The HSBC Golf Business Forum in Shanghai welcomed a high-profile audience of innovators and leaders within the industry. As a golfer focused on building the business case for sustainability within the golf industry, I immediately was interested in this event.
An acquaintance told me about the event a week prior. In the midst of my work day, I quickly reached out to the organizers, registered, visited the Chinese consulate to expedite a visa and booked my flight to Shanghai. My colleagues were just as excited, especially when they realized sustainability would be a topic of discussion. The conversations were buzzing throughout the office and I quickly prepared for my trip across the world.
A global stage was set for the golf industry to discuss current events, trends and initiatives relative to the game.
The leaders of golf's governing bodies in attendance meant the networking would be superb and the conversations would be those of actual progress and action. HSBC Global Bank and co-host International Management Group treated everyone attending like royalty, and each day was packed with a schedule of events that included thought leadership panels, global insight and the ability to connect with golf industry's elite.
The irony of the event spoke to me throughout the five days that I explored Shanghai. Not only was the HSBC Golf Business forum in full force, but so was air pollution. My hotel room, situated over a gloomy and brown river, allowed me to wake up every morning to a fossil-fuel-induced haze hovering over downtown Shanghai.
The sun was difficult to see and I actually could stare right into it because the pollution was so thick. The city skyline disappeared after the first block of buildings, and locals were wandering the streets in face masks.
One of the most powerful remarks during the presentation was this one by a Chinese business owner: "We look forward to the day that our people can see the sunshine again."
Upon completion of the business forum, all attendees were invited to play the golf course where the "Asia Major" is hosted that week at the WGC HSBC Champions tournament. Shuttles transported the excited golfers to Lan Hai International Golf Club, where the stage was set for an enjoyable day. Golf is a limited sport in China and the government has taken major control over the number of courses that are allowed to be in business, limiting public funding.
A recent article describes this situation: "In March, Chinese authorities announced the closure of 66 'illegal' golf courses — roughly 10 percent of all courses in the country — in an apparent attempt to start enforcing a long-ignored ban on golf-related construction."
With China’s plan to clean up its act in regards to air pollution, the future looks bright and more people will benefit from the green spaces and outdoor activity associated with golf.
With China’s plan to clean up its act in regards to air pollution, the future looks bright and more people will benefit from the green spaces and outdoor activity associated with golf. The benefits of the game go far beyond beautiful, green landscape — it will provide connectivity through sport within the Chinese community and throughout the entire country.
I had the pleasure of meeting Arab Hoballah, the chief director of Sustainable Programs of the U.N. Environment Program, who spoke on a panel about sustainable golf, mediated by the Golf Environment Organization.
Hoballah had a brilliant external perspective on the golf industry and drove the message that "golf is not telling their sustainability story properly.” He described examples and his message was simple: The golf industry needs to incorporate sustainability throughout the entire business model — which include events, supply chain, the course and built environment — and create a message that reaches the masses, which includes future generations.
The golf industry always has been fantastic at telling their story to their internal stakeholders and already existing customers, however it is essential with the shifting landscape of millennials, for industry leaders to step up and incorporate more insight from minorities that include women and people from more diverse socio-economic backgrounds.
It was quite promising to see the golf industry speaking about sustainability and ways to incorporate the triple bottom line into future initiatives. From the top down, it seems golf industry professionals are aware sustainability is important and are starting to embrace the changing market landscape. It is evident with the rising notoriety of sustainability panels at events such as the HSBC Golf Business Forum, the Golf Industry Show and the PGA Show.
Syngenta, a multi-billion dollar corporation based in Basel, Switzerland, is one of the golf industry’s largest agriculture and chemical supplier to the golf industry. In February at the Golf Industry Show, its global team invited me to speak on a panel directed for its executive team, to better understand sustainability within golf.
As natural resources continue to diminish, it will be important for all organizations related to the golf industry to take an interest in sustainability in order to create a positive impact on individuals andcommunities, I told them.
I have seen professionals working within the golf industry make quite an impact by bringing an external perspective to the industry. The industry can learn from someone who is not an "avid golfer" and is interested in disrupting the status quo.
Bridging the gap between these disruptors and golf specific professionals is key to shifting the industry in the long-term. Green events such as the Waste Management Phoenix Open in Arizona and the Pebble Beach Pro-Am in California help.
Transparency is key, and the golf industry needs to shift its story to allow a softer first impression to future players, to share its positive and negative impacts on the environment, to determine its key objectives moving forward and to continue to showcase its sustainability activities at events that will continue to drive the global golf agenda.