The closest I’ve ever gotten to setting foot on a golf course was 25 years ago.
I took a trip with a real estate agent to a brand-new development an hour’s drive south of Manila, the capital of the Philippines, where I live.
The Orchard Golf & Country Club was the country’s newest and biggest golf course project. It was a massive development that featured two world-class 18-hole courses designed by golf legends Arnold Palmer and Gary Player.
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I had the opportunity buy a piece of real estate right next to the golf course, or purchase a membership to the golf club, or both. The agent let me stand on the first tee even though it was still unfinished.
The only problem? I wasn’t into golf. And I had no intention of taking it up any time soon.
The Philippines wasn’t a huge market for golf. A golf course was just a marketing strategy for real estate developers to sell property.
Today, though, golf is a booming industry in the country. There are 105 golf courses in the Philippines, and the number of golf courses grew by 11 percent in 2017.
The Orchard is one of the most popular golf courses in the country. A membership there today costs US$12,000, making it the 14th most expensive golf course membership. The land that I was looking at has risen five-fold in value.
The millionaires’ sport
Golf started in Scotland in the 15th century. But it didn’t become popular in Europe until the late 19th century.
Today, it’s big business. Globally, it’s a US$70 billion industry. The top prize money for the U.S. Open – the biggest golf tournament in the world – is US$3.8 million.
Renting a golf club and accessing a public course isn’t expensive. But getting good at golf requires a lot of time – and money.
Learning the proper swing, stance and follow-through, for instance, takes hundreds of hours of training, even with the assistance of a high-priced coach.
A set of golf clubs will set you back US$2,000. Depending on the brand, some golf clubs can cost that much individually.
A 2013 National Golf Foundation Survey in the U.S. found that Baby Boomers (those born between 1946 and 1964) spend an average of US$1,908 on golf equipment, while members of Generations X and Y (born between mid-1960s to mid-1990s) combined have an average equipment spend of US$1,262.
Playing a game of golf costs around US$40 per game. But private golf courses can charge US$100 or more.
Asia is golf’s newest hotspot
Golf became wildly-popular in the U.S. in the 1980s. New golf courses were being constructed at a rate of one every two days.
As of 2017, North America had 16,570 18-hole golf courses, according to R&A, a governing body for golf worldwide. That’s more than any other region.
It’s more than double the number of golf courses in all of Europe (7,047).
But Asia is catching up fast.
As of 2017, Asia had 4,956 golf courses, which is less than both Europe and North America.
But Asia had 67 new golf courses under construction and 109 in the planning stages. That’s more than anywhere else.
The golf industry is more exclusive than it is in other parts of the world. Forty-four percent of the golf facilities in the region are private (like the Orchard), compared with just 20 percent in Europe and 23 percent in North America.
This means that playing golf in Asia is typically more expensive than in the U.S. or Europe.
The most expensive golf course I know of isn’t in the U.S.
It’s in the heart of Manila’s financial district, and it’s called Manila Golf. A membership there today costs the equivalent of US$1.1 million. Membership is limited to 1,000 members – and there are no sellers.
That’s more than double the approximate price of U.S. golf club memberships at Liberty National in New Jersey and Mar-a-Lago in Florida.
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Another sign of the shift from west to east
A few decades ago, global wealth was concentrated in the west – and in the U.S. in particular, which in 1987 was home to 44 of the world’s 140 billionaires. Japan, West Germany (before the fall of the Berlin Wall) and the United Kingdom had the next most billionaires. Hong Kong rounded out the top five, though with just six billionaires.
But according to the Billionaires Report 2017, issued by investment bank UBS and professional services firm PriceWaterhouseCoopers, Asia today is home to 637 billionaires – more than any other part of the world.
Asia now also has the biggest population of high net worth individuals (HNWIs), at 5.1 million as of last year, compared with 4.8 million in the U.S. Asia is adding 1,200 new HNWIs every single day.
(HNWIs are people with more than US$1 million in investable assets, excluding their primary residence, collectibles, consumables and consumer durables.)
Last year, total HNWI wealth in Asia hit US$18.8 trillion, growing nearly 9 percent per year since 2015. That’s nearly twice as fast as the rate of growth in HNWI wealth in the U.S.
HNWIs are also the biggest market for Asia’s golf club memberships. According to a 2017 Julius Baer Wealth Report on Asia’s HNWI market, prices for golf club memberships in Singapore jumped 22 percent in 2016. Prices climbed 31 percent in Taiwan and up 28 percent in Seoul, South Korea.
There are no official statistics for aggregate golf membership prices in the Philippines. But based on data from G&W Clubshares, Inc., a trader of golf membership shares, prices for many memberships have risen 50 percent in the last two years alone.
The Asian region is already home to the world’s largest market for just about anything under the sun – including automobiles, smartphones and computers.
So the growing popularity of golf is just another sign of Asia’s increasing share in the global wealth pie. It’s another sign of Asia’s coming of age. And it reflects the shift from west to east.
Editor, Stansberry Pacific Research