Saudi Arabian Wine or Golf Tourism in Croatia, Which is More Likely?

By 30 April 2019

April 30, 2019 - Six years into a 7-year strategic tourism plan for golf in Croatia to deliver 30 golf courses (none of which have been started), Opatija hosts the 3rd Annual Conference on Golf Tourism in Croatia.

This is not an article about golf. 

It is also not an article criticising the Ministry of Tourism for its spectacular failure to deliver one of the cornerstones of its 7-year strategic plan from 2013 - 2020. 

It is about a pattern that explains why things are not happening in Croatia. 


I thought I had written all I had planned to write about golf in Croatia earlier this month with A Tale of 2 Golf Courses: Dubrovnik and Lustica Bay, Montenegro. Here is what the Ministry of Tourism's strategy promised to deliver by 2020:

"The 2020 tourism development strategy foresees the construction of 30 new high-quality golf courses, roughly at the following locations: 14 in the northern Adriatic, 8 in the southern Adriatic, and 8 in continental Croatia."

As we examined last time, not only has no work on any course started, but the State is bracing itself for the results of arbitration from the Israeli investor of the failed Srd golf project in Dubrovnik. Industry experts expect the investor to win - his lawsuit was for a cool 500 million euro. 

So with a cornerpiece tourism strategy achieving only a 500 million euro lawsuit after six years of trying, one would expect that there would be an end to the pretence that the geniuses who run this country could develop golf in Croatia? After all, it is only 13 years since Jack Nicklaus was welcomed to Croatia by then Prime Minister Ivo Sanader (now in prison) and a 200 million euro signature Jack Nicklaus golf resort announced in Istria. 

Some 13 years later, it is also still on the Jack Nicklaus website, with a delivery date 'TBD'. The Porto Mariccio is also elsewhere on the Internet. It is being offered for sale in a 2016 video with the promise that the paperwork is coming soon, a decade after Jack swung a club with PM Sanader. It also appears on a 2017 Golf in Croatia Action Plan, ordered by the Ministry of Tourism, some four years after its strategic plan commenced.


In the redacted edition of the report, here is Jack's Porto Mariccio, in a section which the report says if courses which have the financial backing and investors to move forward as soon as the permits are resolved. This elite list of six courses (Jack has only been waiting 13 years) also includes the never-to-be-built Dubrovnik course on Srd which is the subject of the 500 million euro lawsuit. 

I contacted the Jack Nicklaus Course Design company some time ago asking about their involvement, to get this response:

Unfortunately we have not had any communication with the Porto Mariccio project in a number of years and are unable to provide any update for you.

It doesn't take a genius to deduce that golf in Croatia is going nowhere as a tourism strategy, which is why it was rather surprising to hear about a conference which took place in Opatija yesterday - the 3rd Annual Conference on Golf Tourism

I mean, what do they talk about? Year after year. We will see a wine vintage from Saudi Arabia before a new golf course in Croatia at this rate. 


Perhaps they talk about the different colour dots in the latest map of golf courses in Croatia. Blue is for existing, red is for a diversion from the 2013 strategy and consists of courses that MAY begin between 2020 and 2022, and green for golf courses included in the urban plan. If all this happens and current emigration continues, there will be more golf courses than people in Slavonia by 2050. 

Assistant Minister Robert Pende was quoted as follows from the conference:

"A lot of projects are being prepared, and we as a state and state institutions must allow investors to realize their projects. Croatia's tourism development strategy by 2020 has foreseen the development of an action plan for the development of golf tourism in Croatia, and we are actively working on it. The development of golf tourism goes beyond the Ministry of Tourism and we all need to contribute to its development."

The development of golf tourism goes beyond the Ministry of Tourism and we all need to contribute to its development. Pende is right about that. Croatian institutions need to work together to make this country great again. But can they? 

The Croatian medical tourism industry has a phenomenal opportunity to bring in huge revenue for both the industry and the country, helping to extend the tourist season. All the experts agree that Croatia has the potential to be in the world's top 10 in the health tourism industry in 10 years if it gets organised. The question is - Can Croatian Officials Unite to Exploit Huge Medical Tourism Industry?

The answer sadly is no, at least until the system changes. As long as officials and ministries are seen to be doing things, producing reports making wild predictions, nothing else matters. If it is in the strategic document, as far as many officials are concerned, it has already happened. 


I went to a real estate conference in Zagreb last year, during which there was a presentation of investment into the tourism industry. Investment into Croatia's hotels and resorts appeared to be growing. In 2018, it was announced some 940 million euro would be invested in hotel and tourism projects. 

Nobody seemed to know what was included in this 940 million, but after some digging, I managed to find out that about a third of the cash (300 million euro) would be invested by Four Seasons Hvar and Hotel Belvedere in Dubrovnik. Neither has started construction as we approach the summer the following year. Nor will they this year, if at all. 

But the numbers look good. 

I was at the press conference when Minister of Tourism Cappelli announced the 1 billion kuna investment in Four Seasons Hvar and that the first guest would be checking in in 2019. There has been no change of government since his announcement, and he is still the minister. The project, however, is still waiting for a building permit, and there is no chance it will be open before 2021. My money is on not at all. 

So unless the system in Croatia changes, my money is on a Saudi Arabian vineyard before successful new golf tourism stories. 

The worrying thing is that it is not just me noticing - the foreign investment is going elsewhere.