Cambodia's golf plans now face financial hurdles
- From: Chim <ChimS1@xxxxxxx>
- Date: Wed, 3 Dec 2008 02:55:42 -0800 (PST)
by Suy Se Suy Se – Wed Dec 3, 12:48 am ET
SIEM REAP, Cambodia (AFP) – The sun rises over Cambodia's famed
temples of Angkor Wat, while nearby, dozens of female caddies wearing
long-sleeved green shirts and wide-rimmed hats await golfers.
The 18-hole Angkor Golf Resort designed by golfing legend Nick Faldo
opened a year ago, becoming the country's second professional-level
This is exactly what the Cambodian government has in mind when it says
it wants to lure well-heeled travellers.
"We are developing more golf courses in order to attract more tourists
to visit the country," says Minister of Tourism Thong Khon.
"Tourists can visit the Angkor Wat temples and stay to play golf in
At least four more luxury courses are now in various stages of
construction in the impoverished country which drew more than two
million tourists last year, but hopes to draw three million in 2010
and five million by 2012.
Golf is part of the plan to get visitors to stay longer than the few
days it takes to visit the ancient Angkor temples, but Cambodia's
strategy to diversify its tourism industry might have landed in the
sand trap of the global financial crisis.
There are only four commercial courses in Cambodia right now, but the
head of the national golf association, Suos Yara, thinks there needs
to be at least 50 greens to nurture the game among locals and
transform the country into a true golfing destination.
But as tourist arrivals slow amid the gathering global economic storm,
he knows that dream looks increasingly distant.
"Many (Asian) investors want to build more golf courses here but
because of the financial crisis, they have pushed back their
projects," Suos Yara says.
Even the pristine Angkor Golf Resort, which was averaging more than
700 golfers a month, is starting to notice the drop in interest, says
its manager Adam Robertson.
"I have already seen a decline in the number of visitors compared to
last year. Usually in the time of a crisis the annual holiday is
cancelled first," said Robertson.
"Without a doubt this (financial crisis) is a major worry for all
hospitality oriented businesses."
Yet golf is here to stay. The country's defence minister last month
teed off with Thai military officials in a spot of golf diplomacy
before talks aimed at resolving a deadly territorial dispute.
The sport is so beloved at the highest levels of government that
Cambodia's senate has its own nine-hole course.
Prime Minister Hun Sen's golf scores are posted on his cabinet
website, even though he has a handicap of 15.
Earlier this year the premier, a huge golf fan, said he even wanted a
luxury course built in the former Khmer Rouge rebel stronghold of
Cambodia's leaders have also approved plans for a luxury golf course
in Bokor national park, a protected wildlife area.
And despite the worldwide economic slowdown, the country's profile in
the sport will be further lifted when the Asia Golf Tour stops by in
December for the second annual Cambodia Open.
"Golf is still a new sport in Cambodia but I think it will continue to
grow," Robertson said.
But there is still a long way to go as the sport remains alien to most
Cambodians, he said, adding that the Angkor Golf Resort had to teach
some 350 employees the rules.
"Not only do we at Angkor Golf Resort train our caddies, but we have
taken it upon ourselves to train new golfers in the etiquette of
golf," he said.
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