More golfers join the club in Switzerland
As the world's golfing elite swing into action at the European Masters tournament in the Swiss resort of Crans Montana, the sport in Switzerland is experiencing a boom.
Generally regarded as a gentleman's game played at flash resorts with classy clubhouses, more and more people are taking up the sport.
Some 50,000 golf fans will line the Crans Montana greens this weekend to catch a glimpse of world number three Ernie Els and a host of other top stars.
They will also get the chance to see André Bossert, who is leading the field of Swiss players.
The fact that more Swiss than ever are showing up to watch major international tournament golf, is seen as further proof that the game is gaining in popularity.
In recent years much has been done to make golf in Switzerland a more popular and accessible sport.
Bossert told swissinfo that an increase in the number of golf courses in the country indicates that the sport is no longer the preserve of the rich and famous.
"We're on a good way in Switzerland," he says.
"I arrived back in Switzerland from South Africa [where he grew up] in 1989 and I remember that we had about 30 golf courses in the country at the time.
"Now we have about 85 - so obviously we are really doing a lot to make golf more popular."
Some 1.4 per cent of the Swiss population now play golf, showing that despite its elitist reputation, the game has become more accessible for people on lower incomes.
Bossert credits the Swiss supermarket chain, Migros, for doing a lot to break down the barriers, by building several public courses.
The Swiss Golf Association now counts some 40,000 members - a figure that has doubled over the last decade.
Some 5,000 golfers are members of an independent association which was founded in 1998. Then there are an unknown number of players who are not affiliated with any society.
Large wallets required
However, golf is still not a cheap hobby and club membership remains expensive.
Golfers must cough up between SFr15,000 and 30,000 to join a private club and pay an additional SFr2,000 and SFr3,000 in annual fees.
The first golf course in Switzerland was built 111 years ago in what is now the upmarket resort of St Moritz. It was imported by English tourists who wanted to play their favourite sport.
The next course was built in nearby Samedan in 1898, followed by another in Montreux in 1900 - both with nine holes. By 1924, there were 24 clubs in Switzerland.
During the 1980s, environmentalists and farmers often resisted the construction of new courses, said Christian Grand, president of the Swiss Golf Association.
"But that has changed," he said. "Agricultural policy has changed over the years and very often farmers are all too happy to turn their land into a golf course.
"Moreover, golf course owners recognise that it is to their benefit to work together with environmentalists."
swissinfo, Gaby Ochsenbein and Samantha Tonkin
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