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In 2005, Golf Digest calculated that the countries with most golf courses per capita, starting with the best endowed were: Scotland, New Zealand, Australia, Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland, Canada, Wales, United States, Sweden, and England (countries with fewer than 500,000 people were excluded). Apart from Sweden, all of these countries have English as the majority language, but the number of courses in new territories is increasing rapidly.

The most notable example of this phenomenon is China. The first golf course in the People's Republic of China opened in 1984, but by the end of 2009 there were roughly 600 in the country. Jack Nicklaus, who in late 2009 had either designed or had plans to design 35 courses in China, claimed in October of that year that China had plans to build 1,400 public courses in the next five years (currently, only a small number of China's courses are public), although a Chinese golf industry insider called Nicklaus' claim "bullshit". For the last several years, development of new golf courses has been officially banned, but the number of courses has nonetheless tripled since 2004; the "ban" has been easily evaded with the government's tacit approval simply by not mentioning golf in any development plans.

In the United States, the number of people who play golf 25 times or more per year decreased from 6.9 million in 2000 to 4.6 million in 2005, according to the National Golf Foundation. The NGF reported that the number who played golf at all decreased from 30 to 26 million over the same period.

The majority of professional golfers work as club or teaching professionals (pros), and only compete in local competitions. A small elite of professional golfers are "tournament pros" who compete full time on international "tours". Many club and teaching professionals working in the golf industry start as caddies or a general interest in the game, finding employment at golf courses and eventually moving on to certifications in their chosen profession. These programs include independent institutions and universities, and those that eventually lead to a Class A golf professional certification.

Golf instruction involves the teaching and learning of the game of golf. Proficiency in teaching golf instruction requires not only technical and physical ability, but also knowledge of the rules and etiquette of the game. In some countries, golf instruction is best performed by teachers certified by the Professional Golfers Association. Some top instructors who work with professional golfers have become quite well-known in their own right. Instructors use a combination of physical conditioning, mental visualization, classroom sessions, club fitting, driving range instruction, on-course play under real conditions, and review of videotaped swings in slow motion to teach golf.

There are at least twenty professional golf tours, each run by a PGA or an independent tour organization, which is responsible for arranging events, finding sponsors, and regulating the tour. Typically a tour has "members" who are entitled to compete in most of its events, and also invites non-members to compete in some of them. Gaining membership of an elite tour is highly competitive, and most professional golfers never achieve it.

The most widely known tour is the PGA Tour, which tends to attract the strongest fields, outside the four Majors and the four World Golf Championships events. This is due mostly to the fact that most PGA Tour events have a first prize of at least US $800,000. The PGA European Tour, which attracts a substantial number of top golfers from outside North America, ranks second to the PGA Tour in worldwide prestige. Some top professionals from outside North America play enough tournaments to maintain membership on both the PGA Tour and European Tour.

The other leading men's tours include the Japan Golf Tour, the Asian Tour (Asia outside Japan), the PGA Tour of Australasia, and the Sunshine Tour (for Southern Africa, primarily South Africa). These four tours, along with the PGA and European Tours, are full members of the trade body of the world's main tours, the International Federation of PGA Tours. Two other tours, the Canadian Tour and the Tour de las Américas (Latin America), are associate members of the Federation. All of these tours, except for the Tour de las Américas, offer points in the Official World Golf Rankings to golfers who place sufficiently high in their events.