UGOLF Iberia is the Spanish subsidiary of French group UGOLF SAS, both belonging to parent company Groupe Duval. UGOLF, including its Spanish division, focuses on running golf courses under different management models for both public and private owners. We talked to Eduardo Ruíz about the way the courses the company has been managing in Murcia since 2019 have changed.
How have the courses managed by UGOLF in the Murcia area changed since you took over their management in 2019?
These days the three courses are completely different to 2019. Over these four and a half years we have invested in improvements both to the courses themselves and to equipment, not forgetting the building or refurbishment of the proshops.
At Mar Menor we had to refurbish all the bunkers on the course that were affected by bad weather and today they are in exceptional condition. In addition, last year we started to change the 18 greens on the course.
At Saurines, also following bad weather, we reworked the bunkers, waste areas and greens, and, with that degree of refurbishment, the course was closed for almost a year.
As for Hacienda del Álamo, we also refurbished the bunkers on the entire course and will soon begin completely changing the irrigation system. This will be staggered over several months so we won’t have to close the course.
On top of all this, we bought new equipment for all three courses, we improved the proshop at Mar Menor and built a new one of more than 250 m2 at Saurines, as well as a new practice area.
All in all and bearing in mind we have gone through a pandemic, a couple of episodes of torrential rain damage and a change of ownership, we are extremely pleased.
UGOLF’s main business areas are golf course construction, management and consultancy, all of which have a major impact on the environment and sustainability. What is UGOLF’s policy on that issue?
UGOLF, UGOLF Iberia and UGOLF International all belong to Groupe Duval, one of the largest real estate management and development groups in Europe. We benefit from guidelines from our parent company on how to act in each of the areas of activity for the different projects.
For instance, in the management and construction of courses, we try to promote a culture of sustainability with future owners. This means keeping the course as natural as possible, efficiency in water consumption, the use of reclaimed water, the sowing of the best grass varieties for each area which use the least amount of water and are also as resistant as possible to disease, to reduce use of plant-protection chemicals. Overall, in sustainability terms, this is what we are putting into practice on both new-build courses and those which have been established for years.
UGOLF is mostly active in Spain and France. Are you in any other markets?
France is the leading market by far; there we manage more than 100 golf courses between Bluegreen, a company we have recently acquired, and UGOLF. In Spain we are a subsidiary and manage seven courses; in Germany we currently manage three courses within the same holiday resort;
UGOLF is in the process of expansion and emerging markets are the most interesting for the company. We already manage courses in Africa, the Middle East and Asia. Today we are the largest managers in Europe and the fifth largest in the world.
How would you say the tour operator market has been doing?
I don’t think I am far wrong when I say that the first six months of 2023 have been very good for those courses whose income is based on pay-&-play.
In our case, we have only had two and a half courses on sale as at Mar Menor we have just finished work on changing the greens on the back nine, which took out those holes. Even so, we have had a better first half to the year compared to previous ones, even going back to 2019.
The main markets, as in previous years, were the Nordic market from January to March and the British market from April to June. We are confident we will be pretty happy with tour operator sales in the second half of the year as well.