Sunday, 22 January 2023

Croatia Marks THIRTY Years of Official Golf Strategy Failure

January 22, 2023 - After an astonishing 30 years of official golf strategy in Croatia, is it time for someone to be accountable?

This is not an article about golf.

I also hereby state that I have no real opinion or expertise on the merits of golf tourism, and so I offer no opinion on whether or not golf tourism is a good thing or not.

This is an article which uses the official golf strategy in Croatia to highlight the seeming incompetence and unaccountability of those in official positions in charge of charting (and delivering) Croatia's tourism direction. 

While looking into the research for this article, I came across two rather unlikely anniversaries for golf in Croatia. 

Did you know that Croatia is celebrating 100 years of golf tourism in 2023? And that its golfing heritage have some claiming that it is home to the oldest golf resort (please note - resort, not golf course) in the world. From the Brijuni National Park official website:

The construction of the golf course on Brijuni was finished in late 1922, and the first tournament was held on 21 March 1923, a mention of which was published in the Pula daily newspaper at the time. The course was claimed to be one of the biggest in Europe. More recent information suggests that the Brijuni course might have been the first golf resort in the world. The course certainly stood out, not only because of its climate and position (Mediterranean destination in “Mitteleuropa”), but also because of its good reputation. Namely, although European championships were never played here, if you were to read the newspapers and journals of the time, you would have got the sense that the course was exceptionally well-known and recognised, both among golf champions and the upper classes. In addition to world-class golfers, the course was frequented by members of the European aristocracy, the most renowned industrialists and artists. Up to 50 tournaments a year would take place on the course of Brijuni, and the trophies for the best players were finally presented at the New Year's Eve ball and gala dinner. 

The second anniversary Croatian golf is celebrating is even more unlikely given the state of play today (unless you have an insider appreciation of the genius of the Kings of Accidental Tourism): Croatia has now had golf tourism as a key component of its official tourism strategy for THIRTY years, since it first appeared in 1993, in the middle of the Homeland War (see the official document in Narodne Novine):

The new construction of content and capacities in tourism should be focused on the construction of quality additions to the existing offer (golf courses, fitness, etc.). Likewise. it is necessary, when investing (in new or existing facilities), to especially stimulate the construction of hotels of only higher and higher categories (four and five stars), and to stimulate them with tax and communal policy.

In the development and investment sphere, at the level of full state support, several so-called "project shock". These are, above all, projects such as Brijuni, the city of Dubrovnik (a new marina and residential center in the old city center), Tustica near Zadar (a large complex of nautical, golf and exclusive accommodation), the Goli otok project. Opatija, and, possibly, the project of revitalization and bringing the castles of Hrvatski Zagorje into tourist exploitation. In addition, in almost every large tourist company (combination) until yesterday, it is necessary to define and start a basic project that affects any restructuring.


( screenshot)

Croatia currently has three 18-hole golf courses, some 30 years later. Brijuni, which opened in 1922, Zapresic near Zagreb (2004), and Golf Adriatic near Savudrija near the Slovenian border, which opened in 2009. The Croatian National Tourist Board tried to have us believe there was an 18-hole golf course called Dolina Kardinala in the middle of Central Zagreb a few years ago, before they removed it when I pointed this out (read more in Tourism Quiz of the Summer: How Many Golf Courses Will Croatia Have Next Week?).

They were right to remove it. Dolina Kardinala closed in 2012, and this is how it looked from a drone tour a few years ago. 

So in 2013, on the 20th anniversary of Croatia's official golf tourism strategy which had yielded just two courses in that time, in addition to the one which opened 90 years previously, the 7-years tourism strategic plan was presented. One could argue that 2 courses in 20 years was not exactly a roaring success, but it did not seem to deter the Kings of Accidental Tourism, who once more put golf at the heart of their long-term strategy. 


Not only a healthy interest in golf, but no less than 30 golf courses were to be constructed over the next 7 years, by 2020. Seriously impressive stuff! The strategy document (the link used to work for me, now I get a message of Forbidden 403...):

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.

By 2020, the end of the 7-year plan, not a single course had been started. Nobody seemed to mind or make a comment, the 7-year plan had come to an end. 

Indeed, such is the relaxed pace of life in the Kingdom of Accidental Tourism that for the next two years, there wasn't an official strategy document at all, as the next 7-year plan was being worked on. I think I am correct in saying it still has not been officially released some three years later. 

So Croatian tourism has been rudderless without an official 7-year plan for almost three years. Has anyone even noticed?

golf-in-croatia.webpBack to the golf. The plans looked very pretty indeed. 

The difference between Croatia and tiny Slovenia next door is that the Slovenian golf courses were actually real - here is a guide to the 13 Slovenian golf courses compiled by the Total Slovenia News team a few years ago. 

Having marvelled at the genius of the Kingdom's methods over the years, one thing I have learned is that if the Kings are doing nothing, they sure know how to look busy and tell everyone how busy they are, as we explored a few years ago in No Courses Started in 10 Years, But THREE Croatian Golf Tourism Conferences in 2019.

That sure is busy. 

The other thing to do to look busy if nothing is happening is to order an expensive report to show how busy you are. And so the 2017 Golf Action Plan was born.


In the redacted edition of the report, there is mention of two quite special projects - Porto Mariccio in Istria, and Srdj above Dubrovnik.  The latter is currently the subject of a US$500 million lawsuit against the Republic of Croatia, from memory under arbitration in Washington in a suit filed by the Israeli investor, and Porto Mariccio is my favourite Croatian golfing story, for it involves one of the greatest names in golf, the late Jack Niklaus. The Golden Bear arrived with great fanfare in 2016 and was met at the airport by the then Prime Minister Ivo Sanadar (before he went to prison). Nicklaus announced a 200 million euro golf resort called Porto Mariccio in Istria. With the Prime Minister's very public backing, that had to be a cert, surely?  

I contacted the Jack Nicklaus Course Design company in 2018, some 12 years later, while researching Whatever Happened to Jack Nicklaus' Croatian Golf Course, Approved by PM Sanader? 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.

So here we are in 2023, celebrating 100 years of golf tourism in Croatia, and analysing 30 years of official golf tourism strategy. So where are we? Director of the Croatian National Tourist Board Kristjan Stanicic took time out from issuing SLAPP lawsuits against fat bloggers and gave a quite extraordinary interview to Novi List recently. You can read my take on his interview in Croatia National Tourist Board Finally Adopts Some of My Ideas. On golf, he had this to say:

One of those contents that we may already be a little bored with, but it is certainly golf. In no way to break the deadlock, we are aware that, for example, the south of Portugal and Spain are working on golf during the winter season. Climatically, we are very similar.

We are similar, but with the difference that there are very mild winters, which means that you can play golf all year round. We can use it in some southern destinations, islands, even Istria. But nothing happens overnight. There is a lot of talk about golf, it has been worked on for many years.

The esteemed director might be a little bored with golf, but I think the taxpayer would rather see some results, or at least a focus on some other niche that will have some results.

And perhaps a little accountability for the non-delivery of 30 out of the 30 golf courses to be delievered by 2020. Indeed, what are the results of these 30 years of official golf tourism strategy? 

Two golf courses and a lawsuit for half a billion dollars against. Good job!

But the final word perhaps should go to the official Croatian National Tourist Board website, which is celebrating 100 years of golf tourism. The 18-hole course from central Zagreb has gone, as have the other courses in Croatia. Here is the relevant information about 100 years of golf tourism and 30 years of official golf tourism strategy in the Kingdom of Accidental Tourism:

Your greatest hits

Despite only having a few courses with 18 holes at the moment, besides the one in Brijuni National Park and some private courses, Croatia aims to become a significant golf destination. Just relax during a game walking through fields surrounded by its idyllic countryside and enjoy its gentle climate to find out why.

Soon you’ll discover there is much more than meets the eye, they say that most company decisions are made on golf fields but the only decisions you will have to make are which vineyards to visit, where to go shopping, will you go sailing… or just keep playing one more hole!

As the Croatian National Tourist Board was keen to point out in their SLAPP lawsuits against me, I am not a tourism expert (nor did I claim to be). I don't know a lot about golf either, but one thing I do know is that they are called 'golf courses' not 'golf fields'. Perhaps we can organise another golf conference to discuss. 

Read more - 10 Things I Learned from my SLAPP Lawsuits in Croatia.

Golf in Zagreb? Bring Your Own Clubs, Kilts, Whisky and Bagpipes.


What is it like to live in Croatia? An expat for 20 years, you can follow my series, 20 Ways Croatia Changed Me in 20 Years, starting at the beginning - Business and Dalmatia.

Follow Paul Bradbury on LinkedIn.

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Croatia, a Survival Kit for Foreigners is now available on Amazon in paperback and on Kindle.






Wednesday, 8 April 2020

Croatian Gov. Waits For Pandemic & Recession to Lure Golf Investors

April 8, 2020 — A golf course, villas and a hotel next to Prokljansko Lake have been a dream for over 15 years, outlasting several economic booms and two potential investors. The Croatian government waited instead until a global pandemic collapsed the tourism industry and caused a painful recession to attract investors, according to Jutarnji List.

A binding tender for the long-awaited project "Prukljan in Skradin" opened on April 1, (with little irony). It offered interested investors 54 hectares of land for sale, and an additional 150 hectares in a concession to realize the €300 million project.

The Ministry of State Property announced a non-binding tender for Prukljan in March 2018, answered by two investment funds, one from Germany and one based in the Netherlands.

The Ministry announced at the time that a binding tender, given the interest of investors, should be announced as soon as possible The whole matter was extended so the state’s bureaucracies and administrative obstacles disappeared. Two years later…

Croatia’s on-again, off-again relationship with the luxury tourism market — especially golf — has been a hobby horse for Total Croatia News. The list of 30 - yes, 30 - proposed and unrealized golf projects has been languishing for seven years. Then, a pandemic hit.

"Better now than never," Skradin’s Mayor Antonijo Brajkovic told Jutarnji when asked if timing was aggravating.

“Look, certainly other circumstances would be better for the realization of the project,” he reportedly said. “If it is well-conceived, prepared, and the money is secured for it, then I do not see why investors would not respond.”

Brajkovic didn’t know why it took two years between announcing a non-binding and binding tender. The project originated during former Mayor Nediljko Dujic term in 2006, and was the put on hold until 2018. It was included in the catalog of state investment projects.

According to the tender, the investor will buy 30 hectares of land within tourist zones to build a hotel complex with a maximum of 1,500 beds. Another 136 hectares of land will be included in a concession for the investor, slated to become an 18-hole golf course. An additional 24 hectares are also for sale for the construction of tourist villas.

In addition, the project also envisages a concession over the maritime domain and the construction of a nautical tourism port, as well as the construction of two beaches for hotel guests.

The deadline for completion of the construction of the project is five years from the signing of the contract, within which the investor must obtain all necessary permits and start construction.

Tuesday, 5 November 2019

Golf in Zagreb? Bring Your Own Clubs, Kilts, Whisky and Bagpipes

November 5, 2019 - The Kings of Accidental Tourism may not know how to develop golf tourism, but how about these chaps? Meet golf in Zagreb with a Scottish twist, complete with kilts, bagpipes and a wee dram or three of whisky.  

Life is utterly superb at the moment, and for the many people who ask me how I can live in Croatia when so many are leaving, my genuine reply is - how could you possibly live anywhere else?

This country goes from the surreal to the sublime, and the gods are dealing some particularly random cards in recent weeks. It all started, I think, when I came across a British phone box in the middle of the oldest continuously inhabited town in Europe, dating back some 8,300 years (the town, not the phone box). It turned out the British phone box in Vinkovci was just the tip of the iceberg - one thing led to another and now I know all about Yorkshire puddings on the menu of a Vinkovci restaurant and why some chap from Leeds decided to open an English pub in the middle of a field literally in the middle of nowhere in eastern Croatia. A really fabulous story that I encourage you to pursue here

zagreb-golf (10).jpg

And as I was recounting the story over lunch at the excellent G2.5 diaspora conference today, I concluded to myself that I would never again come across such a superb story in Croatia.

And then, not five minutes later, I found myself approached by a gentleman who asked if I was the guy from Total Croatia News. He wanted to talk about golf.

And not just any kind of golf, but the kind played in Zagreb for three years now - in kilts!

zagreb-golf (2).jpg

Golf, of course, is a subject I have written about at length in recent months. Our old heroes, the Kings of Accidental Tourism, have had the development of golf courses as a key part of their tourism strategy for a good 20 years now, since 1999, in fact. And, after straining every sinew in the pursuit of new golf courses over 20 years, the Kings have managed to add just one new course in that time. Oh yes, and to receive a lawsuit for half a BILLION dollars from a disgruntled Israeli golf investor in Dubrovnik. 

But while the Kings may not be delivering, nothing can dampen the passion of Croatia's golf-loving community. Or the quite superbly unique nature of some of the events they throw.  

zagreb-golf (7).jpg

My new friend wanted to talk about the Zagreb Golf Club and the things they get up to. He told me about an event called the Annual Autumn and Scottish Golf Tournament, which took place last month for the third year in a row.

Where the players wore kilts.  

zagreb-golf (1).jpg

To the tune of bagpipes.

zagreb-golf (8).jpg

Yeah, right, I said to myself, asking if there was a website or Facebook page where I could see evidence of this totally unlikely scenario.  

There was. 


And even more incredible, this has somehow never made it into the media in three years. 


Truly superb, and put me down for a wee dram next October. 

Now, with UK phoneboxes, English pubs in fields, and golf in kilts, can anyone point me in the direction of a more random story in Croatia? Answers to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. Subject Subllime.

As for Golf Club Zagreb, learn more about it from the official website, and follow the latest on Facebook. Great photos by Nikola Žufika.  

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Monday, 16 September 2019

Pilot, Hospitality Worker and Priest Aim for First Golf Course in Slavonia

The Croatian golf story is a long, complicated and often completely embarrassing one. With lawsuits and false promises surrounding the oddly hot topic of golf in Croatia, could three unlikely individuals from Slavonia be the ones to introduce the sport to Eastern Croatia's plains?

As Novac/Nikola Patkovic writes on the 15th of September, 2019, one day, a pilot, a hospitality worker and a priest met at the airport... It could be the start of a good joke, which could develop in different directions, but this isn't a joke, but a serious story that goes in only one direction. And yes, behind it are indeed a pilot, a hospitality worker and a priest, and the path they've taken together took them to the founding of the Golfing Association in Vinkovci, Slavonia.

Now, one might think we're returning to the joke, but we're not. Professional pilot and manager of the Sopot Airport in Vinkovci, Milan Mravinac, local Vinkovci hospitality worker Antun Jelenić (aka Toni) and Krešimir Aračić, a priest from Berak (Tompojevci), make up a trio that is credited or indeed "guilty" of giving birth to a very interesting idea, which took on more serious outlines and in due course could introduce the first golf course in Slavonia.

But, there's a long way to go before the idea of a real golf course in Slavonia could come to fruition, and the unlikely heroes of this story are more than aware that they can't do it all on their own, so they aren't hiding that while they're continuing to push forward, they're dissatisfied with things as they currently stand.

''We're using the resources which are at our disposal, which is the grassy area of ​​the airport or its take-off areas, where we hold training sessions whenever the opportunity arises,'' says Mravinac, who came up with the idea of ​​launching golf activities at the airport, when Jelenić arrived for a conversation.

''Since I worked in Germany for a while, where I had the opportunity to get to know golf in this form, that is, in this way, by playing it at the training ground, talking to Milan, we came up with the idea that it could be started here as well,'' Jelenić said, who also told Mravinac that he had heard of a priest who is a golf player and that it wouldn't be a bad idea to try to get in touch with him.

''That was all happening back during this spring. I contacted our parish priest, Krešo, who immediately showed his goodwill and desire to help us, so we soon all met up and it all started very enthusiastically. I offered the space of the airport that has everything needed for a golfing driving range and that's how it began,'' said Mravinac, and then the priest, Krešo Aračić joined the conversation - and his story is particularly interesting.

Namely, he is one of three Catholic priests in Croatia who are avid golfers at the same time, so we were interested in how one priest found himself in this, even less common for priests maybe, type of sport and hobby.

''I've been involved in football for a long time, otherwise my father is a football coach and he always told me not to bother with it, and that football isn't for priests, but I felt a love for the sport. In football, as is well known, everything is experienced, so, there's using God's name in vain, swearing about people's mothers, quarrels, and I was temperamental, and oh boy... did I know how to get into conflicts with the other players.

Then I decided to stop with all that, so I switched to tennis. But there was a problem with you always needing someone to play against, so that wasn't a happy solution either, and then a friend from Sombor suggested I try golf. At that time, a golf course was opened in Zmajevac in Baranja, and that's how I started. There, I met Darko Ljubanović, a professional golf player and coach, who opened my eyes more and I became infected with this sport, and got a license as a golf player, because it's the only sport in the world that you need to have a license to play on the courts around the world,'' explained Pastor Aračić.

''When it comes to golf, it's extremely important that players know how to behave nicely, to look out for their teammates, and for those in front of you, and that's what attracted me most to the sport. No swearing, you play against nature, wood, sand... It's one really nice, genuine game that the Scots invented because they lived with nature. With golf, there's no 'cure' for personal frustration like getting irritated with others, like there is in football. If you make a mistake, then you're the one at fault.

I don't play against another player, I play for myself and against myself, that is, against nature. It's a nice, chivalrous, gentlemanly game. We priests are people too, and we work a lot with people, and often we need a day or two of free time in which we devote some time to ourselves,'' said Aračić, who then returned to explaining his cooperation in the Slavonia golf saga with Milan and Antun.

''Milan and Toni asked me to help them and I accepted that offer with joy. A few years ago, there was an attempt to start something similar in Vinkovci, but in the end everything collapsed, I couldn't push on with it on my own, so the story failed. There are other people here who are leading this project, and I'm in the position of advisor and of support. As an amateur player, I must not teach them, because only a professional can do that. I can help them out with advice and that's all, and for now, it's working well,'' stated the priest.

''There are about twenty of us for the time being, and we don't want to be a golf club because we're not ready for that. That's why we will set up an association that will give us certain freedoms, but also make sure we're recognised formally and legally. The terrain will be and remain this way,'' said Mravinac, explaining the due to the area's size, it could never be a proper golf course, but merely a driving range, whose words were confirmed by Aračić.

''At the moment, there are no plans to set up a club, because I don't want finances to hinder us, but instead to carry on our love of this sport. The goal is to set up a Golf Lovers Association, to bring us together as many people as possible here, to practice, and later on, for anyone who feels like it, we can also organise a trip to Zagreb or to Slovenia, where I'm a member of the Radenci club, where anyone who wants to qualify for a golfing license, possibly join a golf club and go to competitions, can do so - but that's still a long way off,'' said the pastor.

Among the twenty members who joined them was Mirko Miškić, an engineer from Vinkovci, who used to practice tennis but became interested in golf a few years ago.

''It's kind of connected. There are a lot of people who switch to golf after tennis and I've been watching golf tournaments on TV for the last few years, I learned the rules too... When Toni told me what they were planning, I was thrilled to come here. So far, we're happy, and we'll see what's to come later. There is some thought about a golf course in the Vinkovci area, even the surface it would be on, but nothing has been defined. We believe that other citizens will be interested outside our circle of friends and acquaintances, and that's our goal, because we want to further develop the culture of this sport,'' said Miškić.

The fact that a golf course in Slavonia would be a great solution is something the priest doesn't doubt at all, as he knows very well how much time and money it takes to go to play a game in Zagreb, Slovenia, Kapošvar or Zabalj near Zrenjanin, where they have golf courses.

''That's why I can't go to as many tournaments or as many games as I'd like to, and I believe that in Eastern Croatia, there would be great interest if we had the right grounds, even with nine holes. It's a wonderful sport that makes you take a few hours out in nature and relax,'' explained the priest.

Make sure to follow our dedicated lifestyle page for more information on Slavonia and much, much more.

Thursday, 30 May 2019

No Courses Started in 10 Years, But THREE Croatian Golf Tourism Conferences in 2019

May 30, 2019 - If Croatia had a golf course for every golf tourism conference... The Croatian non-golf story takes another twist.

This is not an article about golf. 

It is an article which highlights how Croatia works. Or rather does not work. 

Most of the information in it is not new, but it serves as a benchmark for how tourism strategy is progressing in Croatia. 

Here is a snapshot of the official tourism strategy in Croatia, using slides from my recent conference presentation Investing in Croatia v Montenegro: A 15-year Foreign Resident View.


Several years ago, the Ministry of Tourism announced its seven-year strategic plan, from 2013 - 2020. It placed golf at the very heart of that strategy, as you can see from this excerpt, above. 


When I enquired last year what this meant in detail, the ministry informed me that they envisaged 30 golf courses all over Croatia, as per the explanation above. 


We are only in 2019, six years into the 7-year plan, and one should never judge a project until it has finished, but here is the state of play at the moment. 


The lack of golf course construction despite such vocal public support is nothing new. Way back in 2006, the biggest name in golf, Jack Nicklaus was welcomed to Croatia by then Prime Minister, Ivo Sanader (now in prison), and they announced a 200-million-euro signature Jack Nicklaus resort in Istria.


Fast forward to the Ministry of Tourism's 2017 document on golf tourism, and Jack's Porto Mariccio course is still in the planning eleven years later, but just awaiting a little paperwork. 


And, as I have written previously, despite the fact that nothing has happened on the golf front in a decade in Croatia, in order to keep the story moving, it is necessary to create some hype. Strategic plans, expensive expert reports and conferences are all excellent ways to do so. Golf is no exception, and so - despite nothing actually happening in the golf sector while tiny Slovenia has more than 4 times as many courses as Croatia (despite golf not being a key part of its strategy), and Montenegro's Lustic Bay Gary Player course is moving ahead - the third Croatian golf tourism conference was held last month in Opatija. 

But if things are REALLY not happening, what to do? Apparently, if you hold more conferences, it makes you look even busier. With absolutely nothing having happened in this sector for a decade and Croatia looking to spectacularly miss its 30-course target by 30 courses, 2019 will see Croatia host not one but THREE golf tourism courses. The second one is next week in Porec, just 5 weeks after the last one, with the third one planned for Zapresic in October. 

Perhaps there is a target in the 7-plan for number of conferences held, in which case I bet the ministry will be over-target. 

Tuesday, 30 April 2019

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

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.



Friday, 12 April 2019

A Tale of 2 Golf Courses: Dubrovnik and Lustica Bay, Montenegro

April 12, 2019 - Continuing our look at the lack of foreign investments in Croatian tourism, taking a closer look at one of the government's flagship tourism strategies - golf. Oh dear. 

This is not an article about golf. 

This is not an article debating whether or not golf tourism is a good or bad thing, that is an entirely different discussion. 

This is an article about incompetence.

This is an article about a sector of tourism which is central to Croatia's tourism strategy (according to its own documents) and yet where not only has nothing happened for a decade in terms of progress, but the Croatian tax-payer is facing a potential imminent bill of 500 million euro from an Israeli investor who has now given up on his golf dream in Dubrovnik. 

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Meanwhile in Montenegro... 

Whenever I criticise something about Croatia (always in a constructive manner) and praise a neighbour, the haters flood my inbox with expletives and advice that I should leave Croatia. Apart from finding this pretty amusing, it highlights one of the main problems which is stopping Croatia from progressing, at least in my opinion. I call it the policy of deflection. Rather than accept that a foreigner might have a valid point and try and learn and improve, the standard response is abuse and attack - trying to deflect the issue. And so nothing changes. 

I can understand why some people get angry when I compare the incompetence of our Kings of Accidental Tourism with other countries. Lessons from Macedonia on how to promote the wine industry, for example. Lessons from Rwanda, on how to use football to promote tourism. And Lessons from Montenegro, on how to become a luxury tourism destination, while turning Dubrovnik into an extension of luxury Montenegro's offer in the process. But that does not stop me wanting to try. As a foreigner living here for 17 years, running news portals in Croatia, Montenegro and Slovenia, I have perhaps a different perspective, and I genuinely want the best for Croatia, which is why we need to learn what we are doing badly, and what others are doing well. And then learn and improve. 

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(All images and renderings courtesy of Lustica Bay golf development)

Today, we look at perhaps the finest example of incompetence in tourism strategy that I have come across in my time in Croatia. A sector of tourism whose lack of progress is the poster child of why foreigners are investing less money in Croatia each year than its diaspora are sending home in remittances. A sector of tourism where the neighbours are leading the way in luxury tourism.

The sector is golf. 

As mentioned above, this article is not about whether or not golf is a good thing for the region. This article is looking at the strategy of Croatia's tourism gurus and a comparison what is happening just across the border in Lustica Bay in Montenegro. 


Let's start at a fixed point - the Croatian Ministry of Tourism's Tourism Development Strategy 2013-2020. As you can see above, golf is central to the country's strategy. I contacted the Ministry of Tourism last year to ask for details: Here was the reply:

"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."

Impressive indeed, except for one thing. Almost 5 and a half years into the plan, I had not heard of any golf course being constructed. 


I asked how many courses Croatia had and how many were being built. Nobody seemed to know anything for sure. The ministry said there were three courses in Croatia, one of which was actually a driving range, the Croatian National Tourist Board trumpeted four courses, one of which was conveniently located in the centre of Zagreb (see above), whereas in actual fact...

... it had been abandoned for years (see drone video above). 

Clearly, the strategy was not quite working, unless the Ministry was going to produce 30 golf courses and a white rabbit out of a hat. 

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This staggering non-performance did not deter our heroic ministry, however - far from it. In June last year, the ministry reported:

Joining the family of golf destinations is imperative for the Croatian tourism industry, because without it Croatia will remain a seasonal tourist destination, the first conference on golf tourism in Croatia said in the northern Adriatic town of Porec.

Assistant Tourism Minister Robert Pende said that Croatia would not be able to increase the accommodation occupancy rate significantly without making progress in the golf segment. He said that a lot had been done to adjust infrastructure as a prerequisite for any serious golf projects, especially on state-owned land.

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"With the existing investor interest, I think we have created preconditions for getting several golf projects in the next two to three years," Pende said, noting that Istria County was leading in that regard.

"Golf is additional content which all our competitors have. Croatia is very suitable for the development of golf tourism because of the proximity of outbound travel markets and the possibility of playing golf along the coast all year round. We must seize that opportunity," Pende said.

I contacted the Ministry of Tourism for clarification, but there was no reply. 


Croatia's smaller Western neighbour, Slovenia, has 13 golf courses, despite golf not being a core focus, as far as I am aware. Interested in golf in Slovenia - here is the Total Slovenian News guide

Croatia's love affair with pretending to be a golf destination then preventing anything from happening goes back much further than the 2013 strategy document. When I had my own real estate agency back in 2004, there were no less than 22 courses earmarked for Istria alone. And one of them had rather a famous backer. 

Jack Nicklaus Begins Work on Golf Course in Croatia

ZAGREB Croatia, May 19, 2006. Jack Nicklaus' organisation doesn't invest in dud deals. Any wise investor would do well to note where he is building his golf courses.

The world's most famous golfer was met by Prime Minister Ivo Sanader (who only last week started a prison sentence), and a 200 million euro golf resort in Istria was announced. Want to know how it is going? Whatever Happened to Jack Niklaus Croatian Golf Course, Approved by PM Sanader? You can also check out the plans, looks very nice.

Jack's very same project was being offered on YouTube a decade later.

And the paperwork is almost finished... 

Of course, the biggest golf story in Croatia at the moment is the failed Srd development above Dubrovnik from Israeli investor, Aaron Frenkel. 


There is a LOT to this story, and I do not have the knowledge of the project to go into great detail about the reasons why the Srd golf project did not happen. That is was not popular locally was perhaps best exemplified by the results of a 2013 referendum on the project, where 10,051 votes against trumped the 1,846 for. From various people I have spoken to more familiar with the project, it appears to have failed through a cocktail of corruption, environmental campaigners, objections from those who defended Dubrovnik during its 1991 attack, and (I suspect) an element of local accommodation owners not fancying so much high-quality villa rental competition. 

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The investor has taken the case to arbitration in Washington, with a ruling due shortly. The Croatian taxpayer (that's you and me folks) looks set for a possible bill of up to 500 million euro. 

So, we are now 6 years into the Ministry of Tourism's strategic plan to develop Croatia as a regional golf tourism tiger. The results so far: absolutely nothing close to the first phase of construction, and a potential bill of 500 million euro, as well as further loss of reputation among foreign investors. 

Outstanding job!

Meanwhile, just over the borders... 

I want to talk about Lustica Bay and Montenegro, but thought it also worthwhile mentioning a project just across the border in Republika Srpska, about 15 minutes from Dubrovnik Old Town. I have not heard anything about 'Dubrovnik Heights' in a while, but there were certainly plans to build a course just over the border. Using the brand of Dubrovnik, access to Dubrovnik Airport and the city as major draws. And while golf in Bosnia has been out of the news lately, here is an intriguing paragraph from the latest Gary Player newsletter, the famous golfer behind the signature 18-hole-course in Montenegro:

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We would be delighted to start another project in Montenegro or the surrounding countries, but Lustica Bay is the one we are focusing on at the moment. Our design team is working on some feasibility studies for projects in Albania, Bosnia, Serbia and Romania so it’s a very active part of the world for us right now.

Albania, Bosnia, Serbia and Romania. But not the country with the defined tourism strategy to build 30 courses - Croatia. 

And so to Montenegro.

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I upset a few people a few days ago with an article called How Dubrovnik is Becoming an Extension of Luxury Tourism in Montenegro. Apologies for those who were offended, but I am only stating what is the truth. As part of the 2.5 billion euro investments of Lustica Bay, Portonovi and Porto Montenegro (to name but three), Lustica Bay will have that Gary Player 18-hole course as an additional luxury tourism offer. With the airports of both Tivat and Dubrovnik offering increasingly year-round services, the options for high-spending luxury tourism are tantalising indeed. And with a visit to Dubrovnik a wonderful extension of that, the future looks very bright indeed. In a recent interview (which you can read here), Player had the following update:

The Marina and Chedi hotel is completed and opened last year, the marina village residences are also open. For the golf, 9 holes will open in 2021 and 18 ready for play in by 2022.

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There are certainly many challenges ahead to ensure that the golf course does open on schedule (and discussions on water supply are ongoing, as I understand, for example) but almost all of the excavation and preparatory work has been done. But Player is clearly excited - here he is talking about whether or not the Lustica Bay development is a typical project for him:

Not at all. The course has dramatic elevation changes throughout the layout. The topography is quite steep so the shaping and contouring will be very bold and dynamic with stepped fairways, small cavernous bunkers, and small putting surfaces that will nestle into the steep topography.

We are going to manufacture our own capping sand from the excavated rock by crushing it to the appropriate specification and all the irrigation water will be treated effluent from the nearby town.

The driving range will be open this summer, and the first nine holes next. You can learn more about the Lustica Bay golf facility and keep pace with progress.

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Meanwhile in Croatia... 

There are just three golf courses in Croatia, one of which opened in 2009, another in 2004, and the one on Brijuni which dates back to Tito's times. Perhaps so few golf courses is a good thing - as I said, this article is not about golf. 

But if the strategy is not to develop Croatia as a golf destination (a very successful strategy so far) then stop putting golf at the heart of tourism strategy. And if the plan is to develop golf as a tourism strategy, what on earth has the ministry and its team been doing for the last six years, and longer? 


(Bay of Kotor, Montenegro - Photo credit Marko Stefanek)

Montenegro is not perfect, far from it, but the closer one looks, the more impressive it becomes. And while detractors will talk of the alleged corruption in Montenegro compared to Croatia, let's not forget why Porto Montenegro (and other projects) are not in Croatia. And when compared to Croatia's innovative strategy of 6 years with golf at the heart of what they are trying to achieve, with a result so far only of a 500-million-euro lawsuit, I don't think Montenegro is doing too badly by comparison. 

Do you? 

Thursday, 31 January 2019

100 Million Euros to Be Invested in Golf Resort on Cres

It took three years from the initial announcement to the finalisation of the first phase of the preparation of project documents, but that is how things work in Croatia, especially with projects which have never been seen before. And the golf resort on Cres, in the Punta Križe area, is definitely among them, reports Jutarnji List on January 31, 2019.

For this project, the investor, the Jadranka Group, has made an agreement with the Krk Diocese for the use of about 320 hectares of land for 50 plus 50 years. It has also hired Ernie Els to design two championship golf courses with 18 holes.

The Matalda golf project recently passed a round of voting at the County Assembly, which adopted amendments to the spatial plan of the Primorje-Gorski Kotar County, which now include the golf course location, removing the main administrative obstacle. Before this, the project passed the public consultation process and was discussed by the Cres and Mali Lošinj town councils, where majorities also supported it.

According to Sanjin Šolić, the CEO of Jadranka, the goal is to improve the quality of the entire destination to a five-star level. As Šolić points out, Jadranka plans to invest around 100 million euro in the golf project, in addition to almost 200 million euro which the company has already spent on the nearby island of Lošinj.

“We now have basic legal preconditions for golf resort to be planned at this location. The spatial plan earlier had another location earmarked for golf, but it was not interesting for us for many reasons, from the ground configuration to the ownership structure. Matalda has proven to be ideal for golf, and we have launched an initiative that has succeeded after three years. After initial doubts, the County has accepted it,” said Šolić, showing a comprehensive analysis which Jadranka commissioned.

“We also have a study of socio-economic justification of the project, drafted by the Hotel Faculty in Opatija. The area in question is protected, but golf is possible there with the protection measures we intend to implement. Now we have the right to prepare a draft project that must be approved by the state commission appointed by the Ministry of Environmental Protection. This means that another environmental impact study will be done, the third one,” explained Šolić.

The total project area is 320 hectares, and the two golf courses that Jadranka plans to build will cover less than 20 per cent of the land. “Buildings will cover just two per cent of the total area. There will be a single hotel that, according to the County decision, cannot be for less than 500 people. The total capacity allowed is 800, which means no fewer than 500 people in the hotel, and no more than 300 people in the villas. As far as the docks are concerned, a classic marina is not allowed. However, there is a possibility of having a helicopter landing spot,” said Šolić.

He added that it was impossible to discuss precise figures since the project has not yet been developed and it is still unknown whether they will build it in stages or all at once. “When everything is done, I doubt it can be less than 100 million euro," said Šolić. He also added that it was difficult to talk about timelines because they cannot influence how much time state bodies will need to make a new environmental impact study, but he believes that the construction of the first course could begin in 2020.

He noted that golf by itself was not profitable. “What is important to us is that golf will fill our accommodation units out of the main tourist season. Our hotels will be filled all year round. Another great effect is marketing. The fact that golf will be present on Lošinj and Cres will ensure that a special group of guests will hear about the island and want to come here.”

As for local critics of the project, Šolić explained they are a negligible minority. “Whatever people do, they are always criticised by the same group, without any real arguments. Strategic assessment and environmental impact study prove that there is no risk of adverse effects on nature. We took all segments of nature protection into account,” said Šolić.

More news on golf projects in Croatia can be found in the Lifestyle section.

Translated from Jutarnji List (reported by Luka Benčić).

Tuesday, 19 June 2018

Tourism Quiz of the Summer: How Many Golf Courses Will Croatia Have Next Week?

June 19, 2018 - Although nothing has been built for a decade, there has been a flurry of activity at the Croatian National Tourism Board this month regarding golf tourism. Will the Ministry of Tourism's 7-year strategic plan see 30 new golf courses after all?

Wednesday, 13 June 2018

Whatever Happened to Jack Nicklaus' Croatian Golf Course, Approved by PM Sanader?

June 13, 2018 - What happens when the greatest golfer of all time meets not quite the greatest prime minister of all time and they decide to build a golf resort in Croatia?

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