Indonesia aims to be top golf tourism spot as Singapore courses dwindle

The city state’s land crunch has led to the closure of many of its public golf courses, including the recent shuttering of the Marina Bay Golf Course, its last public 18-hole course, prompting enthusiasts to seek golf vacations overseas.

Ruth Dea Juwita

Ruth Dea Juwita

The Jakarta Post


Indonesian golfer Kevin Caesario Akbar. Indonesia could position Riau Islands, the third-largest entry point for tourists after Bali and Jakarta, as the country’s golf tourism hub. PHOTO: ASTRAGRAPHIA/THE JAKARTA POST

July 8, 2024

JAKARTA – Indonesia aims to become a top golfing destination in the region as Singapore has been shutting courses, providing a void for neighboring countries to fill.

The city state’s land crunch has led to the closure of many of its public golf courses, including the Marina Bay Golf Course, its last public 18-hole course, last weekend, prompting enthusiasts of the sport to seek golf vacations overseas.

“As Singapore has become more expensive and less affordable, we could provide [a golf tourism destination replacement] in Riau Islands, which has geographical proximity,” said Tourism and Creative Economy Minister Sandiaga Uno on Monday.

Indonesia could position Riau Islands, the third-largest entry point for tourists after Bali and Jakarta, as the country’s golf tourism hub.

Located less than an hour’s ferry ride from Singapore, the province is home to seven private and three public golf courses on Batam and Bintan Islands, respectively.

Furthermore, demand for golfing has been growing in Indonesia, with the minister pointing out increased interest from both international tourists and domestic players flocking to courses in Jakarta and Bali.

Sandiaga suggested that the country capitalize on the sport’s growing popularity for tourism development under the government’s “10 New Balis” initiative, which seeks to promote destinations beyond the famed resort island.

“We will map out the golf tourism opportunities in Lake Toba, Mandalika and Labuan Bajo,” said Sandiaga. “[Through golfing], we can improve tourism awareness in these super-priority destinations.”

The country’s golf industry has benefited from a surge in the sport’s popularity, with the participation rate among Indonesians spiking 20 percent since the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, according to Indonesia Golf Association (PGI) head for international relations Bernardino Moningka Vega.

The pandemic’s restrictions on outdoor activities have inadvertently propelled golf to the forefront, Bernardino pointed out, as it remained one of the few recreational options available at the time.

“If before growth was stuck between 5 and 6 percent, Indonesians now are playing golf more than ever,” Bernardino told The Jakarta Post on Tuesday.

The rising popularity of golf extended beyond domestic players. International enthusiasts from nearby countries as well as from East Asian countries like Japan and South Korea were flocking to the archipelago for golf vacations, he added.

Golf has in fact enjoyed a significant increase in popularity worldwide since 2016, with more than 5.5 million additional participants taking up the sport, according to 2021 research by R&A and Sports Marketing Surveys (SMS).

The number of golfers globally increased from 61 million to 66.6 million over a five-year period, surpassing the previous high of 61.6 million set in 2012. Asia saw the largest growth, with the number of players rising from 20.9 million to 23.3 million during the same period.

As player numbers continued to grow each year despite land scarcity in many Asian cities limiting the availability of courses and driving up prices, “this just presents a golden opportunity for Indonesia to promote its golf courses that are still affordable,” Bernardino continued.

Golf courses in and around Jakarta were competitive compared with Kuala Lumpur and Manila when it comes to metropolitan courses, Bernardino pointed out.

On the other hand, Indonesia was lagging behind neighboring Vietnam and Thailand in terms of resort courses.

These neighboring countries had established themselves as the region’s popular destinations for golf resorts, he acknowledged, by developing a “systematic” golfing program that would combine golfing activities, hotels and other entertainment into “a self-contained experience.”

While Japanese golfers often face year-long waiting lists to play in their own country, Vietnam could offer them to tee off every day at different courses for a week-long experience at affordable prices, he explained.

“Playing in Vietnam [with the tour] is about five times cheaper than playing golf in Indonesia,” Bernardino highlighted. “This is because they can offer comprehensive packages like this, which Indonesia does not.”

To address the gap, the golf association would draw up collaboration with golf course owners to develop comprehensive golfing packages that included hotels and other tourist activities, starting with Jakarta.

“We will also promote these packages beyond Jakarta, as there are also many local golfers,” added Bernardino, who also serves as international relations deputy chair for the Indonesian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (Kadin).

He further suggested that the association engage with its Southeast Asian counterparts to form a joint association to promote golf tourism in the region and facilitate cross-country golfing excursions.

“My program is aiming in that direction,” Bernardino said. “We can also collaborate with regional airlines like AirAsia or Singapore Airlines to combine flight schedules with golf tours.”

The head of tourism studies at the Bandung Institute of Technology (ITB), Myra Gunawan, highlighted that golf’s popularity was threatened, however, in a larger trend, due to environmental concerns.

“Golf courses are known to be water-intensive to keep their grass green and require heavy pesticide use,” Myra told the Post on Monday.

While the pandemic has provided a boost in the sport’s popularity, the longer-term trend is unclear, according to research firm FactSet, given that the core golfer demographic has been in decline in the new millennium as the sport was seen as too expensive and too analog to match modern preferences.

Popularity trends also differ among regions. In the United States, the sport saw a decline of more than 6.8 million players and more than 1,200 courses between 2003 and 2018, representing a 22 percent loss, based on FactSet data.

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