“Golf has provided Andalucía with the opportunity of fostering quality tourism”
Golf is much more than a sport in Andalucía: it is a flourishing tourist industry that attracts hundreds of thousands of tourists every year from throughout Europe, who travel to these lands in search of good weather when, back home, it is often impossible to play golf. In this interview with Andalucía Golf/España Golf, Francisco Javier Fernández, minister for tourism and sport for the Junta de Andalucía (regional government), talks about the past, present and future of a tourist-sport segment that is of vital importance to the area.
How would you analyse the evolution of golf in Andalucía over the past 30 years, progressing from just 30 golf courses to nearly four times that number?
What we have experienced during that time is a positive progression in Andalucía’s golfing phenomenon. It’s been an evolutionary process occurring in different phases, including periods of strong expansion and others of economic stagnation and recession, as a result of the various national and international crises that we have suffered. Fortunately, golf has overcome the crisis and is now enjoying good times. What is clear, however, is that golf has provided Andalucía with the opportunity of fostering quality tourism, tourists who spend more, who stay longer, and who are attracted by the diversity and high quality of our golf courses. At the same time, this phenomenon has enabled us to plant golfing seeds among Andalucians, and it has now become one of their regular sporting pursuits.
It should also be noted that there have been times when golf as a sport was not the main motivation for building a golf course; rather, it was related to what was developed around the course. That is no longer the case, thanks to legislation as well as the market’s self-regulation, and now we have more than 100 courses in Andalucía that are a key attraction for both residents and visitors. I believe that we are currently experiencing a rebirth in golf as a tourist attraction and model to encourage people to visit Andalucía.
One very important factor in promoting Andalucía has been that, over the years, many major tour events have been held in the region, not only European but also international: the Ryder Cup, AmEx World Golf Championships, World Match Play, World Cup, Volvo Masters…
That’s true, and the world’s leading golfers have also played here. Organisers of major tournaments know that in Andalucía they will always find top-quality courses, good weather, impressive public and private infrastructure, and valuable organisational experience.
In addition to providing financial support to major tournaments such as the Andalucía Valderrama Masters, as key elements of tourist promotion in the region, your ministry also promotes golf as a sport to be played among school students and disabled people…
Yes, we do, and to that end we invest in public golf amenities because we want to spread the word that golf is just one other sport, as good or as bad as any other, and disprove the false image of it being elite.
Javier Reviriego (Valderrama general manager) spoke during the official presentation of the tournament about the entry fees, that for €12 you can see some of the best players in the world playing, and all you need to do is compare this to the cost of a ticket to attend a football match. You can see there that there is no elitism. We have to put an end to the clichés, with their cynical origins, which don’t correspond to reality. I believe a special effort needs to be made to bring golf closer to everyone, and at the same time to highlight its capacity to develop and enhance psychomotricity in people with any kind of disability. Furthermore, the sporting world has a responsibility to seek across-the-board access to all our golf amenities because we have made sport a right in Andalucía through the new Sports Law, and that also obliges us to ensure that any sport is accessible to everyone.
Signing a five-year sponsorship agreement for the Andalucía Valderrama Masters represents a very firm commitment by the ministry of tourism and sport to host major tournaments and promote this golf-tourism destination…
We have changed our golf promotion policy in Andalucía. We want it to be our courses, our areas in Andalucía, that we showcase to the world, and what better than sponsoring these kinds of tournaments and giving them a degree of permanency. Also for five years, because we believe such commitments require a certain period to mature, not just one year as a trial. We’ve done that with the Andalucía Valderrama Masters, and also with the motorcycling grand prix in Jerez, where we have signed on for more time to consolidate it, to ensure everything tranquil and relaxed and they know they have our support for an extended period. When we draw closer to the end of those five years we will analyse the situation and determine if we are still needed and if the result is what we were seeking.
How do you see golf’s future in Andalucía?
I view it optimistically, in both the tourist and sporting sense, and in that respect yesterday (24 September) was a great day to celebrate thanks to Azahara Muñoz’s triumph in the Spanish Ladies Open, which she had won the previous year and also at another Andalucian course. We should also not forget another great golfing figure, Miguel Ángel Jiménez, or Álvaro Quirós or so many top Andalucian players, both professional and amateur. We have everything in our favour to look ahead with optimism when it comes to the future of golf in Andalucía.