The Business Of Sport

Kevin Kwee's golf tourism dream takes flight: 1st Singapore hotel with direct access to a golf club

Above: Artist renderings of the Dusit Thani Laguna Singapore hotel that will open in 2017. Left: Laguna National managing director Patrick Bowers (far left) and executive director Kevin Kwee at the golf course.
Above: Artist renderings of the Dusit Thani Laguna Singapore hotel that will open in 2017.PHOTO: LAGUNA NATIONAL GOLF AND COUNTRY CLUB ST PHOTO: AZIZ HUSSIN
Above: Artist renderings of the Dusit Thani Laguna Singapore hotel that will open in 2017. Left: Laguna National managing director Patrick Bowers (far left) and executive director Kevin Kwee at the golf course.
Above: Laguna National managing director Patrick Bowers (far left) and executive director Kevin Kwee at the golf course.PHOTO: LAGUNA NATIONAL GOLF AND COUNTRY CLUB ST PHOTO: AZIZ HUSSIN

Investment in hotel, plus lease extension, aims to put Laguna on map

In 2005, when the idea of casinos in Singapore began to gain traction, Kevin Kwee saw a business opportunity even further down the road.

The executive director of Laguna National Golf and Country Club envisioned the Republic steadily attracting visitors for conventions, sports and leisure.

With the club's lease set to expire in 2021, he sounded out authorities on extending the deal, especially as the surrounding area in Changi was ripe for redevelopment.

It took years of negotiations but Laguna eventually became the first club to secure and pay for a lease extension to 2040.

And with that, Kwee pushed ahead with his masterplan - that of building the first hotel in Singapore with direct access to a golf club.

ROOM FOR EVERYONE

Just as importantly, golf tourists are a key market while our members will get discounted rates.

KEVIN KWEE, executive director of Laguna National Golf and Country Club.

Partnering Bangkok-based hospitality giant Dusit International, his vision will take shape in mid-2017 when the 208-room Dusit Thani golf resort opens right next to Laguna's clubhouse.

Including the lease extension, the entire investment totals around $200 million.

"This puts Laguna on the map," said Kwee, 45.

He is hoping to follow the golf hotel model laid down by the likes of Mission Hills in China. "We hope to see families use our facilities after they are done with conventions or weddings or the sort," he said. "Just as importantly, golf tourists are a key market while our members will get discounted rates."

A regional golf tourism company, Golfasian, estimated the sector to be worth some US$2 billion (S$2.8 billion) a year in South-east Asia, with more than 1.5 million golfers travelling to and within the region.

Laguna is Singapore's only proprietor-owned country club.

Located within minutes from Changi Airport, the Singapore Expo and Changi Business Park, it is operated by Group Exklusiv which is owned by Kwee's father Peter.

Kwee quit his university studies in Vancouver to help the family run a Volkswagen car dealership here, which they held until 2007.

The group also owns two golf courses in Perth, including the famous Joondalup Resort.

Boasting a turnover of over $220 million last year, Exklusiv sold The Pines Country Club to property developer Oxley Holdings for $318 million in 2013.

It is perhaps ironic that Laguna sits on land mooted to be a race track in the late 1980s.

Kwee is an avid racer who owns an Aston Martin DBS.

He tries to find the time to be trackside for Formula One races across the world, being on first-name terms with star drivers like Sebastian Vettel, Jenson Button and Felipe Massa.

But for now, he is focused on serving Laguna's current membership of 3,009. "We may own the club but if you don't look after your members, they will leave you," he said. "Our livelihood is at stake so it's in our best interests to keep the members happy."

In his spare time, he runs self-storage facilities in Japan and South Korea, and recently co-launched the Signature at Yishun, an executive condominium.

Even so, Laguna remains firmly in Kwee's front-view mirror, though he is swift to credit the club's success to the staff, led by managing director Patrick Bowers, whom he insisted appear in a photo shoot for this story.

The club boasts two award-winning courses in the Masters and World Classic, hosting an array of Asian and European Tour events over the years.

The US$1.5 million Championship at Laguna National, first held last year, has since folded.

On short notice next month, the club will host the US$750,000 World Classic Championship.

Kwee said that he is willing to absorb the financial hit of staging such high-profile tournaments, particularly with little lead-up and promotional time.

He said: "The prestige of having famous players walking through your clubhouse makes it worth it.

"Plus, they give you feedback on improving the course, which in turn benefits our members."

Besides elite golf, Laguna has also partnered the Youth Golf Programme, which introduces the sport to youngsters who do not have the means to own golf-club memberships but have a keen interest to play.

Laguna's long-term membership, which runs till 2040, currently sells for around $170,000, behind only Sentosa Golf Club and the Singapore Island Country Club.

However, Kwee will not forget the grassroots, even as the five-star hotel - which he hopes will break even after seven years - starts to take shape before his eager eyes.

The father of two daughters, aged six and 10, said: "We want to introduce more kids to the game and get them playing regularly.

"Laguna's facilities may be changing for the better but our main goal remains the same - a country club should cater to everyone."

  • The Business of Sport is a monthly series looking at the movers and shakers of Singapore's emerging sports business industry
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 09, 2015, with the headline 'KWEE'S GOLF TOURISM DREAM TAKES FLIGHT'. Print Edition | Subscribe