The Insanity of Croatia's Golf Tourism Planning: 1. Monty Python Counting

By 2 June 2018

June 2, 2018 - Do Croatia's tourism gurus know what they are doing? The first in a small series of articles taking a closer look at the Croatian Tourism Strategy 2013 - 2020. 

Tourism makes up more than 20% of Croatia's GDP and without it, the country would be even more screwed up economically than it is. As such, it would make sense to me to invest in that sector and apply the finest minds to the task of one growth sector that Croatia has to offer, where it truly competes on a global level of excellence - tourism. 

A national tourist board and ministry of tourism working together on a cohesive strategy, working in tandem with other ministries and state institutions does not seem too fanciful an idea, surely?

Ah, but this is The Beautiful Croatia. 


I have become mildly interested in a document I came across a couple of months ago from the Ministry of Tourism, Croatian Tourism Strategy from 2013 untill 2020. The language purist in me would have liked it if they could have got the spelling of 'until' in the title right, but if that was the only problem with the seven-year plan, all would be well. Now five years into the plan, I was curious to come across the sectors where the strategic focus was supposed to be, and I emailed the very helpful press department at the ministry for a progress report on some of these sectors, including golf and wine. They came back with a very comprehensive reply, for which many thanks. And so the story begins. 

My intention with this series is not to mock, but to point out where the system is failing the tourism industry, in the hope that some positive change can take place. As I learned a few years ago in our great triumph in having the Jelsa December bus timetables updated in the middle of May, blogging about things in English seems to be a lot more effective than trying to do things privately. If I upset anyone, I apologise in advance, but I genuinely don't think even the people involved have any idea just how dysfunctional the system is. And so we begin with the topic of golf, a sport often talked about in Croatia - especially in terms of new courses coming (I remember 23 alone were earmarked for Istria a few years back). Whether you agree with golf tourism or not is a different discussion. Here it is in the Ministry's 7-year plan. So how are things going? 

The Ministry informed me that there were two just two golf courses in Croatia, and went onto outline the impressive plans in a subsequent email:

"There are two existing golf courses in the Republic of Croatia, in Poreč and Zaprešić."

"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."


And so began the questioning, getting to know the Monty Pythonesque reality of knowledge about golf in Croatia at the official level. 

Five years into the 7-year plan to construct 30 golf courses, and yet there were only two in the whole country. But not only that, I was sure that there was no golf course in Porec (there isn't - later confirmed by the ministry), but didn't Tito have one on Brijuni? And didn't Kempinski open one on the Slovenian border back in 2009? Not according to the Ministry of Tourism Press Department.

So just how many golf courses, from zero to 30, had been built from the start of the 7-year plan in 2013 until now, five years later? That is an incredibly hard question to ask the Ministry of Tourism. I emailed, and I called. And called. But they were not able to give me an answer, preferring to refer me to a document of a golf strategy of the future, which includes a proposed course in Dubrovnik which will never be built, and the investor is suing the State for 500 million euro. 


On the 16th call, I decided to start videoing my phone calls, just to remind myself of the pain. The polite young lady at the other end of the line declined to be on speakerphone to explain why the press department of the Ministry of Tourism could not find out how many golf courses had been built in the first five years of the seven-year plan. I was told to email all the tourist boards to see if they had any golf courses in their area. I did contact the PR department of the Croatian National Tourist Board, who are always very responsive, but they too were unable to tell me how many golf courses had been built, but did give me some links to check out, which sadly didn't answer my question. I decided to check out the national tourist board website to see if they had any info about golf. Yes they did, and it was truly fascinating. How about this as a powerful way to introduce the strategically-important sector of golf tourism, five years into the plan


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!

More interesting to me was the mention of a fourth golf course, Dolina Kardinala', which I had never heard of. 


It seemed to be quite a place, having been nominated for the best golf course in all Croatia as recently as last year. Where on earth was it? I clicked on the tourist board link for more details. 



Apparently it is located in the heart of central Zagreb, and not even in a park. That must be quite tricky for the players and reasonably dangerous for the residents. 


A little research told me that the said Dolina Kardinala golf course did in fact exist. Or rather, used to exist. Here it is, somewhere near Karlovac, looking a little forlorn. 

And if you check out the drone video from last year, below, you will see just how forlorn. 

The project went bankrupt back in 2012, according to a report in Jutarnji List some six years ago, just a year before the start of the Great Seven-Year Plan. Today it exists only in its dilapidated estate, as an annual nominee for Best Golf Course in Croatia, and as 25% of the Croatian National Tourist Board's promotion of golf in Croatia - a course in central Zagreb. #ZagrebFullofGolf. 

It will be interesting to see if Dolina Katedrala gets updated on the national tourist board website, in the same way that the Croatian Chamber of Economy updated theirs (and on a Sunday!) after Uhljebistan: the Croatian Chamber of Economy: Beyond Useless. If not, then it will confirm that the priority is not to provide accurate information to tourists, and if yes, then it will show that they are receptive to constructive criticism. 

And while we wait for that, does anyone know how many golf courses have been built in Croatia since the 2013 strategy began?