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Golf in a bubble but will it float or burst ?

  • Planned indoor golf center in the Netherlands would be the biggest of its kind
  • The center would boast state-of-the-art facilities but carries a price tag of $66 million
  • Trends point to growing demand for indoor golf faciliteis or "virtual" golf
  • Traditionalists say golf will remain a predominantly outdoor game

(CNN) -- A Dutch entrepreneur is hoping to construct the biggest indoor golf center in the world in the Netherlands which he believes will revolutionize the sport's leisure industry.

The vast 18,000 square-meter bubble will house a plethora of golf practice facilities, including chipping greens, bunkers and water hazards.

The latest golf simulators will offer the choice of the top golf courses in the world, plus a rooftop 34-bay driving range with the latest high-tech swing analysis.

Add in a golf shop of over 1,000 square meters, a fitness and health center and a five-star hotel, restaurants and business conference facilities and the scale of the project becomes clear.

The drawback is the €50 million ($66.59 million) price tag and a prominent site big enough to house a complex bigger than a major football stadium in a densely populated country.

But Standing, who has patented the term Indoor Golf Arena and hopes to franchise the concept, is unabashed even during a global recession.

"Traditional real estate developments and housing offices are suffering and investors are looking for alternatives in leisure which are becoming an increasingly attractive proposition," he told CNN.

Standing also believes that the Netherlands, which has 350,000 golfers and an annual growth rate of over 10 per cent, not to mention excellent transport links to other parts of continental Europe, is the ideal location.

This is actually meant to put everything that makes golf a way of life under one roof
--Jon Standing
  • Golf
  • Netherlands
  • Real Estate

"This is actually meant to put everything that makes golf a way of life under one roof," he said.

He told CNN that two sites near The Hague and Rotterdam had been earmarked for the project and said he hoped to begin building in 2012 with "huge interest" among investors from the Middle East.

The ambitious project also has the backing of the PGA of Europe and the Dutch golf federation.

It is part of a trend which has seen the sport go inside with simulators enabling golfers of all standards to play the world's classic courses without stepping outside and in all weathers.

In South Korea, where courses are at a premium and memberships expensive, the numbers of golf cafes with simulators have grown exponentially while London-based operator Urban Golf told CNN it is expanding fast.

Virtual screens replace greens

Marketing director David Richter says they have been successful because changes in lifestyle has put leisure time at a premium.

"If you just want to have a quick game with friends you don't have to take a whole day out of your diary, you can do it in an hour," he said.

Richter also believes that indoor operators have removed the barriers to playing at a traditional club.

"You don't need to be a member or have a handicap certificate to play, there's no stuffy dress code or clubhouse rules."

But whatever the advantages of indoor golf, will it replace the real thing ?

Andy Calton, the Editor in Chief of Today's Golfer, says that simulators and state-of-the-art indoor centers may indeed replace the traditional driving range, but told CNN there was no substitute for the outdoor experience.

"These places may well but the future of golf practice but as for being the future of golf, I'm not convinced," he said.

"I still think people want to play on a real course and find their ball in real trees!" he added.

Standing hopes his venture will boost golf standards in his native Netherlands with top players having access to the latest practice facilities, but also believes the model of traditional golf club membership is eroding as more and more players turn to a green fee-pay-and-play game.

In that context, he believes his venture will flourish and he wants to franchise the idea around the world.

"Indoor Golf Arena will be the place to be for every golfer," boasts the mission statement on the project's Web site, only time will tell whether the bubble will float or burst.