South Africa offers a wide range of extraordinary golf courses, but the global golf tourism industry has yet to fully recognise the country’s true potential as a premier golfing destination.
“Despite the exceptional quality and value South Africa offers to golf enthusiasts, it remains mostly unknown on the global stage. The untapped opportunity for growth within this segment is enormous,” SATSA Golf Chair, Carl Reinders, told Tourism Update.
This year, the global golf tourism market is estimated at around US$4.76bn, and is expected to grow to US$6.07bn in 2027 at a compound annual growth rate of 6.3%, according to report by the world’s largest market research store, Research and Markets.
“South Africa's own position within this framework is still unknown and something we are working towards estimating. We need to be cognisant that the total estimation extends beyond the golf revenue generated. It also encompasses the additional revenue streams accompanying the arrival of golf tourists, spanning hospitality and non-golfing activities and more,” said Reinders.
He added that, according to global research, golf tourists are high-value contributors to the tourism ecosystem, spending on average 120% more per day than leisure tourists.
International markets drawn to SA’s diversity
South African golf tour operators mostly focus on attracting international markets, as the country offers courses unlike anywhere else.
“Clients enjoy the diversity of the country’s golf offerings. For example, when they go to Scotland, it is all about golf. South Africa offers so much more, which is appealing to our golf clients. This means they will stay longer and experience more of what South Africa has to offer,” CEO of luxury tour operator Giltedge Group, Murray Gardiner, told Tourism Update.
An example of South Africa’s unique golf courses is the Skukuza Golf Club in the Kruger National Park, where extraordinary sights such as a cackle of hyenas eating a giraffe on the fairway have been filmed.
Reinders revealed that South Africa’s traditional international golf markets – Germany, Austria, the UK, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Sweden, and Denmark –have consistently produced the largest volumes of tourists whose primary purpose is to play golf.
“This business is primarily generated through golf tour operators operating in their respective markets, collaborating closely with destination management companies here in South Africa.”
He noted that the country’s golf tourism landscape had evolved since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, with growth from the US market.
“However, these travellers are not exclusively travelling to South Africa with golf as their primary objective. Instead, they are drawn to South Africa primarily for safaris, wine experiences, and leisure tourism,” Reinders said.
For Giltedge, demand from the European market is very seasonal, with clients travelling from November to April. However, its clients from the American market travel year-round, predominantly during the summer months, and it is seeing a lot more US private golf clubs travelling in groups.
“We also deal more with the high-end market, so our golf tours are not volume-driven. Most of our packages are combined with wine and safari,” Gardiner added.
Not big on the domestic front
When referring to golf-specific tourism, Reinders said it was essential to acknowledge that the domestic market remained relatively small, comprising approximately 129 000 affiliated golfers.
Nevertheless, this demographic has a propensity for travel, and their choice of destination extends beyond certain regions of the country.
“Unlike international tourists who may gravitate towards well-known regions, domestic golfers frequently opt for less conventional travel destinations within the country, exploring areas that may not necessarily feature on the global tourism stage,” he said.
Both Reinders and Gardiner said the Western Cape, specifically the Garden Route and Cape Winelands, had consistently ranked as the preferred destinations for international golfers.
“The Garden Route, in particular, has earned its reputation as the 'golfing mecca' of South Africa, thanks to the abundant and exceptional high-quality golf courses concentrated in the region,” Reinders added.
Johannesburg and KwaZulu Natal’s potential in the realm of golf tourism remain largely untapped.
“These destinations often remain overlooked, primarily drawing the interest of seasoned return travellers who have previously explored the charms of Cape Town, the Wine Region, and the Garden Route,” Reinders noted.
South Africa being a long-haul destination and a lack awareness regarding the “exceptional value” of the overall experiences the country offers are the biggest obstacles to increasing South Africa’s inbound golf tourism industry, according to Reinders.
“Our challenge is clearly communicating the remarkable features and benefits that define South Africa as a premier golfing destination. South Africa distinguishes itself not only through its world-class golf courses but also through its exceptional food and beverage offerings, the diversity of leisure experiences it presents, the sheer beauty of its landscapes, and, most significantly, the affordability of all these attractions when compared with the world's most popular golf destinations,” Reinders said.
Though a consideration, Reinders believes it's worth noting that the cost of a long-haul flight holds very little relevance when compared with the overall value offered by South Africa in comparison to its competitor markets.
The country’s ability to seize this untapped opportunity hinges on its capacity to effectively communicate a clear value proposition and the superior quality South Africa presented, especially when compared with renowned golf tourism destinations such as Spain and Portugal, Reinders said.
“To put this into perspective, excluding the expenses associated with a long-haul flight from Europe to South Africa, the cost of embarking on a golfing adventure in South Africa is approximately one-third of the price when compared with Spain and Portugal, two of the world's leading golf destinations. Astonishingly, advantages such as these are known to only a few international golf travellers.”
SATSA hopes to elevate the awareness of this substantial tourism segment through its established Golf Tourism Chapter.
“Our greatest opportunity lies in fostering collaboration between the private and public sectors, uniting under one marketing message and acknowledging the immense potential of inbound golf tourism. We must share the message far and wide: South Africa is unbeatable as a golf tourism destination, offering an unparalleled blend of quality and value,” Reinders concluded.