Is Greek red tape strangling potential for golfing paradise?

Investors in golf tourism and real estate developers see green in Greece’s year-round sun and mild climate, but the nation’s notoriously complex bureaucracy has them seeing red. «Greece is sitting on top of a gold mine in foreign investment that it is unlikely to ever see again,» said Alex Hillston, vice president of the Australian-Greek partnership Albatross Investments and Development, at a two-day conference on the future of golf in southeastern Europe that ended Saturday. «If they don’t develop the market, the competition will,» Hillston said. «Their neighbor Turkey could easily fill the vacuum that is now present in southern Europe.» Many investors see an opportunity for sports-related development beginning in Greece following next year’s Olympics. Overall tourism in Greece has been slumping as costs rise but services remain limited. But golf – a lucrative tourism draw for other nations, such as Portugal and Thailand – faces many challenges in Greece, conference participants said. There are only five golf courses in Greece, and the lack of competition disappoints golfing tourists who want to play several different courses during a trip. Another problem is that building anything in Greece requires permission from several authorities at several different levels of government. «A lot of [permits] are complicated to get,» said Peter Doukas, chairman of the Hellenic Golf Federation. «For example, the archaeological permits (to ensure) that there are no are sites under there must be had from the pre-classical authorities, and the classical authorities and the Byzantine authorities. It’s not easy.» Finding a suitable site isn’t easy either, as it’s difficult to find large enough pieces of land held by a single owner, said Tim Hill, operations director for a company building a golf resort complex on the island of Crete. «The State has not yet realized how important golf is to tourism. To save Greek tourism, we must develop golf,» said Michael Vranas, president of the Crete Golf Club. (AP)