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The Golf Club of Lebanon seeks a new life

Sports

In order to regenerate and expand its membership base, the club is betting on youth and competitions.

14/06/2019
Four hundred and twenty-five thousand square meters of lawn and trees in the heart of the southern suburbs. In a concrete jungle like Beirut, it’s hard to believe that the vast majority of the city’s residents are not aware of this green space. The largest in the capital, it belongs to the Golf Club of Lebanon, established in Ouzai in 1963. Now, the Club is trying to revitalize by attracting youth and other new members to infuse a breath of fresh air into its community.

The Golf Club of Lebanon signed a contract with the Lebanese state in 1963 to open in its current location. That contract has been renewed every seven years since. The original agreement gave the Club the right to use a vast and sandy area located close to Beirut International Airport for the modest sum of 1,000 LBP. The land, prone to sand storms, presented a safety threat to planes during take-offs and landings. So the contract stipulated that the Golf Club should turn it into a green area to put an end to the risks.

Today, the Golf Club of Lebanon has an 18-hole course, swimming pool, gym, a small football field, several tennis courts, squash courts, a children’s play area and a restaurant. The facilities come with a price. To become a member, you have to pay $10,000 for individuals or $15,000 for a family in addition to a $2,500 annual fee for adults and $250 annual fee for children.

The financial barrier is significant, but Imad Hamdan, the Golf Club's lawyer, insists that "when you come to the club, you are paying for a whole package. Golf itself is not expensive, and we offer a whole range of services”.

The Golf Club has long had its devotees. But its membership, around 600 families, has stagnated, and the Club is struggling to attract new attendees. In the coming months, members of the Club’s organizing committee are hoping that the large number of Lebanese returning from abroad for the summer holidays and the relatively calm situation in the country at the moment will boost attendance.

But beyond immediate economic interests, Karim Salim Salam, the new Club president, and son of the founder, is aiming to boost public awareness about the Club’s existence, which is far away from the hustle and bustle of the capital, and make it well known again. The image of golf as a sport for rich people is a barrier, according to Salam. “This is why the Golf Club of Lebanon wants to break these prejudices and open its doors to a greater number of people,” he said.

To do this, the club is hosting more events, competitions and tournaments. The enticement strategy is especially aimed at youth. Every Saturday, the Club is offering golf lessons, taught by professionals, to young people. "The Golf Club has partnerships with several schools in Beirut. Our goal is to introduce young people to golf, and then give them the opportunity to come and train at the club,” explained Rima Arab, who is in charge of the youth development program. Ultimately, the Club wants to set up a junior team.


Bringing back the Arab World Golf Championship

At the same time, the club wants to assert itself on a regional level by bringing back the Arab World Golf Championship. The competition used to take place every two years, but was suspended due to regional tensions. Now, the Club is aiming to host the event on its grounds again within the next two years. "Lebanon is the first Arab country to hold an exclusive competition in the Middle East. Golf can help put Lebanon on the map of sporting and tourist destinations in the world,” Salam said, stressing that his golf course is the only one in the country that is internationally certified. It boasts an 18-hole course with different starting points for men, women and beginners, which gives players the opportunity to train in professional conditions and has allowed the practice of golf to survive in Lebanon.

The Club’s contract was renewed in 2017 for another seven years. "The main challenge for golf today, and for years to come, is to be economically stable. The expenses of the club are much higher than its revenues, which are only insured by the subscriptions of the members," said Hamdan, the lawyer.

A few partnerships with private companies provide supplemental, but occasional, income. The Club’s current resources don’t allow it to invest in new equipment, but they are enough to maintain its existing infrastructure.


(This article was originally published in French in L'Orient-Le Jour on the 11th of June)

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