China Radio International’s Beyond Beijing reports that Chinese Groupon clones have “put golf within reach of ordinary people.” That’s not really true — the 58 kuai deal (around US$8.72) mentioned in the story is for a session at a driving range, not 18 holes on a golf course — but it’s interesting nonetheless. Perhaps it would be better to say group buying “has made it easier for Chinese with internet access, free time and an interest in trying foreign things to introduce themselves to an activity they’ll probably never be able to afford to take up seriously — but the 58 kuai also includes a meal, so what the hell.” (Here’s a link to the golf deal on 51fit.com.) I’d be interested to learn whether the group buying craze ever does extend beyond the driving range (an RMB 250 round of golf in most parts of China would definitely be something to write about) but I imagine the country’s image-conscious clubs would try to steer clear of that kind of riffraff. But who knows? Maybe after the bubble bursts and Shanxi coal barons stop swooping up fairway mansions, club owners, forced to figure out how to make a profit from golf, will give the internet another look.

Click on the link below to listen to the CRI report. I have also included the text of the story, but it doesn’t include the in-studio interview with a woman who gave the 58 yuan deal a try.

China Radio International – “Beyond Beijing” – Group buying for golf

Golf used to be regarded as a sport enjoyed exclusively by the upper class. However, the trend of group buying has put golf within reach of ordinary people in China. Xiaohong has more.

With its exclusive clubs and high class brands, “golf” demonstrates a kind of lifestyle. Often called a gentleman’s sport in the past, it has become a sport that almost everyone can afford. All this is attributed to the latest internet hit: group buying.

Li Xiaoqian, a white collar worker, got her first golf practice opportunity through group buying. For her, it’s not only a way of saving money, but also a novel experience.

“I got the chance through group buying. I spent only 58 yuan on services which was originally worth 680. It’s really a bargain. I came here with my friends to enjoy the golden autumn sun light and green grass. We are having a great time!”

If you are imagining poorer services at this unbelievable cheap price, then you are wrong.

“58 yuan covers 200 practice balls at driving range, a meal, and instructions on form, grip, and swing.”

Another white collar working for Shell Company said golf has become so accessible that even children are joining in.

“About 5 or 6 years ago, golf was played only by the noble, and was relatively expensive. But now it has gained popularity among common people. On weekends, there are many kids coming here to play golf. My son comes here too. It’s good to practice golf when he is little. Besides, the price is acceptable.”

Run Jing Club, which offers the golf activity, joined hands with group buying websites in October. Zhang Zeyun, sales manager of the club said results have been impressive.

“Since October, we have received reservation from about 200 customers through group buying.”

Although more footfalls mean more profit, many clubs are not so keen on cooperation with group buying websites. Qu Zheng, the founder of 51fit.com, a group buying website that specializes in sports activities, explains it’s not always easy to cooperate.

“The golf clubs don’t know much about the business model of group buying. Our staffs have to take much effort to explaining it. Besides, many golf clubs are not willing to cooperate with us because of high operational cost; they are afraid that they can’t make ends meet.”

Participation is also limited by the locations of golf courses. People tend to choose courses that are near where they live or work. If the golf courses are too far, they won’t go. Qu Zheng said this was an important consideration when choosing businesses to work with.

“It’s true that sports group buying is highly dependent on locations, especially in such a big city like Beijing. Plus, most golf courses are located in suburbs. So when we consider cooperating with golf clubs, we take into account the locations and work with a few clubs at one time, each in a different location around Beijing.”

51fit.com also offers group buying in yoga, taekwondo, body building and other leisure sports which are practiced widely by foreigners. With the rapid development of the Internet industry, he said leisure sports have much more ground to gain in China.

“Generally speaking, leisure sports like golf are still fledging in China. But the internet industry develops almost in tandem with that in developed countries. The internet population is huge. I am convinced that internet will contribute a lot to promoting golf and other leisure sports in China.”

The popularity of group buying has unlocked doors to worlds mainstream consumers always thought were out of reach. The new trend is creating a successful business model and influencing people’s lifestyle at the same time.