by CANDICE Y. CEREZO
PASIG CITY–A DECADE after a regional property bubble burst, the country’s golf industry swings to fresh hits every summer, courtesy of moneyed Filipinos from the United States.
In three weeks last April, for instance, retired Filipinos from the US pumped a conservative estimate of P9.6 million into the economy via the golf-playing circuit.
And these were only the hundred composing the group of Ferdinand Yarra, a retired engineer for the Chicago Transit Authority, who splurged on the golf courses of their former country.
Yarra, who punched his last time card in 2006 for the federal government-run transportation system of trains and buses in Chicago, said he spent a minimum US$2,000 or its still weak peso equivalent at P48=US$1.
While the peso has gained since, Yarra and companions also funneled the money they earned in the US to the Philippines’s hotel and restaurant businesses, transportation industry –they rode hired vans, flew on domestic planes, flagged taxi cabs– and, telecommunications sector.
In the same way that money sent by temporary and contract-based Filipinos from more than 180 countries, these golfers’ cash also contributed to the strengthening of the peso. After the last club-toting immigrants left, the greenback stood at a weak US$1=P46 exchange rate.
Yarra knows that Filipino retirees like him are now targeted by the local tourism business.
“We do not really have to find a way to play golf in the Philippines. Travel packages with golf as the main itinerary are being offered or marketed to us migrants in the US. And, sometimes, fellow Filipinos who manage these travel agencies that offer the service to us,” Yarra told the OFW Journalism Consortium ®.
He added they acquiesce to the lure by their native country’s business.
“I’m no economist but the difference in our spending here is the per capita income: our money grows ten-fold in value when we play golf in the Philippines,” he said.
The impact to the economy, however, is felt when these Filipinos play golf in groups, which differentiates the character of this market segment five to ten years ago when the recreational sport was popularized by then-president Fidel V. Ramos.
Migrant Pinoys pushing their carts of balikbayan goodies for their relatives with golf bags in tow do not tell anything out of the ordinary “unless they come in huge groups,” Yarra said.
THE warm air that greeted Yarra last April as he strode to a waiting taxi outside the airport solidified his belief that the Philippines remains a major hub for golf-playing immigrants with affinity to the country.
After an hour’s rest at a five-star hotel in Ortigas, Yarra’s companions meet up with another group composed of Filipino green-card holders who came from different parts of the US.
A *bleep*tail party caps an orientation on the golf and travel tour.
“This whole trip, we really planned it. We had it all scheduled: which hotel to stay, where to go. There is an itinerary [they crafted for us] just like my [previous] trips here,” he said.
Yarra, is the eldest of nine siblings who are still in his hometown in Kidapawan City, North Cotabato, which is a two-hour land travel away from Davao where he also stopped by to play golf.
“The first group I joined was mostly composed of migrants from the states of California, New York, and Illinois. Then there was another group of migrants from Chicago that I joined when they arrived in the country a few days after we arrived. A lot of them come here by groups.”
He said more than five groups of golfers from Chicago travel to the Philippines almost at the same time.
“They are either in groups of 30, 50 to 100 people. In our local alone, we have five groups of golfers and I know most of them.”
FILIPINOS in Chicago are steeped in the game of golf ultimately because of their easy access to both private and public golf courses in their area, Yarra explained.
“Within the city or suburb alone, the most accessible for me from my house in just a few kilometers drive, would be around 200 or more available golf courses. There are …a lot of them,” Yarra said.
In the US, according to him, most public golf courses charge a player green fees of about $20 (P960 at US$1=P48) on weekdays and $30 (P1,440) on weekends. Private golf clubs, he added, charge members or sponsored non-members about $45 on weekdays and $65 on weekends.
Yarra said he would sometimes play more than three times a week at a public golf course with a price along the range of his “average or slightly average income.”
There are also times when a coordinator organizes a game and charge Filipinos a package fee of $80 to $95 each, Yarra explained.
The first package that he said he availed charged him with US$80 (P3,840) for a day’s play. That fee, he said, included transportation to the golf course and golf fees.
“The discrepancy in the charges depends on the coordinator,” Yarra said adding they would understand if a coordinator ups the ante and pockets the difference.
He has been “addicted” to the game so much so that during a lull time in the scheduled and planned golf game circuit, he was still able to play on the side.
He was walking on the cobblestones of Roxas Boulevard, the red sun inching down from the horizon, when he bumped into another group of golfers apparently also taking a leisure stride.
“We swapped stories and then they told me they were playing the next day and asked if I wanted to join them; which I did,” Yarra said.
“It’s addictive because it’s challenging [but at the same time,] builds camaraderie. Plus, of course, you go back to your native land, take a vacation, meet relatives. Every thing [I’m looking for is] here already.”
Everything that concerns golf, that is.
Yarra is married and has two children who are already working. He retired last year from his work of five years as Electrical Engineer 3, the third highest position in the CTA, the government.
In addition, he says, the food served in the local golf clubs are things he and other Filipinos look forward to.
“I really look for …Filipino snacks. Sa US, mga sandwiches. Nakakasawa. E dyan sa Intramuros may nilagang saging, may buko. Ang tumpok ng saging, tatlo bente (three for P20). Sa US, walang nagbabaon ng nilagang itlog dun.”
IN THE Philippines, where the only public golf course is the one being managed by the Department of Tourism in Intramuros, Manila, migrants and even foreigners rely on the sponsorship of a private golf club member so they can play.
Yarra said the Intramuros tee time fee is the lowest at P1,000 (roughly US$22) plus around P500 for the food and a “standard” P500-tip to the caddie.
Private golf courses, however, charge as much as P2,500 ($54.25) to P3,000 ($65.20) for a game.
In the US, golfers rarely get the service of caddies. They just rent golf carts at $15 or walk greens.
“It would be too expensive to have a caddie in the US [because they would expect hourly pay rates],” Yarra said adding that those who get caddie services are tournament players or Hollywood celebrities.
Yarra said that this spending range alone makes it difficult for a regular earning Filipino to play the game in his or her own country.
But, he clarified, that it is also difficult for regular earning Pinoys in the US to play in private golf courses.
They also can’t afford the fees in these privately-owned clubs, he added.
“Of course they will [also] look for something cheaper [that] is also enjoyable and satisfying,” Yarra said.
He added the last two reasons prompt golfers like him to fly to Manila despite the fees now higher than in the US because of a strong peso.
We can afford to stay in hotels because they accept dollars so an uptick in the peso value doesn’t affect us, Yarra said.
His stay in the Manila Pavillion Hotel cost him US$45 while a night at Edsa-Shangri-la Hotel cost him around $130.
Unlike staying with relatives, staying in hotels allows him to come and go as he pleases, maximizing his vacation time to play golf.
Yarra claims to have played seven games at the greens of Intramuros for the first days he was here.
After a two-day rest, he played two more games also at the public golf course in Intramuros with the group of Filipinos he bumped into while on a leisure walk along the Manila Bay.
A day before he flew back to Chicago, Yarra said he played a total of ten games in Manila and one each with groups on golf courses in four other provincial cities outside the metropolis.
He says he estimates to have spent his US$6,000 budget –including pocket money, golf fees, and travel expenses– for that vacation.
For doing so, the local golf industry have found a new profitable leash to hold on. OFW Journalism Consortium