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Golf's Asian Power List

October 2, 2014

The “Most Powerful People In Golf In Asia” enters its second year with the release of the 2014 “power list” published by Golf Inc. the influential North American magazine on the business of golf. The Asian power list was first released in 2013 and it has since become an annual feature of the magazine.

The Asian power list is part of the publisher’s world list which has served as the industry standard of gauging the influence of individuals who wield the greatest impact on the business of golf.

Asia’s 2014 Power Hitters

2014 has not been a very good year for the golf industry especially in the developed world. Golf equipment manufacturers have been hit by poor sales and golf courses continue to be either sold or shut down. This negative trend has been a feature for a while and will be a year many in the golf industry will want to forget quickly and move on.

However, this gloomy outlook is not generally shared in Asia which by many accounts is about the only bastion of hope and progress for the global golf industry. The “confident mood” in Asia is best reflected by what the most powerful and active are doing and achieving for golf.

Golf Inc. has profiled the industry leaders who are taking the steps necessary to develop new players, build new courses and bring sophistication to management and operations. These pioneers are making an impact in their home countries and all across Asia. And it is this list that should determine the extent of growth for the industry into the future.

No. 1: Dr. Ken Chu - Chairman, Tenniel Chu - Vice-chairman, Mission Hills Group - China (2013 Ranking: 1)

Today, Dr. Ken Chu and Tenniel Chu are the most powerful Asians in golf, respected for their leadership and efforts to develop the game. But not too long ago, the brothers were new to golf, as was most of Asia.

As boys, they lived in Canada and their home was adjacent to a golf course, which meant errant balls would litter their backyard. “We decided to take these unclaimed stray golf balls and set up our own little putting course in our family’s yard, employing the strategic course design creativity of young kids,” Tenniel said. “After setting out our holes, we were ready to play. However, we did not have putters. So, in a true Canadian, hockey-loving way, we decided to simply use our hockey sticks.”

The innovation that Ken and Tenniel brought to their Canadian backyard is now being employed as they seek to improve the marketability of golf and attract juniors to the game. The brothers took over the Mission Hills Group when their father, Dr. David Chu, passed away in 2011. Ken had been involved with the company since he graduated from college in 1995, and Tenniel joined him six years later. They spearheaded the planning and execution of Mission Hills Haikou with the Chinese government, starting in 2008. When complete, it will have 22 golf courses.

Dr. Ken Chu leads the organization as chairman and CEO. The company’s operations reach outside of golf into spas, resorts, hotels, shopping malls, entertainment, dining and business centres — and they are extremely influential in promoting professional tour events as well as world golf competitions for amateurs, professionals and kids.

While the brothers stay keenly focused on first servicing China, the Chu’s leadership reaches out to all of Asia. Tenniel, vice chairman of Mission Hills, concurrently serves as the deputy commissioner of the OneAsia Tour, and this brings him and the Mission Hills Group into a powerful leadership role, dealing with multiple governing bodies of golf in China, Asia and throughout the world. He is also the first member from China in the R&A, which sets rules for all of Asia.

No. 2: Ryusuke Kamata - Chief Executive Officer, Accordia Golf Co., Japan (2013 Ranking: Not ranked)

What a difference a year can make. Ryusuke Kamata, who has served as CEO of Accordia Golf since May 2012, recently made a bold move to sell off a major portion of the public company’s golf courses, but to continue as a third-party operator. In June, shareholders approved the sell-off of 89 golf course properties to a newly formed investment trust in Singapore which could net US$626 million.

Improving the capital position will strengthen Accordia’s balance sheet and make it near impossible for its arch rival, Pacific Golf Management, to attempt a hostile takeover. Accorida had to fend off such a move earlier in the year.

Accordia, with approximately 10,000 employees, currently manages 137 golf courses and 24 driving range centres and has 755 affiliated driving ranges, hotels, restaurants and branded merchandise.

No. 3: Kim Young Je - President & CEO, SKY72 Resorts, Korea (2013 Ranking: 3)

It has been another intense year for Kim Young Je, who has a reputation for being ‘Mr. Intense’ in everything he does. He’s been an entrepreneurial leader, golf journalist, principle golf course owner and a powerful influence for golf in Korea and Asia. Kim is the brains and endless energy behind SKY72 golf resorts. For a guy who defines no-limit entrepreneurship in golf, he has no concerns about thinking outside the box. There is no box big enough to restrict Kim’s creativity in the golf business. In a region where the private membership golf course business model predominates, he has built one of the few daily-fee, public golf operations. His operations boast annual green fee revenues between US$80 million to US$100 million.

SKY72 company’s golf courses are some of the busiest in the world. With five golf courses and a mega learning centre, it’s a leader in utilization. Two of the courses are lighted and push annual rounds of 120,000 each per year, with two others steady at 90,000 rounds. Play is so heavy that the cups are changed five times a day to spread the wear from golfer traffic.

Under construction for 18 months, a 385-room boutique-service hotel close to SKY72 golf courses and adjacent to the Incheon International Airport was opened recently. This was a strategic move that will allow the facility to serve both air business travelers and the SKY72 golf customer base.

Rather than wait for the Asian golf industry to develop professional training and continuing education for golf course management, Kim gave orders to start SKY72’s own annual winter seminars and even opened them up to all other Korean golf courses in the nation’s best interest.

No. 4: Arihiro Kanda - Chairman, Pacific Golf Management, Japan (2013 Ranking: 2)

Arihiro Kanda is the chief executive of PGM, the mega operator of 153 18-hole-equivalent golf courses, hotels, cemeteries and highway hospitality and service areas. Similar to, and a competitor with Accordia, PGM Holdings was set up by Lone Star Funds, an American private equity firm and then very successfully tendered its IPO in December 2005.

While rival Accordia has made dramatic business moves in 2014, PGM has seemed to trip and fall. After losing its bid for an attempted leveraged buyout of Accordia last year, it has had to regroup. Early this year PGM made a deep reduction in workforce at its headquarters, jettisoning many long-term employees.

No. 5: Mike Sebastian - Owner and Chief Executive Officer, Asia Pacific Golf Group (2014) Pte Ltd, Singapore (2013 Ranking: 6)

During the past 12 months, Mike Sebastian has further advanced his influence on the Asian golf industry by forming an alliance with the CMAA to establish CMAA Asia Pacific Pte Ltd. As part of this collaboration, he has entered into partnerships with various institutes of higher learning in the region to bring quality education, training and certification to the club industry. This is an initiative that will have a long term effect and impact on improving the general standard of club management in the region.

The Asia Pacific Golf Group is the owner of the region’s leading golf magazines which include Asian Golf, Asian Club Business, Asian Golf Tourism, Asian Golf TV and the highly regarded Asia Pacific Golf Summit.

One of his qualities is his bold vision to grow the game of golf and make it more family friendly and in this regard, he is currently work on a project designed to make golf more accessible, playable and affordable and details are expected to be announced at the 2014 Asia Pacific Golf Summit. With his various alliances, Sebastian has established a Pan-Asia industry operation that offers Asia’s golf course operational decision makers a venue for networking and ongoing, professional development.

2014 will also go down as a historic year as Sebastian has been instrumental in launching the Inaugural Southeast Asian Golf Facility Survey and the Inaugural Asian Golf Consumer Survey.

No. 6: Santi Bhirombhakdi - President and CEO, Singha Corp., Thailand (2013 Ranking: 7)

Santi Bhirombhakdi, the most influential golf businessman in Thailand, has seen his power grow as the common market of Southeast Asia, the ASEAN Economic Community, officially comes online in 2015.

Bhirombhakdi is president of Singha Corp., a top beer company in Thailand founded by his father. Exports throughout Asia have propelled Singha Beer as a powerful and influential sports sponsor in golf and other sports. This has served as a huge base for engaging in golf course and player development in Thailand. Singha Beer is the primary sponsor of golf tournaments at every level and a key sponsor of most all major sports events in Thailand, around the ASEAN region and East Asia.

Founder of the Thai PGA, Bhirombhakdi served as its president until recently and still wields considerable influence in directing the organization. His golf course assets include three golf courses in Thailand. He is not shy to quietly use his sports marketing influences in pressing for further development of golf and golf courses in Asia.

No. 7: Conrado L. Benitez II - Founder and President, The Orchard Golf & Country Resort, Philippines (2013 Ranking: 10)

The Philippine economy continues to grow at a brisk pace, and that has positioned the country for further golf course development. This has helped Conrado Benitez gain power. The founder and president of the 36-hole Orchard Golf & Country Resort, he was recently elected vice president of the National Golf Association of the Philippines, which will serve as the country’s representative for the 2016 Summer Olympics.

The Orchard Golf & Country Resort will serve as the venue for the 2014 Philippine Amateur Match Play Championship and will, once again, host the nation’s annual Golf Course Management Conference.

No. 8: Brian Curley - Partner, Schmidt-Curley Golf Design, United States of America (2013 Ranking: 8)

Brian Curley remains the sole person not living full-time in Asia on our list, a testament to his influence over design on the continent. Having long ago forged a relationship with Mission Hills founder David Chu, Curley has continued the relationship with Chu’s sons and the Mission Hills Group.

Schmidt-Curley base their design business in Scottsdale, Ariz., but Curley spends a lot of time in Asia. Curley is credited with 20 golf course designs at Mission Hills properties alone including 10 located at Mission Hills Haikuo on the southern Chinese island of Hainan. While many design firms struggle now in Asia, Schmidt-Curley is proceeding with new projects and keeps chalking up multiple awards and recognitions.

No. 9: Wang Jun - Vice Chairman, China Golf Association, China (2013 Ranking: 4)

Wang Jun is one of the most powerfully connected men in China’s golf business. An influential figure among China’s industrial elite, he helped to found two of China’s biggest leviathans: the state-run investment conglomerate of Citic Group Corp. and the mammoth China Poly Group Corp. (military weapons and oil exploration). However, development of golf courses in China has slowed considerably during the last 18 months.

No. 10: Dilip Thomas - Secretary General, Asia-Pacific Golf Confederation, India (2013 Ranking: 14)

Dilip Thomas, the most connected and visible face of golf in India, chaired the ninth Sir Michael Bonallack Trophy — the prestigious amateur team event that pits Asia Pacific against the best amateurs of Europe this year. In September, he supported the golf events for the 2014 Asian Games in Incheon, Korea.

As the secretary general of the Asia-Pacific Golf Confederation, he heads up an organization that represents the 36 national governing bodies of amateur golf throughout the entire region of Asia and the Pacific.

In India, Thomas is an influential council member of the India Golf Union, where he chairs the coaching committee. He’s an active member of the administrative committee of the International Golf Federation, which is in charge of golf’s participation in the 2016 Olympic Games.

No. 11: Masato Mizuno - Japanese Olympic Committee, Japan (2013 Ranking: 9)

No. 12: Paul Burley - Vice President, IMG Golf Course Services Asia Pacific, Singapore, (2013 Ranking: 13)

No. 13: Le Van Kiem - Chairman, Long Thanh Golf Investment and Trading Co., Vietnam (2013 Ranking: Not ranked)

No. 14: Murdaya Widyawimarta - President, Indonesian Golf Association, Indonesia (2013 Ranking: Not ranked)

No. 15: Admiral Tan Sri Dato’ Setia Mohd Anwar Mohd Nor - President, Malaysian Golf Association, Malaysia (2013 Ranking: Not ranked)

Among the two new entries into the “power list” for 2014 are:

Mr. Le Van Kiem

Mr. Le stands out as a shining example of a man who has devoted the rest of his life to philanthropy. Turning seventy years old soon, the Vietnamese entrepreneur is also very passionate about golf. He owns two golf courses in Vietnam and Laos respectively and is also committed to helping the development of junior golf in the ASEAN countries.

For his commitment to golf and charity, the Asia Pacific Golf Group has elected to honour Mr. Le with a special award - The Asia Pacific Philanthropy And Golf Personality Of The Year Award for 2014.

To date, Mr. Le has given away more than US$40 million to charity and he has also pledged US$5 million to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to establish The Vietnam Health Fund.

Mr. Murdaya Widyawimarta

The President of the Indonesian Golf Association, Mr. Widyawimarta will be inducted to the prestigious Asia Pacific Golf Hall Of Fame.

He will be honoured during the Gala Awards Banquet of the 2014 Asia Pacific Golf Summit which will be staged on November 14-15 at the iconic Marina Bay Sands Hotel in Singapore.

The Indonesian billionaire who owns golf courses in his country, has helped initiate various initiatives to grow the game of golf in Indonesia, including the promotion of golf tourism. Under his leadership, golf has experienced exponential growth in the sprawling republic.

His flagship company is Central Cipta Murdaya which is a diverse conglomerate and one of its companies is well-known for being the Indonesian manufacturer of Nike shoes.

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