Cyprus must invest if it wants to get Cypriots interested in golf, develop local talent, or host big international tournaments, otherwise, it will remain in the rough.
Cyprus has succeeded in organising several amateur tournaments at an international level including the European Champion Club, hosted in Paphos in 2012 and 2015 but it is not widely played.
Stakeholders argue that without investing in infrastructure to get Cypriots interested in the game, chances of putting Cyprus on the golfing map are less than slim.
Stelios Patsalides, general manager of Minthis Hills Golf Resort In comments told the Financial Mirror Cyprus needs to improve its game to convincing Cypriots to play the sport even on a recreational level.
“Without getting Cypriots interested in the game and developing local talent, there is no way the sport will attract the attention of international sponsors or TV channels.
Currently, not even local businesses would consider sponsoring a golfing event,” said Patsalides.
“To hold an international event that would get an international sports channel interested you would need at least €250,000,” said Patsalides.
He said existing golf courses, although they are operating as private clubs with memberships, have joined forces with the local Golfing Federation and the Deputy Ministry of Tourism to get Cypriots playing golf.
For Minthis Hills it will be good for business if more Cypriots took-up golf.
“Our main source of income is tourists coming on a golfing holiday. Apart from these packages, our main clientele is made up from British expats, a few British military officers based at the British bases and a very small number of Cypriots.”
Patsalides said that during the lockdown, golf courses had remained empty as no tourists were able to come while Cypriots do not care much about golf.
He argued local authorities, government and municipalities should be investing in golf infrastructure, laying the ground for the development of young talent but also increasing their income from tourism.
More than a decade ago, authorities had officially decided to promote Cyprus as a golfing destination to improve the seasonality of its tourist product.
A government strategy drawn up in 2008 included promoting the construction of 14 golf courses but only four are in operation today.
Only in Paphos
There are four golf courses fully operational in Cyprus, all in the Paphos district (two in Kouklia, one in Paphos and one in Tsada).
Tourists who travel for golf are usually affluent, bringing income to many services on the island, from car rentals to restaurants and hotels.
Patsalides argued that Cyprus is an ideal Golf Tourism Destination, especially during the winter months when golfers from Central and Northern Europe travel to destinations which have a mild climate.
He said there needed to be a wider choice with courses situation in other locations not just Paphos with municipalities and the Cyprus Sports Association (KOA) pushing for golf facilities in other areas, especially in the capital Nicosia.
He noted that private golf courses are doing their bit in promoting the sport by setting up grassroots academies and even offering free lessons to beginners regardless of age.
“Minthis hosts summer schools in the region with children getting a free induction to the sport while our coaches regularly visit Paphos schools, handing out free equipment to children wanting to join our academies.”
However, as he said, Paphos is a small town far from the majority of the island’s population.
General secretary of Cyprus Golf Federation Nick Rossides argued that Cyprus needs to invest in golf infrastructure, starting in Nicosia.
“We were close to an agreement with KOA and the Cyprus government to back a golf training centre in Nicosia, however, we recently received a letter from government officials informing us that the project has been put on ice due the financial crisis brought on by the coronavirus outbreak,” said Rossides.
He said that reaching kids at a young age, getting them interested in the sport is the key.
“Of course, you need training centres and of course golf courses within their reach.”
“Unfortunately, golf is not high on the state’s agenda. Despite a number of golf courses being in the pipeline, no developer has approached the Federation for advice.
No golf course could possibly hold an international tournament, professional or amateur, without being rated from the Federation.”
Rossides said the Federation is the competent body to certify that a golf course complies with international standards set by the United States Golf Association and the Scottish R&A, (Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrew) considered the oldest and most prestigious golf club in the world.
He said that in promoting the sport, stakeholders would also have to do away with myths surrounding golf that it is only for the rich.
“When golf first came to Cyprus, the first golfers, myself included, had to dig deep in their pockets just to be able to set foot on a course.
Buying decent golfing equipment cost at least 500 Cyprus pounds, the equivalent of €900. Today you can buy a set for €200.
“One does not have to be a ‘pro’ to step on the green. Golf’s handicap system allows an amateur to go head-to-head with an experienced player, a young beginner to play with a senior”.
Rossides explained that the handicap system turns golf into a sport where players essentially go against their own capabilities, trying to better their game.
“The winner is the player who performs better based on their handicap”.