, there is no simple answer to this; there are many different reasons behind golf’s popularity in Switzerland namely:
Accessibility and Affordability of courses: There are 94 courses in Switzerland and they are spread out the length and breadth of the country, allowing easy access to courses from any location. Even though Switzerland may have a reputation as being an ‘expensive’ country in Europe, the truth is that the cost of golf in the country is no more expensive than in the likes of Spain, Portugal or the UK and Ireland. With many courses set amidsts incomparable mountain scenery, where would you rather spend your Euros to play?
Equality - Golf in Switzerland is not a male-dominated sport as it is in many other parts of the world. A third of all players are female and the country is also leading the way in provision of golf for disabled golfers too.
Amateur Support – To play golf and join a club in Switzerland, a player needs to first gain their ‘Autorisation de Parcours’ qualification. Far from being a hurdle to playing, the promotion of golf skills, knowledge of the game, etiquette on the course and the support of a qualified professional when beginning the game does seem to inspire new golfers to play and improve, rather than trying the game once with no support and then not bothering again when you find it too difficult.
In addition, new players can learn the skills of the game at a number of clinics, such as the IGOLF clinics run at Lavaux Golf Club, where professional advice is on hand for students of the game to help develop their skills and encourage the social aspect of the game by meeting new players and developing friendship on the course.
Professional Support – Switzerland is already home to the prestigious Omega European Masters tournament on the European and Asian Tour (held at the beautiful, Seve Ballesteros designed Crans-sur-Sierre course) which is played in September each year. The country is also home to the Bad Ragasz PGA Seniors Open, the Ladies Swiss Open, The Credit Suisse Challenge and Rolex Trophy (both for Challenge Tour Players).
Forward-thinking: One of the most impressive things about Swiss golf is how environmentally friendly many of the courses are. The Lavaux Golf Club (below) for example is one of only two courses in Italy to have been awarded the prestigious IGOLF Laureate Charter, awarded to clubs which are not just positive towards including their local community, but which also promote environmental and social sustainability and adhere to these beliefs not just in the design of the course, but also how it is run and maintained.
With participation on the rise for those native to Switzerland and the country increasingly promoting itself as a golfing destination, its ideal location in central Europe meaning it is easy to reach from all the major golf centres across Europe and even from north Africa, the Middle East and western Asia and the fact that it already has an existing infrastructure to deal with lots of holidaymakers, Switzerland is definitely one of Europe’s hot spots for golf and a place that you should really try to visit to play a round or two.
All Images Courtesy of GorillaGolfBlog