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Top S’pore golfer Mardan sad over closure of local country clubs

SINGAPORE — As a 13-year-old, Mardan Mamat quit primary school to join his elder brother as a caddie at Jurong Country Club (JCC), before later honing his skills as a professional golfer at Raffles Country Club (RCC).

Mardan, who credits Jurong and Raffles country clubs for helping to develop his game, says more golf courses are needed to grow the sport here. Photo: SMBC Singapore Open

Mardan, who credits Jurong and Raffles country clubs for helping to develop his game, says more golf courses are needed to grow the sport here. Photo: SMBC Singapore Open

SINGAPORE — As a 13-year-old, Mardan Mamat quit primary school to join his elder brother as a caddie at Jurong Country Club (JCC), before later honing his skills as a professional golfer at Raffles Country Club (RCC).

It is unsurprising, then, that Singapore’s No 1 golfer lamented the closure of both facilities, after news broke that the RCC would be closed down by July next year. This follows the closure of the JCC last December, with both sites making way for facilities for the Kuala Lumpur-Singapore High-Speed Rail (HSR).

“Jurong is my childhood club, where I learnt my golf, and Raffles is where I developed my golf up until now, from amateur to (being a) pro,” said Mardan yesterday at a media conference ahead of this week’s SMBC Singapore Open at Sentosa Golf Club. “So the two golf clubs have helped me a lot and it’s quite sad.”

Mardan, the first local athlete to cross the S$3 million mark in earnings, added: “If we want to grow the game of golf (here), we will need more golf courses. You need to have a domestic golfing tour to get the youngsters to play this game.”

The closure of the two clubs comes at a time where golf is declining in popularity in many parts of the world, with Singapore Golf Association president Ross Tan telling TODAY previously that the number of registered golfers here has stagnated at around 30,000 over the decades. “The interest has definitely waned as compared to a few decades ago,” he said.

Over in the United States, data from the National Golf Association last year showed that golfers who played at least one round a year dropped from 30 million in 2005 to 24.7 million in 2015. Participation by those aged between 18 and 34 also declined by 30 per cent over the past 20 years. Sports equipment giants Nike and adidas have also exited their golf club businesses.

Mardan believes one reason why youngsters do not consider golf as a career is that development of the sport here is “not very systematic or strong”.

“You’ve got to build up the domestic (scene) first before you talk about (looking at) other places,” said the 49-year-old, who has five Asian Tour wins and one European Tour win. “So our golf association needs to do something about this, to move (the sport) forward.”

Defending Singapore Open champion Song Young-han noted that having more iconic figures in the sport could boost its profile. While football has Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, basketball has LeBron James and tennis has Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Serena Williams, golf has lacked a truly global superstar since Tiger Woods’ fall from grace.

“To (increase its profile), we could have more stars like Woods,” the Korean said through an intepreter.

World No 15 Sergio Garcia believes the sport’s slide started with the global financial crisis in 2009. A 2016 KPMG report found that Europe’s golf market experienced “steady growth” for 25 years until its peak in 2009, before participation fell by 4 per cent between 2009 and 2013, and a further 0.3 per cent between 2014 and 2015.

But the Spaniard is confident the sport will bounce back, citing the push for innovations like revamped formats — such as the quick-fire Sprint6Golf launched last June — as key.

“Everybody is trying to come up with new things to help the game of golf, making it more exciting to watch,” he said. “I think in places like Asia, it’s (also) growing quite a bit; in other parts (of the world), it’s kind of taking a bit of a break. But I am sure it will kick back again sometime soon.”

* The SMBC Singapore Open will be held from tomorrow to Sunday at Serapong Course, Sentosa Golf Club. Visit http://www.smbcsingaporeopen.com/ for more information.

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