Leisure golfers keeping Japan's fairways busy

Number of players has fallen but those still active are playing more often, says Accordia Golf Trust

A golf course in Tokyo. Accordia Golf Trust owns 89 courses across Japan and received 2.1 per cent more visitors over the past year.
A golf course in Tokyo. Accordia Golf Trust owns 89 courses across Japan and received 2.1 per cent more visitors over the past year.PHOTO: ACCORDIA GOLF TRUST

Japanese consumer spending is in the doldrums but a Singapore-listed business trust believes the nation's golf market is in full swing.

While the number of golfers in Japan has declined as the population shrinks and ages, players are making more visits to the fairways.

The average golfer played one round a month in 2014, up from 10 rounds a year in 2013, said CEO Yoshihiko Machida of Accordia Golf Trust Management, trustee manager for Accordia Golf Trust.

Weather could have been a deciding factor - heavy snowfalls in 2013 probably kept players at home - but Mr Machida noted that demand from senior players could be driving the trend, as they are living longer and have more time on their hands after retirement.

"Golf has changed since its peak in the 1990s. It used to be more corporate players, but now we are seeing a shift to more leisure golfers," he told The Straits Times.

The trust, which owns 89 golf courses across Japan, received 2.1 per cent more visitors and added 360,000 loyalty card holders over the past year. Just under 60 per cent of Japan's 7.2 million golfing population hold Accordia cards.

Golf in Japan is not centred on private club membership as it is in Singapore, said Mr Machida, who is based here along with the rest of the directors. A majority of the visitors to the trust's courses are non-members, hence the loyalty programme to keep them coming back.

Accordia Golf Trust posted an annual distribution yield of 11 per cent based on a full-year distribution per unit of 6.63 Singapore cents and a unit price of 60 cents at end-March, higher than most real estate investment trusts in Singapore and Japan.

The high yield is partly a result of units falling way below their debut price of 97 cents two years ago. But interest jumped last month after news that Korean private equity firm MBK Partners was in talks to buy the trust's sponsor and golf course operator Accordia Golf for up to 160 billion yen (S$2.12 billion), despite Japan's rural courses struggling to raise visitor numbers.

Accordia Golf has a 28.85 per cent direct and deemed interest in Accordia Golf Trust. Mr Machida said he does not comment on speculation, and that the trust's acquisition pipeline should not be affected, even if the deal is sealed.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 10, 2016, with the headline 'Leisure golfers keeping Japan's fairways busy'. Print Edition | Subscribe