Why golf is still growing in South Africa
Much of the enjoyment of golf is derived from being part of a community while playing the game. People you can associate with, befriend and trust. That community always used to be the members of the golf club to which you belonged, or the group or school at the club you mixed with every week. Today, it’s not necessarily about loyalty to one golf club any more, but rather the option of being with like-minded golfers playing a variety of different courses.
Traditional golfers might believe that club membership is the only way to go, yet that’s only because the membership model is ingrained in the way golf evolved in South Africa under colonialism. We spurned pay-and-play courses, those operated by municipalities or private owners, and instead bought into generations of strict dress codes, waiting lists, stipulated tee times, committees and intimidating protocol. In today’s changing culture, though, many golfers find that model of being part of the “golf club set” restrictive, and are finding more flexible ways of enjoying the game.
Alternative membership models have substantially benefitted the game in the new millennium through both welcoming new golfers and retaining the interest of others who might have quit. Virtual clubs have often taken a bad rap for clubs losing members, yet the 2015 SA Golf Survey shows that the emergence of virtual clubs like playmoregolf with Momentum (PMG) are “the only things that have grown the game.”
PMG was formed as an initiative by The Pro Shop in the boom days of the game a decade or so ago to secure more affordable rounds at leading courses. Not only did PMG prove a success in that department, but since the recession it has ensured the survival of many golf clubs who would be much worse off financially without the hundreds of millions of rands PMG has contributed in buying up tee times. They increased golfing volume at clubs nationwide by brokering unused tee time inventory, in other words filling those quiet weekday mornings when courses largely lay empty. A spin-off has been the Last Minute Golf website. PMG’s membership has grown to 13 000, and these include golfers who already have a club membership. They use PMG to access cheaper green fee rates at other courses they wish to play.
PMG Managing Executive O’Brian Barber is passionate about expanding the business and embracing even more new golfers to keep the game thriving – “our business model ticks so many boxes when it is truly understood,” he says – and Golf Digest will be playing its own part in this through the introduction of a new monthly course feature beginning on Page 69 of this issue. Each month we will spotlight eight different “Must Play” courses from two different regions which partner with PMG. It will give exposure to the many great golfing venues we have in this country. By the time we publish our next Top 100 rankings in the March 2018 issue, we will have promoted 96 courses over eight months.
Last month’s column featured the seven principles of “Ready Golf,” and The R&A have subsequently announced that Ready Golf will be introduced at its 2017 amateur championships as part of its efforts to improve pace of play. Hopefully golf clubs in SA will give it a try too. Ready Golf features in The R&A’s Pace of Play manual as a recommended solution for tackling slow play. It enables golfers to play when ready to do so rather than strictly adhere to ‘the furthest from the hole plays first’ requirement.