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The future of golf in Turkey

HDN | 10/1/2009 12:00:00 AM | GARY LACHMAN

Many among the expat community enjoy a round of golf now and again. Unfortunately, none has gone so far as actually developing a public course in Istanbul.

Many of us among the expat community enjoy a round of golf now and again. Unfortunately, none of us has gone so far as attempting to actually develop and operate a “pay to play” golf course. While numerous outstanding courses exist in the Antalya region, essentially only three can be found in greater Istanbul. These are the Kemer Country Club, Istanbul Golf Club in the Maslak/Levent district, and Klassis Golf Resort in Silivri. All three are private, although guests of the Klassis Resort Hotel can play for a fee.

Istanbul and Ankara certainly have a strong need for more golf courses, especially public courses where one can pay a daily fee, rent a cart or hire a caddy, and play whenever a tee time is available. Public courses would generate additional revenue for their owners (either the municipality or a private company or a hybrid of the two), including profits from a driving range, well-stocked pro shop, restaurant and bar, along with corporate tournaments.

Most golfers expect a golf course to have 18 holes with a par of about 72, plus a practice range and practice greens. Ideally this requires about 180 acres (72 hectares or 720,000 square meters) of useable land. The type of soil, how much soil must be moved, the method of constructing the greens, any major drainage required, the type of irrigation system, costs involved in meeting regulatory requirements, construction costs of a clubhouse and related building improvements and a myriad of other factors all influence the total cost of constructing a golf course. The cost per hole can vary from $60,000 to more than $250,000 for a truly spectacular course requiring extensive landscaping and water-feature construction.

Being one of the few golfers in Istanbul who has actually owned and operated a public golf course, I have a fairly good idea of what considerations must be taken into account to achieve financial as well as recreational and aesthetic success. However, owning and managing a course in the Washington, DC area is somewhat different from engaging in the same venture in Turkey. In other words, the game’s the same but the rules are different. 

The important thing to understand is that when investigating an investment in any emerging market, the investor, developer, and lawyer must go beyond the macro-economics of the subject country and examine the micro-economics of the particular city or district and understand how it relates to the region as a whole. What other projects are in the pipeline? Whether they are potential competition from a core business standpoint is only one of many considerations. What are the zoning and government regulatory requirements? What are the soils and hydrological conditions? How is the access and where will the customers be coming from?

Once these technical and logistical issues are satisfactorily addressed, the investor/developer must take a hard look at the local demographics. Where will the golfers come from, what days can they play (vacationers are different from businesspeople) and how much can they afford to pay? When I acquired a golf course, it had a dismal 6000 rounds of play per year. This was due to it being in poor condition and having a golf pro who exhibited all the personality characteristics of an offspring bred by Adolph Hitler and Queen Mary I (Bloody Mary). After only three years, we turned it around to host 25,000 rounds – still not even close to full capacity. 

Consider this: a public golf course with 35,000 rounds (one round of 18 holes, usually played by 3 or 4 golfers together) a year at the modest daily fee of 75 Turkish Liras per person (not including food and drink sales, caddy or cart rental) would gross over 2.5 million liras per year. Not bad for a swath of grass and 18 small holes.

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Gary Lachman is an international lawyer formerly with the U.S. Department of State, a real-estate developer and associate professor at the Johns Hopkins University with a consulting practice in Istanbul. He can be contacted at: glachman@lachmanyeniaras.com

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