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  • Alistair Tait

The enduring Iberian question

Many will recognise the golf course pictured. However, could you pick Ricardo Santos out of a line-up? Or Susana Mendes Ribeiro?

Who they you ask? They’re Portugal’s top ranked professionals. Santos is the world’s 333rd ranked male professional. Mendes Ribeiro is 996th on the Rolex Women’s World Golf Rankings.

A recent Deloitte study revealed just how enormously Portugal benefits from golf tourism. Vale do Lobo (pictured) is one of 83 Portuguese golf facilities that bring a lot of foreign cash into Portugal. As Portuguese Golf Federation president Miguel Franco de Sousa wrote last week:

“In general golf had a direct economic impact of just over €1 billion and nearly €2 billion considering its indirect impact.
“The 83 golf facilities in Portugal have generated €123 million in direct revenues, where green fees represent 55% and memberships 11%. The average revenue of a golf facility is €1.8 million, where the Algarve plays a leading role and is regarded as one of the best golf destinations in the world.
“The 260,000 tourists spent €303 million in accommodation, €168 million in restaurants and €157 million in transportation.
“Golf related real estate transactions and construction represented €68 million through the many thousands of expats who decided to acquire properties in Portugal.”

The investment means jobs for around 17,000 Portuguese workers.

Like all countries, Portuguese golf facilities will have suffered because of the coronavirus. However, Franco de Sousa says there are another four golf courses in planning, along with a dozen 5-star hotels and high end real estate developments.

The country is living proof of the build it and they will come theory. Perhaps not the build and they will breed one, though.

What puzzles me is why we’re still waiting for Portugal to produce genuine superstars the way neighbouring Spain has in Seve Ballesteros, Jose Maria Olazabal, Sergio Garcia and Jon Rahm, not to mention many other European Tour winners over the years. Ditto in the women’s game with players like Azahara Munoz and Carlota Ciganda.

I know Spain is a far bigger country with a larger population. However, considering how long golf has been played in Portugal, and the plethora of great golf courses, surely the country should have produced bona fide European Tour stars and Ladies European Tour winners?

Santos is the last Portuguese player to win on the European Tour. He won the 2012 Madeira Islands Open. Trying to find a Portuguese winner on the LET is like searching for the Holy Grail.

Portugal has one player in the men’s World Amateur Golf Rankings. Daniel Da Costa Rodrigues is 59th. Leonor Medeiros is the highest ranked woman at 578th. José-Filipe Lima and Ricardo Gouveia represented Portugal in the 2016 Olympic Games. The country had no representation in the women’s competition.

According to the most recent research from KPMG, Portugal has just over 15,000 registered golfers out of a population of just over 10 million. I wonder how many of those registered golfers are native Portuguese, and how many are expats who’ve either settled in the country or have holiday homes there.

As I wrote earlier this year, the European Tour has been visiting the United Arab Emirates since 1989. Yet in that time the UAE has not produced one golfer even approaching world class. At least Portugal can claim European Tour winners in Santos, Lima and Daniel Silva. However, it surely should have produced more considering golf has been played far longer in Portugal than the UAE?

Portugal’s dearth of talent feeds into those who questioned the notion that golf in the Olympics would somehow grow the game around the world, that nations would benefit from extra funding and in turn we’d see stars emerge from nations with no golf pedigree.

I’m sure the Portuguese Golf Federation works hard to produce home grown talent with the resources it has. The money poured into the country from golf tourism has been great for the Portuguese economy. However, it obviously hasn’t helped produce world class golf talent.

Genuine question that’s puzzled me for years: why has Spain produced great golfers while Portugal hasn’t? Answers on a postcard please?

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