Robert McNeil, ASGCA associate, has spent 10 years traveling to Central Europe “chasing opportunities.” Here he reports what was found on a recent visit to Romania:

Spreading the “Virus”

by Robert McNeil, ASGCA, Associate Member

January 23, 2011

The cynics of the game often point to the struggling economy or the lack of players or sometimes the correction of the oversupply we have seen in the US over the last 4 years as a reason to question the future of the game. And this is certainly a valid position to take. As a golf course architect it is easy to get mired in the negative press, the spiraling reports and the environmental pressures that seem to stab at the industry from all sides. It is easy to wonder where the next project is coming from. But in the midst of all of this mental anguish, in the midst of the not knowing, we are sometimes reminded of why this game is so great and why being a golf course architect is so great.

For the past 10 years I have been traveling to Central Europe to chase opportunities. The key word is chase. During the chase I have been fortunate to have traveled to some very interesting places including Slovenia, where I spoke at the 1st ever, Slovenian Greenskeepers Association Conference in 1999, Poland and most recently Romania. When visiting these and other countries in the region, the remnants of Industrialization are everywhere. The gray walls of abandoned factories, the socialized living arrangements and the hardened faces of Communism and hard times are only slowly fading. Amidst all of these stereotypical pictures, what I have found the most refreshing is the passion for the game. There is a desire to bring the game to markets where there may be hundreds of miles between courses and most of all there are people that understand the true meaning of the game, its spirit, its role in our social environment and its value to a good life.

On a recent visit to Romania to layout a course just outside the city of Cluj-Napoca in the Transylvania region….yes Transylvania as in Vlad Dracula, I met a gentlemen that reminded me of what it truly means to bring golf to new regions. His name is Atilla Kadar, he is a stone craftsman. He owns a company in Cluj that creates and cuts special pieces of stone for buildings, monuments and other unique applications.   If you speak with Atilla you would think he has played golf his whole life, grew up in it and had all the opportunities to hone his skills. In fact he has a grand goal to compete in the 2016 Olympics representing Romania, why not? There are no golf courses in Cluj, considered one of the largest cities in Romania, resting in the shadows of the Apuseni mountains, part of the western Carpathian range. The city has a population of roughly 600,000 growing to 700,000 during the academic year as there are numerous universities scattered throughout the city. As far as golf go, the closest course is 120km away, nearly a 2 hour drive.

I had been involved with a proposed golf course at the Sun Garden Resort, set along the city limits for a few years. During my most recent visit it became clear that Atilla would become the ambassador for the project. To think, no more 2 hour drives to play golf…or even practice, alas a 9 hole course right in Cluj, with a practice center. But it is more, as Atilla will attest, his spoken words much stronger than my written. I am paraphrasing, but the essence of his sentiment was that this course in Cluj would change the social fabric of the community. It will bring to the players and would be players of the region, and there aren’t very many yet, a game that instills the goodness of life, heightens the competitive spirit and teaches the lessons of fairness, honesty and camaraderie. This is where he believed the value of a course rests.

For our part as golf course architect, you can’t help but get caught up in his “sermon” and sing along. Our work as golf course architects is important, this project is important as are all projects that introduce the game to new players in new markets. This is what golf is all about, bringing the game to the people. Letting what he calls “the virus” take hold and watching it spread.