Golf and the European Regional Development Fund

April 27, 2008

Grant aid from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) is financing the development of new golf courses across Europe.

The ERDF is the second largest EU financial mechanism, after the Common Agricultural Policy. It provides grant aid to the poorest regions in the EU ranked according to GDP per capita to part-finance investment projects which stimulate job creation.

ERDF had a significant impact on golf development in certain EU Member States, such as Ireland and Portugal, in the 1980s and 1990s. €20 million of ERDF aid was spent on golf course construction in Ireland in the 1989-99 period with grants going to approximately one third of all new Irish courses built in that period. Portugal continued to use ERDF for golf course construction with grants available between 2000-06 up to a maximum of €3.7 million per project.

ERDF is now helping to stimulate golf supply and demand in other EU Member States, where golf tourism is expanding (eg Greece, Italy and the new Member States of Central and Eastern Europe, Malta and Cyprus).

ERDF projects stimulating “golf demand” include advertising campaigns run by golf tourism promotion agencies, eg see the Golf Highland website.

ERDF projects stimulating “golf supply” include new golf course construction, remodelling of existing courses and extensions to clubhouse facilities to cater for new golf visitors.

Variations in the use of ERDF exist because of:

  • differences in golf markets between different countries ; and
  • devolution of responsibility for ERDF away from Brussels and national governments towards individual regions.

Where golf architects are assisting golf developers with advice on external funding issues, they should be aware of the possible availability of ERDF grant aid for golf development.

ERDF impacts on golf supply not only through the provision of significant financial resources but also through the conditions attached to receipt of an ERDF grant. These conditions include requirements that golf clubs:

  • do not discriminate against women;
  • do not restrict access to golf tourists ; and
  • comply fully with EU environment legislation.

These legal requirements should, of course, be implemented regardless of grant aid availability. ERDF’s key function, in this respect, is to sharpen the legal spotlight.

Overall, the ERDF has been shown to have made a very positive contribution to golf development in some countries. This fact may come as a surprise to some, particularly in England, where golf has been little used as a tool of regional economic development.

For regional development authorities considering use of ERDF for golf development for the first time, following are some suggestions of good practice:

  1. Start with a golf tourism strategy – as in Wales – which analyses the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats facing a particular golf market. Individual ERDF golf projects should then be developed in accordance with the strategy. Piecemeal projects, with no supporting strategic framework, may struggle to gain approval and, if approved, may struggle to survive in the long-term;
  2. Seek to develop clusters of golf courses attractive to golf tourists – which have the potential to multiply golf’s contribution to local economic development;
  3. Be proactive – as Shannon Development did with the Doonbeg project on the West Coast of Ireland in seeking potential applicants for ERDF grant aid rather than passively awaiting the market’s response;
  4. Involve the private sector – as in Ireland – where representatives from the golf tourism industry were full members of ERDF decision-making committees;
  5. Set maximum grant amounts – as in Portugal – that can be awarded for ERDF golf grants;
  6. Ensure golf developers and conservationists work together – as at Doonbeg in Ireland – to implement EU environmental obligations fully and to prevent project implementation delays;
  7. Develop local partnerships – as at Dora in Scotland – which involve local authorities and give access to their EU funding expertise; and
  8. Reclaim derelict industrial land – as at Dora – by using ERDF to develop golf courses on redundant brownfield sites and not just in prime tourism development and environmentally sensitive areas.

These and other items of good practice offer the possibility that the ERDF will continue in the years ahead to increase its influence on developments in the European golf market.

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