2022 Most Powerful People in the Asian Golf Industry

  • Kim Young Je

By Golf Inc. Editors

Very little has changed in power and influence this year due to the continued coronavirus pandemic restrictions around the world. People are doing everything they can to strengthen their business while also being cautious. 

Industry gatherings are few and far between in Asia, so there is little networking going on. 

As one industry insider noted: “It is a time that everyone is focusing on home business in Asia, and they have found out that the local market is their business bed rock. The Koreans are keeping close to home, but are also looking toward further expansion into mature Japan golf business opportunities — not China.” 

China, previously a major player in golf, is still grappling with political and economic struggles, related to its crackdown on Hong Kong, its designation as the source of the pandemic, and its trade fight with the Trump administration. It responded in 2020 with actions that many outside of the country saw as heavy-handed. 

Japan, the continent’s largest golfing nation, largely shut down its economy in 2020 as it tried to stamp out the virus. But 2021 fared better for the country. The industry is hoping Hideki Matsuyama's win at the Masters in Augusta, Ga., last year will unleash a resurgence in the local popularity of the sport. Matsuyama is the first Japanese man to win a professional golf major tournament. 

New research figures revealed by The R&A and Sports Marketing Surveys (SMS) show Asia being one of the regions worldwide that has seen significant increase in golfers taking up the sport (20.9 million to 23.3 million). 

Industry insiders said we should expect to see various Asian golf tours emerge over the next few years, post pandemic, as very aggressive competitors against the American and European tours on the world stage. 

After an enforced 19-month lay-off due to the pandemic, the Asian Tour returned to action with the Blue Canyon Phuket Championship last November and the Laguna Phuket Championship in December. Greg Norman’s new appointment as CEO of LIV Golf Investments in October 2021 also shook things up. LIV Golf Investments will fund a 10-event series on the Asian Tour this year. 

Here's a look at this year’s most powerful people in Asia: 

    1. Kim Young Je
      President/CEO, SKY72 Golf Resorts

      Kim Young Je has been a powerhouse in Korean golf since the early days of the nation’s golf boom in the 1990s. Four 18-hole courses — Hanul Course, Lake Course, Classic Course and Ocean Course — are open for play, as well as a driving range. The 400-yard Dream Golf Range is known as the world’s largest circular golf range.

      Located near Incheon International Airport, SKY 72 is a popular hub airport in Northeast Asia. It is currently preparing 108 holes of golf courses in Western South Korea near the seaside with a 30-hole practice facility.

    2. Kim Young-Chan
      Chairman/CEO, Golfzon Yuwon Holdings

      Kim Young-ChanKim is another Korean with a growing empire outside of his home country. Golfzon cemented itself in 2019 as one of golf’s most popular golf simulator brands. It boasts the most indoor entertainment installations in the world with 2.8 million online members, 30,000 simulators and 59 million rounds played per year on simulators in 46 countries. Golfzon opened its first North American location in Connecticut in October 2019 under its ZSTRICT brand.

      Golfzon’s recent partnership with Troon should be a big step toward making simulators more prevalent in the U.S. Troon will manage Golfzon’s ZSTRICT indoor entertainment facilities, with three locations in the U.S. set to open this year.

    3. Trinh Van Quyet
      Chairman, FLC Group

      Trinh Van Quyet, chairman of FLC Group, continues to grow and expand the Vietnamese company into various industries. But he is in a bit of trouble this year following a trading violation. The Ho Chi Minh Stock Exchange (HSX) annulled a January sale of 74.8 million shares of conglomerate FLC and suspended his accounts. According to reports, FLC has more than doubled in value since September 2021, an increase of 363% since January 2021. Trinh will retain his shares but will not make any profit, reports said.

      In November 2020, FLC Group opened its biggest resort yet: the $1.5 billion FLC Quynhon Beach & Golf Resort in Binh Dinh, which includes two 18-hole courses, four 11-story buildings and a safari park. The multi-industrial conglomerate hopes to outlast the pandemic. But it is invested heavily in tourism with its many resorts and Bamboo Airways, which took its first flight in January 2019.

    4. Shin Il Yoo
      Chairman, Hankuk Industrial

      Owner and chairman Shin II Yoo has been involved in the golf industry since 1990, but elevated his name to new levels with the acquisition of PGA West, a joint venture with U.S.-based Century Golf Partners. His portfolio in the U.S. and Japan is now up to 25 golf courses.

      Shin’s company, Hankuk Industry, is a South Korean golf equipment distributor. He also has ties to multiple other golf businesses, including Yamaha golf car, Baroness equipment and course management outsourcing.

    5. Greg Norman
      CEO, Greg Norman Co.

      Norman has had his hand in Asian course development for a while now. He’s become so important to the game in Vietnam that he’s the nation’s official tourism ambassador. Two of the four 18-hole courses for Novaland, one of Vietnam’s largest developers, were completed last year at PGA NovaWorld Phan Thiet in Vietnam. Work on the 7,400-yard Ocean layout was finished in April 2021, with the 7,100-yard Garden course following in August. The two-course project is part of a huge development that when complete will include luxury golf villas, townhouses, a marine park, an amusement park, retail outlets, hotels and more.

      In October 2021, Norman was announced as CEO of LIV Golf Investments, which will fund a 10-event series on the Asian Tour this year. The series will feature tournaments in Asia, the Middle East and Europe. More than $200 million will support player fees and prize funds.

      LIV Golf Investments' majority shareholder is Private Investment Fund (PIF), which operates sovereign wealth funds on behalf of the government of Saudi Arabia.

      "This is the single biggest development in the history of the Asian Tour and a major milestone for professional golf," said Cho Minn Thant, commissioner and CEO of the Asian Tour.

    6. Kotaro Tanaka
      President/CEO, Pacific Golf Management

      Kotaro TanakaKotaro Tanaka took over Pacific Golf Management in late 2014, moving up from vice president of sales. PGM owns and operates 140 golf courses in Japan. The company has expanded information technology, marketing and sales workforce operations throughout Japan while also being dedicated to purchasing profitable golf courses.

    7. Nguyen Thi Nga
      Chairman, BRG Group

      Madam Nguyen continues to be an influential player in finance and real estate in Vietnam. BRG Group, which she founded, has developed a number of golf courses, resorts and hotels. She is the only Vietnamese businessperson to be named 2020 Global Trade Ambassador by the U.S. Organization of Women in International Trade for her 30 years of contributing to the development of global business cooperation, especially in furthering the relations between the United States and Vietnam.

      Vietnamese golf scene has become one of the most attractive golf tourism destinations in the Asia-Pacific region. Many of BRG Group’s high-ranking golf courses are attributed to this, including BRG Kings Island Golf Resort, BRG Danang Golf Resort, BRG Legend Hill Golf Resort, and BRG Ruby Tree Golf Resort, all designed by golf legend Greg Norman and Nicklaus Design.

    8. Yoon Se-Young
      Owner, SBS Media Group

      Yoon is owner of SBS media group, which owns a Korean cable TV channel focused on golf. He also owns three golf resorts and one golf and condominium resort that is under construction. Yoon was also chairman, until he ran into political problems. He was accused of having asked journalists to avoid negative stories on Korean leaders, and he resigned to separate ownership and management. He previously resigned in 2011, only to be later reinstated as chairman.

      Yoon is said to be publishing Korea’s first golf archiving book on the history of golf courses in Korea. It was slated to publish in December 2021.

    9. Yuko Tashiro
      CEO/president, Accordia Golf

      The Japanese company owns 132 courses and 26 driving ranges. Tashiro was hired after a prior sale failed and it is unclear what steps the company will next take.

      Tashiro oversaw the divestment of its related trust in 2020. Accordia set up the trust on the Singapore stock exchange in 2014 and transferred stable assets into it. In June, MBK Partners, a Northeast Asia private equity firm, offered to acquire the 88-course trust for $577 million. At the time, the trust was trading at a discount to the net asset value.

      Tashiro, who has overseen the Japanese company since 2012, said the price was attractive, given the difficult environment. But the trust’s largest minority investors argued the price was too low. Accordia eventually bought out the trust for $843.6 million.

    10. Choi Dung-kyu
      Chairman, Daebo Group

      Choi is chairman of Daebo Group, which holds the annual Seowon Valley Charity Green Concert at Seowon Valley Country Club in Paju, Gyeonggi Province. It is regarded as a large-scale festival that changed its view of golf positively and has developed into a global Korean Wave concert that also attracts foreign visitors.

      In a recent survey conducted by a sports media outlet, Choi and Seowon Valley Country Club were selected as the number one golf course and the person who contributed to popular culture and charity at golf courses.

      And even though the pandemic has canceled the event for two years now, Daebo Group continues to donate and raise donations.

    11. Le Van Kiem
      Chairman, KN Investment Group

      Le Van KiemKN Investment Group owns several large resorts, including mega golf complexes in Vietnam and Laos. The company developed KN Golf Links Cam Ranh in 2018, which was part of a massive billion-dollar complex on Cam Ranh Bay.

    12. Yoon Jae-yeon
      CEO, Blue One

      Yoon is CEO of Blue One and also the daughter of SBS Media Group owner Yoon Se-Young. Blue One is a leisure culture company operating high-end resorts. It debuted the first 24-hole golf course in Gyeongju, Gyeongbuk, South Korea, in October 2021. Luna X Golf Club is four courses, six holes each — all lighted to ensure play day and night.

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