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Willim Siwek wywiad

kwiecień 2009

Could you please provide a bit of background on yourself i.e. how you ended up in the golf industry?

My name is William Siwek, I am 58 years old. After studying Machine Building Engineering on the Technical University of Gdansk where I graduated in 1980, I left Poland for Germany where I started my own company called Schiffs Technik Hamburg Ltd.- an engineering advising bureau, ship supplier and ship broker. I ran this business until 1993. Following the lead of some of the most important and well established ship builders in Europe, I moved my company to Cyprus where I continued in the shipping business for a few more years. During this time abroad, I found myself returning often to my home town Gdansk to visit with old friends. It was during one of these visits, that a good friend took me to visit a new golf club under construction called Gdansk Golf and Country Club located some 32 km south of the City of Gdansk. I joined the Club in 1992 when only 13 golf holes were finished.

The investors at the time where two couples (keen golfers I might add) from Sweden who decided in 1989 shortly before the anti-communist “revolution“ to build a championship calibre golf course in Poland. They engaged the British-born golf architect Jeremy Turner, who was recommended to them by the Swedish Golf Association.

After seeing the land for the first time, Jeremy fell in love with it and knew that the land’s many natural contours would provide for an incredible pallet for his first design in Poland.

The land selected for the golf course integrated the remains of an abandoned gravel pit which provided excellent natural features to construct some dramatic golf holes. Jeremy said to the investors when first laying eyes on the site: “Wow... this course could be a Rolls Royce ... but can you afford to build it properly?” The investors said “Yes” however two years into the project the two couples ran out of money after constracting only 13 holes!

The search for investors to save the project began in 1993. I was one of many people to have received an offer to invest into the project.

The search for investors went on for two more years. In 1995, the situation was dire as there was not even one drop of gas for the mowers and the grass on the greens was 8 mm high. A dramatic call from the Swedes to save the course convinced me to get control of the project on October 10th 1995. It was simply too good a piece of land to let the course fade away.

Several people, who had seen the course and the land identified for the remaining five holes and who also were familiar with the game of golf throughout Europe, told me that the potential for the course subject to us finishing the project per Jeremy’s drawings was that it could achieve Top 100 status in Europe.

Naturally there were heavy objections from my wife Gaby, who knew the scope of work ahead. Additionally, land investments in Poland in the year 1995 were limited and it was for these two reasons that the negotiations to purchase the project took 3 days and 2 nights. In the end, Gaby told me – the choice is yours. I finished construction on the golf course in 1997 and the Club House was opened in June 1997, one day before a big international golf tournament, The Hansa Cup. That’s the story ...

Please tell me about golf in Poland, and how popular it is among Poles.

In the beginning (1993), we had a total of 50 registered golfers in Poland (a country of some 40 million people). At that time, there were three golf courses in existence: Warsaw GC, Amber Baltic in Miedzyzdroje and Gdansk Golf & Country Club. Those three Clubs worked together to establish the Polish Golf Union in 1993. Today, we have approximately 3,000 registered golfers and an additional 5,000 non-registered players. There are new golf development projects in every part of Poland, and the numbers of golfers is increasing rapidly, especially over the last two years. The prospects are good for the future as one should not forget that we started from zero only 15 short years ago.

It was only in the mid 90s that golf courses started to emerge in Poland – what can you tell me about these early days?

Very tough times. There were very few golfers and the local authorities were against us because at the time they did not understand the game and what it represented. In the beginning the attitude toward golf in Poland was very negative. The general perception was that it was an exclusive game for rich, lazy people, driving buggies, smoking cigars…it is amazing how times change and how the improved economy of Poland has helped bring so many new people to the sport.

What was the initial inspiration behind building a golf and country club in Postolowo?

Matti Idman and Kony Karmelitow and their wives (the two Swedish couples and original visionaries that I referred to above) seeing the golf boom in Sweden at the end of the 1980s and their feeling that big changes were coming in Europe. The Solidarity achievements of Poland provided a new opportunity to transfer Europe’s golf culture to a post-communist Poland. Sadly, both founders Matti Idman and Kony Karmelitow died a few years ago; however, their vision will never be forgotten.

How long did it take to design and build the golf and country club?

This is somewhat of an open-ended story. Construction on the golf course began in 1989 and even today it remains a work in progress. Like all works of art, there are always some minor improvements to be done. In the end, it is a labour of love.

In terms of facilities (instructors / coaching, shop / restaurant etc.), how does Gdansk Golf & Country Club compare to the more popular golf clubs in Europe / the world?

I feel that our facilities are on par with golf clubs in Sweden and Germany. We are in the process of looking for investors to help us realize the full potential for Gdansk Country Club and Golf Resort. We have completed the master planning efforts with an award winning master planning company from the United States – our future plans include a four star hotel, more than 700 single family and multi-family residential units, a host of on-site amenities including a full service spa, sporting club, community and business centers along with a limited number of commercial venues.

Gdansk Golf & Country Club has welcomed a number of golfers from Western Europe and Scandinavia – what attracts them to Postolowo?

Apart from the world class golf experience, there are excellent shopping outlets. Many of the branded products offered in other European countries are actually produced in Poland and as a result are less expensive to purchase in Poland.

It is also inexpensive to fly to Poland as there are several inexpensive flights from Great Britain, Germany and Scandinavia directly to Gdansk airport. The golf course is located exactly 32 km of motorway driving to the south to the airport (the drive from the airport only takes 20 minutes of actual driving time).

And last but not least the famous “Night Life of Sopot” with the legendary SPATiF bar where the fun does not really start happening until after midnight. Make sure you don’t book your tee time too early as this is something that all visitors must experience.

What is the most common comment or feedback from golfers from Western Europe / Scandinavia when they visit Poland / Gdansk Golf & Country Club for the first time?

They are all SURPRISED – they don’t expect this level of quality in a country like Poland They all say that this is the best value for money golf experience in Europe. Compared to Portugal and Scotland for instance, Poland may not be the first place that you think of when it comes to golf destinations – in what way do you think that this situation will change in the future?

There is only one issue to be resolved for Poland to obtain the status of a proper golf destination. The government must formerly recognize Golf as a sport and remove the ground taxation on golf courses. At this time the government continues to tax golf courses as if they are automotive factories. This ground taxation must be changed in order for the game to survive in Poland. The current ground taxation laws are ridiculous because they are disproportionate to the level of revenue that can be achieved in running a golf course business. It is an issue that the Polish Golf Union is working hard to correct.

How do you see the future of golf in Poland? Will more and more Poles take it up? And will we see new clubs emerging across the country?

The future is bright for golf in Poland. I am certain that once we resolve some of the growing pains, like educating the government on the business model and removing the ground taxation that the game will continue to flourish and grow. Our love for the game is just beginning and we are only just starting to write our own golfing history in Poland.