JOSÊ MARIA CAZAL-RIBEIRO
COMMERCIAL DIRECTOR ORIZONTE
José Maria Cazal-Ribeiro is the commercial director of ORIZONTE, Lisbon golf, a management company that boasts seven courses surrounding the Portuguese capital – a position he has held for two years.
His appointment followed a successful nine-year spell as golf director at Ribagolfe, a course that was once described as the ‘Valderrama of Portugal’ and has hosted the first stage of the European Tour Qualifying School since 2009, and is now part of ORIZONTE.
José grew up in Lisbon and started playing golf at the age of nine. His obvious talents were quickly spotted as he became Portuguese National Champion and was elected Player of the Year by the Portuguese Golf Federation in 2000.
In January 2001, at the age of 24 he turned professional and two years’ later became golf secretary at Belas Clube de Campo, which is part of the André Jordan Group, in the Lisbon region of Portugal, before making the switch to Ribagolfe.
THE CAZAL-RIBEIRO STORY —
I was fortunate enough to travel round the world when I was playing in the national squad, and because of that, I managed to build up an impressive list of global contacts, and that has helped me succeed in the role I hold today.
I love golf, I love talking about the game and I love chatting about various courses, and I have found that having that passion is always a positive as it resonates very well with both customers and tour operators. It is certainly a good selling point.
MATT WARD: What distinguishes Portugal as a golf destination?
JMCR: We are very lucky to boast great golf courses, excellent food and fantastic weather – pretty much all-year round. We also provide first-class service in every department, and the vast majority of our clients who visit us, go home with the feeling they must return.
MJW: How many 18-hole courses exist in the country and what’s the estimated number of people within the country who are active in playing the game?
JMCR: There are 88 golf courses in Portugal – 66 18-hole courses and 22 9-hole. Currently we have 14,659 registered players. Unfortunately, that is not that many but we are working hard to improve the numbers. We are running junior programs at ORIZONTE and that is proving very popular.
MJW: What specific outreach efforts are being made to widen the country’s visibility?
JMCR: We are doing more advertising – in terms of quantity and quality and a lot of money is being spent to further improve the quality of golf courses and customer service, as well as improving the hotels and restaurants.
MW: What’s the approximate percentage of Americans when compared to the total who come on a golf holiday?
JMCR: Sadly, there are very few – about 0.4% of visitors to the Lisbon region – but it is something we would like to improve on. When the Americans travel to Europe to play golf, they tend to go to the UK and Ireland to play the famous links courses.
MW: How do you view the ’17 season – especially the impact the exchange rate can have regarding American visitors?
JMCR: It doesn’t have an enormous impact, as unfortunately, the American market is too small for us.
MW: As an avid golfer what are your top five places to play in the country?
JMCR: My top five are: 1st Ribagolfe, 2nd Quinta do Lago South, 3rd Troia, 4th Oitavos, 5th Oceânico Old Course.
MW: Curious to know, if you could change one thing in golf unilaterally, what would it be?
JMCR: I think one of the biggest challenges golf has is the pace of play, so the rules the R&A wants to change in 2019 to speed up the game should be implemented straight away. A game of golf shouldn’t last more than 3½ – four hours.
MW: Best golf advice you ever received; what was it and who from?
JMCR: Simple, play the ball as it lies – it’s a rule of golf!
MW: Golf is facing serious issues in attracting younger people to the sport. What steps are being taken in Portugal to widen the visibility of the game and are those efforts making a difference?
JMCR: Here in Portugal we are trying to make golf more “cool” in the eyes of kids, like having mascots at events and being less strict on dress code. We are also introducing different ways to teach golf, such as combining lessons with other kids’ games as this can help them enjoy this wonderful sport even more.
MW: Outline the short and long-term challenges facing Portugal golf and what steps are being planned for likely implementation in order to succeed?
JMCR: The new Portuguese Golf Federation has a goal to reach 50,000 registered golfers in the country in the next 12 years – a rise of more than 35,000. It is an ambitious number, but one I think we can achieve. First of all, golf has to be more attractive or “cool” and it also has to be cheaper.
We need more driving range facilities in Portugal, other than the ones that already exist on golf courses. Golf also has to be associated with families and fun, played more in the afternoon and not just what is considered “prime time”. Nine-hole tournaments help, but golf should be taught in schools as part of the sports curriculum. We need to have more players in the European and Challenge Tours as we only have two now.