Peter J. Pappas Bringing Golf to Greece

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What country has legendary vistas of sun, sea and sky and beautiful weather most of the year?

Greece, of course, and yet Greece has never been a go-to destination for aficionados of a fair weather sport like golf.

Until now—if Peter Pappas has his way. An avid golfer (he and pal TellySavalas had legendary matches), the New York-born Pappas, who learned his game on the driving ranges and links of the Big Apple and later played with presidents and Hollywood royalty, has been petitioning the Greek government to make golf a priority and attract new visitors and new sources of income.

by Dimitri C. Michalakis

“At the present time Greece is selling four or five months of sun, sand and loukoumades,” says Pappas, the founder of P.J. Mechanical in New York, a big time HVAC energy contractor. “I’m trying to impress on them that golf in many countries surrounding Greece in the Balkans,for example, countries like Bulgaria and Croatia,aside from Italy, Spain and France, are becoming golf destinations. And they’re promoting that because they realize that in the off season it brings in more travelers. More travelers require more services: transportation by land, sea, and air, restaurants to eat in, clothes to buy, hotels to stay in. It keeps the economy humming and that’s my whole purpose in Greece: to impress on them that we can establish a whole new industry for the country that will create revenue at the end of the day that they desperately need.”

First step is to cut the notorious red tape that makes every business venture in Greece an odyssey, and Pappas says he has been given assurances at the highest level.

“I spoke with the Prime Minister and I spoke with the Minister of Tourism and his deputies and they assured me that this will be put on a fast track basis with only 8-12 months needed for approvals,” he says. “This will change the whole business climate, so investors don’t look at Greece and say I’m not going to invest there because I might have to sit on my land and property for who knows how long before I can put a shovel to the ground. That’s been one of the obstacles all along.”

There is a new website about Greece as a golf destination which Pappas’ group has initiated and there is already an existing magazine devoted to the Greek golfing scene (Golf & Tourism in Greece) which offer tantalizing glimpses of the golf that now exists in Greece and the more on the way.

“Today, for example,” says Pappas,“Greece has several golf courses.” There is the venerable Glyfada Golf Course, with a pine-studded course and a view of the Saronic Gulf, and the course is open year round. There is the Corfu Golf Club on Corfu, the Porto Carras Golf & Country Club in Halkidiki, and the Afandou Golf Course on Rhodes, which is next to the Golf View Hotel and overlooks a course designed by David Haradine. There is the Crete Golf Club at Chersonissos, which has hosted the Aegean Airlines Pro-Am. And there is the spectacular Costa Navarino resort in Messinia, which is already one of Greece’s premier golfing destinations. The resort now features two golf courses: Navarino Dunes and Navarino Bay, with separate clubhouses and attached 5-star hotels, as well as residential real estate on seafront property with access to the golf courses. The Dunes was designed by former US Masters Champion and Ryder Cup Captain Bernhard Langer and the Bay by American architect Robert Trent Jones with a par 71 course that offers some challenging greens.

There is a Hellenic Golf Federation with more than 1200 members, there is a P.G.A office at the Glyfada course, and Pappas says “the PGA Hall of Fame, which I met with, is very anxious to include Greece as part of its membership. We have the Faldo (Series Junior Golf Championship) at the Glyfada course for anybody up to 18, which just finished its second series. And Greece is a member of the PGAs of Europe and was given the highest rating in Europe for its pro-am played at the Costa Navarino. The course was magnificent, but other than that, the filotimo that the Greek people have, the traditional service and kindness that we have, put us on the top of the list.”

So with Greece being such a natural for the sport why hasn’t the game taken root there long ago?

“Number one, Greeks doesn’t understand golf,” Pappas tries to explain. “They think it’s elitist. The Glyfada course, as I understand it, was built by the Army Corps of Engineers only because of the base there. Once the Army pulled out they left the golf course behind and left it I think to the city of Glyfada. It has a board that operates it and some of that income comes back into the city. But it hasn’t been promoted. Friends of mine who built the Costa Navarino site were golf enthusiasts and they realized by traveling around the different parts of the world and playing golf that this made sense for Greece, too. You don’t have to limit yourself to just 4-5 months of tourist season. You can play golf year round and bring in tourist revenue year round in a climate such as Greece has.”

Pappas himself started playing golf as a kid in New York, paying a few bucks to drive some balls at a driving range and it created a lifelong passion, and he’s hoping Greek kids can also be introduced to the sport early and grow with the game.

“What I try to impress on developers and the ministries,” he says, “is to provide some land and some space in schools, in gymnasiums, in auditoriums, where we can bring professionals—and we have Greek professionals by the way—and bring in young children and middle aged people and seniors to pick up a club and start to swing and learn how to hold the club and get to a point where they can go out to the field and drive some balls on the range. Then you learn and get better and get attached to the sport and as the years go on in your life it becomes a hobby.”

And an industry in Greece—he says driving ranges alone can make serious money. “Today we have a place like Chelsea Piers (in New York City), where you can get a bucket of balls, maybe 80 balls for $20, and you can hit those 80 balls in about fifteen minutes. Chelsea Piers has three decks, maybe fifteen across, and you can see how it produces money. It produces money and it offers recreation for people who might go there to practice their game or to play for laughs.”

Golf has been providing him with both since his salad days when he parred in the low 11s, and like most golfers, it’s since become a passionate hobby: “There’s some people that paint, there’s some people that write, there’s some people that race cars. I’ve been playing a long time, but probably for the last fifteen years I’ve been seriously competing in tournaments as an amateur, not on an A level, of course, but on a P level. It fluctuates but it’s a steady average of 16.”

Competition, he says, is healthy for the game and when he played with TellySavalas it was nothing but competition. “He was an avid golferand we played from sunup to sundown,” he remembers.“We’d play golf all day long, eat, drink, and play more golf. It was very competitive: there was always a wager, because I think that makes it more focused. There are a lot of social golfers that just go out and hit the ball, and then there are others who need to compete, like Greeks. I think it makes the difference. It keeps you focused and you play better.”

He played with George Bush senior up in Kennebunkport in a tournament and he’s heartened that President Obama is now playing golf, though the diehard Republican is not won over. “No, unfortunately,” he says of the president, if not his game. “I’m on the other side of the spectrum.”


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