Golf Monthly Editor's Letter March 2014 Issue

Editor’s Letter March 2014 Issue 

Regular readers of my letter will know I rarely file my copy any earlier than the last minute, and this issue is no exception.

But less than 24 hours before the page had to be at the printers I have to confess I didn’t actually have anything to write about. By way of mitigation, I’ve had very little in the way of golfing inspiration.

I’ve managed just 27 very sodden holes of golf in the past six weeks, the European and PGA Tours have yet to kick into life, I haven’t changed any of my equipment since November last year, and if the 27 holes are anything to go by, I certainly haven’t found the secret to executing the 40-yard pitch.

Thankfully, salvation appeared in the form of an industry round table I’d been invited to.

More often than not at these sessions we end up telling each other what we already know, but this one was different.

The discussion was led by Syngenta, a leading supplier of solutions to golf courses, which had commissioned a large-scale research project on how to grow the game in the UK.

The most eye-opening stat in the survey was that there could be as many as 8.5 million people in the UK interested in taking up golf.

If only 20 per cent of that number actually became golfers then the game would be in a very healthy position indeed.

But how do we go about attracting them? Well, thanks to Syngenta and its research company GfK, we now have some hard facts to work with.

The big difference between this survey and others I’d seen before was that nearly two thirds of the 3,500-plus respondents were non-golfers, but as they had the desire to take up a new sport and the time to play golf, they were genuine prospects, not couch potatoes unlikely to ever play.

So, rather than golfers telling us what initiatives they ‘think’ might get new people playing the game, these findings offer real insight from outside the game as to what golf needs to do in order to become a serious option for newcomers.

Clubs need to be friendlier, to encourage families, to not be so strict on dress codes and club regulations (including the use of mobile phones), to make it easier to learn the game and to offer greater flexibility in terms of membership.

This insight should be gold dust in the hands of those who run golf clubs, whether the club is in trouble and trying to reverse a declining membership, or whether it’s a forward-looking operation seeking opportunities for growth.

The really good news is that none of the above involves spending any money, merely a shift in attitudes.

Proprietary clubs can, of course, change things far more easily, as owners don’t have committees to answer to. However, it’s my view that the majority of clubs most in need of change in order to thrive, or even just remain viable, are traditional members clubs run by committees.

And this is where the elephant in the room becomes just too big to ignore. At present, the vast majority of committees are made up of long-standing members, and the decisions they make tend to be for the benefit of members like them.

And, to a point, that’s OK because these golfers will have been loyal supporters of the clubs, so have earned a right to have a significant say in the way a club is run.

They’re giving up their time to sit on a committee, some will have been members man and boy, most will have paid a joining fee, put money behind the bar, and represented the club in matches.

Without them the club wouldn’t be what it is today. But in this challenging landscape, it’s not about the past, it’s about the future.

So, you must ask yourself this question: are you really interested in protecting the future of your club and the game in general, or are you happy with the status quo because that’s what suits you?

I don’t pretend that changing established thinking and conventions will be easy but, in the cold, hard light of day, this is about safeguarding the future of the game. Surely nothing is more important than that?

Email: michael_harris@ipcmedia.com
Twitter: @MikeHarrisGolf