Find Out Why Golfer Daniel Popovic’s Popularity Is Growing In Croatia

Total Croatia News

July the 23rd, 2019 – Golf in Croatia is a touchy subject the past few years. For a country with such a scenic coastline and lots of land ripe for development, Croatia has surprisingly few golf courses. The Croatian coastal climate is also perfect for the sport, as summers are warm and breezy, and winters are moderate enough to allow for golf most of the year. 

According to Globe Newswire, golf tourism has begun booming, with North America and Europe enjoying the biggest growth in the past few years. And it’s projected to continue: a rise in global golf tourism spending of 11% is expected by 2023. Croatia could poise itself as an exciting, new golf destination but instead is foundering under setback after setback. 

While Croatia is supposedly in the midst of a 7-year-plan to increase golf tourism, we’ve nearly arrived at year seven and there’s still not a single new golf course under construction. Despite promises of 30 new golf courses to open by 2020, no ground has been broken towards that end. 

Not only is there a lack of new courses on the way, the course that’s long been known as Croatia’s finest course, Dolina Kardinala, is no longer in operation. So instead of gaining 30 courses, Croatia’s gained none and instead lost its best one.

Enter professional golfer Daniel Popovic. The 30-year-old golfer has been playing professionally since 2012, when he enjoyed his biggest victory, a win at the Australian PGA Championship. At the time, he rose to the rank of 363rd in the world and seemed poised to have a promising worldwide career.

While he’s struggled a bit since then (his world ranking currently stands at 2020), he’s still in a unique position to help Croatian golf. The Australian-born golfer has a deep Croatian heritage, so he tries to help out junior programs by making instructional appearances as well as sending equipment, such as gloves and balls, back to Croatia to help kickstart the sport.

However, there’s more that he could do to help grow the game and perhaps facilitate investment in Croatia’s golf tourism economy.

One option would be to follow the path created by PGA Tour golfer Rory Sabbatini. Sabbatini is a South African-born golfer who also holds a UK passport and US citizenship. His wife and children, however, hold Slovakian citizenship.

In 2019, Sabbatini obtained Slovakian citizenship, saying he was doing so with the intent of helping to spread the game of golf to Slovakia. There’s also speculation that he’s attempting to gain entrance into the 2020 Olympic Games as a representative of Slovakia; while Sabbatini denies those claims, it wouldn’t surprise anyone to see him competing under the Slovakian flag in 2020.

Sabbatini is enjoying his best year in a long time, making cut after cut and climbing up the world rankings. Blogs are even referring to him as “The Boy From Bratislava”, which is helping to put Slovakia in the golf world’s spotlight.

Daniel Popovic could follow that same path, and perhaps even compete for Croatia in the 2020 Olympics. Both Australia and Croatia offer dual-citizenship, so it can be done. Since the Olympics use the Official World Golf Rankings to select the top players from each country, Popovic doesn’t have a chance of representing Australia. Superstars like Jason Day, Adam Scott, Marc Leishman and Cameron Smith are likely to compete for Australia in 2020.

But Popovic could conceivably represent Croatia if he obtained a dual citizenship and managed to gain a few more world rankings points between now and June 2020. He’s clearly got the game to play golf at an elite level internationally, and perhaps the encouragement of an entire country could help revitalize his game.

Even a step as simple as updating his Wikipedia page to reflect his Croatian heritage could help put some attention on golf in Croatia. For now, all it states is that he’s an Australian-born golfer with a win in 2012. A few updates to explain his Croatian heritage and the youth outreach he’s doing in the country would improve the results when Google-ing “Croatia golf”. 

While the road to the Olympics would be a tough one, it would be a major boon if Popovic was able to qualify and participate in them. The whole world watches the Olympics, especially when they have someone representing their own country.

Perhaps that could be the impetus to get golf development projects out of the doldrums they’ve been stuck in, and get them moving towards actual construction and completion. 

With the worldwide growth of the game of golf and a huge increase in the already billions of dollars spent on golf tourism and travel in Europe every year, Croatia is missing out on a prime opportunity to put its neglected, uninhabited land that’s perfectly suited for golf to good use. Golf courses provide jobs in many sectors, from groundskeeping and landscaping to retailing and hospitality. Golfers need places to stay, eat, and drink, so where there are world-class golf courses, there are world-class hotels and restaurants that flourish. Golfers also purchase lots of equipment such as rangefinders or clubs that can help the golf economy take off.

And if a golf resort is located along a gorgeous coastline, golfers will bring their non-golfer family members, who will want to take advantage of the local beaches and waterfront activities that tourist destinations provide.

Popovic could be the face of these golf resorts, perhaps even offering clinics or hosting a tournament to bring more attention to the developments. 13 years ago, Jack Nicklaus was set to be the face of Croatian golf development when a 200-million-Euro project was announced that would bring a Nicklaus signature course and resort to Istria. However, that endeavour seems to be kaput, with no contact between the development company and Nicklaus’ company for several years. Like so many other Croatian golf projects, it showed a lot of promise but ultimately nothing came of it. 

It’s time for a new face of Croatian golf to emerge, and Daniel Popovic is uniquely poised to be that face. With his involvement and some forward progress on golf course development, golf tourism could bring millions of dollars each year to the local economy.

Text by Jordan Fuller


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