CAIRO: Over the last decade, the sport of golf has blossomed from a niche pastime into a full-fledged sport, increasing the demand for golf courses, golf tournaments and more golf related mediums throughout the country and consequently opened a new industry of golf tourism.
Golf has a historic relationship with Egypt, dating back to the British invasion in 1882 and the building of the Gezira Club. Until 1995, the only three courses were the Mena House, Gezira Sporting Club and Alexandria Sporting Club, which all date back to the turn of the century when the British occupiers sought to create private sporting clubs for wealthy expatriate residents of Egypt.
The ’40s and ’50s were the golden years of golf in Egypt – the Egyptian Open was one of the most prestigious tournaments for European and South African golfers, with champions and participants including five-time British Open winner Peter Thompson and four-time British Open winner Bobby Locke.
Another equally impressive highlight was when future grand slam winner Gary Player won the Egyptian Matchplay in 1955 at the Gezira Club for his first win outside of South Africa. Competing alongside the big name foreign pros were notable Egyptian professionals such as Hassan Hassanein and Noman Ali, who proved their quality by competing at the highest levels: Hassanein made the cut in the British Open and finished tied for 17th in his only appearance there.
As with much else in the country, the revolution put an end to these glory years. Golf was viewed as an imperialist sport played only by the wealthy, so former President Gamal Abdel Nasser and his socialist clique made a point of killing the sport by nationalizing the private clubs and seizing parts of the golf lands for public use.
Thus began a 40-year lull in the sport. By 1995 golfers in the country numbered no more than 600 players playing on the awful publicly owned courses of Gezira, Mena House and Alexandria. But all was not for naught. Accompanying the boom of the early ’90’s came heavy investment in the real estate and development business.
Developers realized that the overcrowding of Cairo and poor facilities in apartment buildings presented an opportunity to develop land outside of the city where people could, for the same price as owning an upscale apartment downtown, buy massive villas in private compounds.
This was the greatest blessing for the sport of golf in Egypt, since well-designed courses provide great views for these villas. Developers pounced upon this concept and started to build golf courses with, at least in most cases, beautiful villas lining the fairways.
These golf homes were sold at a rapid rate and thus began the local birth of golf real estate development. Today there are no fewer than 14 working golf courses in the country ranging from real estate projects in and around Cairo to tourist developments on the Red Sea. A further 20 courses are in the planning phase and the potential for future growth looks positive.
Early in the golfing boom, Egypt’s first golf periodical, Golf in Egypt (GIE), was launched with its first issue released in December 1998. Until this day GIE remains the leading golf magazine in Egypt and is the unofficial mouthpiece for all golfing news and events in the country.
As the industry has grown, GIE has too. General Manager Ismail Naguib says, “As an industry, golf and golf real estate is already more than a LE 1 billion business and shows no sign of slowing down. I foresee tremendous growth in the next two decades, especially in golf tourism, and this growth will fuel further investment into the development of dozens of new golf courses.
As such, GIE has transformed itself from a magazine and operator of golf tournaments into a complete golf consulting firm, providing developers with turn key solutions to the development and planning of golf courses.
Their first project is the Ein Bay golf course in Ein Sokhna, a project by real estate developer Mahmoud El-Gamal that will be open for play in the fall of 2007. Many other projects are still in the pipeline.
Golf tourism presents an interesting opportunity for the country in that tourists who play golf tend to be bigger spenders, seeking higher levels of service and accommodation. This is in stark contrast to the current masses of low-end tourists who make up the vast majority of holiday seekers coming to Egypt.
The current tourist golf courses in the country – Cascade in Somaa Bay, Steinburger in El-Gouna and Movenpick Golf in Sharm El-Sheikh – are of world-class quality and are priced at a fraction of what similar facilities would cost in Europe, creating a fantastic opportunity to market this and turn Egypt into a premier golfing destination.
Perhaps one day Egypt can emulate Dubai and attract mega-wealthy golf real estate buyers and pump millions of dollars into our flagging economy.