Why golf is still grow­ing in South Africa

Golf Digest (South Africa) - - Contents - By Stu­art McLean, Edi­tor stu­art.mclean@new­me­di­a­pub.co.za

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.

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