At 56 years old, Pedro Lima Pinto is an unavoidable figure in national golf. He is the most visible face of Greatgolf, the career management agency he founded to help young Portuguese golfers. The agency currently represents five golfers, and has a fundamental rule: it only works with those who are dedicated exclusively to the game.
“Nobody thinks it's easy. No one thinks the players are in a comfortable position. The vast majority of people, even those who are the most critical, would not be willing to make even half of the sacrifices they make in pursuit of the dream of becoming elite golf professionals,” says the 'manager' who cultivates a close relationship with the players he represents.
“I like to celebrate the victories, but the most important thing is to motivate and support them when they have a bad day.” There's nothing that can't be improved, it's one of his life mottoes, so he's demanding in his approach.
Married, with three children, born in Porto and a strong fan of Boavista, Pedro Lima Pinto is a partner in Oporto, loves playing in Palmares and dreams of a national player in the Ryder Cup. But he dreams, above all, of a better future for professional Portuguese golf.
In a small country and with (still) little tradition in golf, what are the main difficulties in getting support for the Greatgolf players?
The biggest difficulty is the lack of promotion of the sport in the media, which has been one of the main obstacles to its growth. For example, any tennis player plays in a national or international tournament of little relevance and it's reported in the newspapers and on the radio, while a golfer participates and wins international tournaments and has no publicity. PGF should invest more in promoting the sport in the media.
Even so, is it worth it for companies to invest in professional golf?
Very. The proof of this is that even with so many difficulties caused by Covid-19, we managed to keep all the sponsorships that the players had and still got new support. It means we've done a good job. For the past six years Greatgolf and PGA have organized the National Professionals Championship. In the 2020 edition of the Solverde National Championship and the Mateus Rosé Pro-am, a study determined that the associated brands had a return 50 times higher on investment.
These are very good results. How do you explain this added value to brands and companies that are associated with golfers?
Golf is a noble sport, without controversy or scandal. With an image of integrity. It is for all ages, from eight to 80 years old, which enhances the target audience for brands, which seek (and find) in golf a way to differentiate themselves from their competitors. It is a market that values quality very much. The Pro-Am and VIP Plays that Greatgolf organizes provide sponsors and guests with competitive experiences that no other sport allows. That's why I always say that professional golf doesn't need charity, it needs companies that recognize the added value and return that this sport can give them.
That's the big challenge. Explain the potential of golf to companies?
Yes. Convince a marketing director of any company, who doesn't know that we have young national players trying an international career, who has never had any contact with the sport and who doesn't know what a Pro-Am is, that he should sponsor one player because it will pay him good dividends is a big challenge.
But there are also, of course, directors who are pleased to be involved in the sport, to be part of a project that involves everyone, and which involves seeing a young golfer grow into top competition. Passing through feeling this pride in each achievement.
There are companies and businesspeople who are more altruistic than others. You have to be a little altruistic to bet on the dreams of a young player male or female.
With regard to support for the sport, more precisely for young players, is there any evolution?
We represent five players and we have 10 brands that sponsor these players. There has been an increase, and I am particularly pleased that golf courses have taken great pride in being associated with professional golfers. The same happens within the golf industry. Equipment and apparel brands have bet more, but unfortunately it is always the same ones that are willing to collaborate. Importantly, and a source of great pride for me, is realizing the satisfaction sponsors have for being with the players of Greatgolf. We are, me and the players, very grateful for the confidence they have placed in this work.
Can we say that in Portugal there is no lack of talent, there is a lack of support?
These two things are missing, but a few more are also missing. Quality is directly related to quantity. To have more quality players we have to have more players. To have more players we need support, dissemination and promotion of the sport.
In Portugal we have fantastic conditions. Excellent weather, extraordinary courses, fabulous training conditions. Players from some other countries with much poorer conditions are much more successful. It's a sign that something is wrong, because I don't believe the Portuguese have less skills than the Swedes or the Danes. Young amateur and professional players must understand that having quality and potential is not enough. There has to be a lot of dedication, a lot of work and capacity to sacrifice. If you are not willing to do all this, it is better to follow another path. Having a knack and winning some tournaments internally is not enough.
How do you see the current panorama of Portuguese professionals?
The outlook is positive. We currently have two players on the European Tour, Ricardo Melo Gouveia has been having a fantastic season and has already guaranteed his climb to the main European tour. Tomás Bessa, Vítor Lopes and Tomas Melo Gouveia play on satellite circuits and have obtained promising results, they have also played on the Challenge Tour with invitations from the Federation, which gives them the opportunity to evolve more quickly in their careers. Everyone has a chance to go up next year. They are three young people who have enough potential and quality to make it to the European Tour.
And for the generation that wants to become a professional?
There, I have to say that the future is not bright! This year only one player, from the “high competition amateurs” became a professional. When you only have one amateur who becomes a professional, the future cannot be bright, and in the coming years this situation will get even worse. The reality is that amateur golf doesn't produce enough quality players. When we look at the big picture of the main amateur circuit, we have to be worried. It's heartbreaking!
Wasn't it a good bet, the new PGF circuit?
I still don't understand what the purpose is. If it is to give competitive experience to amateurs and provide competition to Portuguese professionals, in my view there are more effective alternatives. If we look at the ‘entry list’ of this new PGF circuit we see that this circuit is aimed at professional players who no longer have an international career as their goal. Some of them no longer have competition as their first priority. In other words, professionals who are dedicated full-time to competition and who aim to pursue an international career, who invest 100% in their career, benefit little or nothing from the circuit.
What are the alternatives?
For example, holding an Alps Tour stage or another satellite circuit. It will allow young amateur players who have the ambition to become professionals to gain experience and a high level of competitive experience. The organizer receives 45 invitations that can be exchanged with organizers from other countries, the same system as the Challenge Tour. The Italian Spanish and French Federations have around 10 young amateurs playing in each Alps Tour tournament. Imagine the experience and competitive background with which these amateurs become professionals. Our best amateurs play a circuit that has draws that look more like a Pro-Am.
And has there been evolution? Are we headed in the right direction?
In recent years there have been two very important moments for the development of professional golf. The return of the Portuguese Open as part of the Challenge Tour and the creation of the Portugal Pro Golf Tour. In the case of the Portuguese Open, a lot is due to three men: Tomás Melo Gouveia, José Correia and Mário Ferreira, who opened the doors of Morgado for the tournament. This tournament has given many players the opportunity to compete on the Challenge Tour. The creation of the Portugal Pro Golf Tour was also a step forward in the evolution of professional golf, as it allows national players to acquire competitive experience at relatively low cost.
Can PGF play an important role in professional golf as well?
It can, must and has had. Since the leadership of PGA de Portugal has changed, this is notorious. Currently, PGF has become much more involved in professional golf, filling a gap caused by the lack of resources at PGA Portugal. They created a support system for players who receive invitations to play on the Challenge Tour, this is another important step for the development of Portuguese professional golf. It is a type of program that already exists in other countries, it is a great help that PGF gives players.
It is an old story, which seems to return now (again) in force. We were in the 90s, when Greg Norman pushed the idea of an innovative world circuit, reserved only for the best among the best.