Golf­ing boon at risk from blazer brigade

Cloudy hori­zon: Golfers could en­joy a new golden age as long as the game’s di­nosaurs are no longer able to roam

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Sport - James Cor­ri­gan

Just as golf prom­ises to go all rock-and-roll, the sport is do­ing its “old man thing”. Peo­ple are flock­ing to en­joy the party, but there stand the job­sworth com­mit­tee mem­bers bark­ing that new­bies are free to do any­thing they like so long as they obey the reg­u­la­tions.

And yes, the No1 edict still seems to be: “No en­joy­ing your­selves.” Of course, that is an ab­surd gen­er­al­i­sa­tion; there are count­less clubs up and down the land that choose to be inclusive rather than ex­clu­sive. Yet in terms of per­cep­tion, it is the ex­cep­tion that proves the petty rule.

It is sim­ple re­ally: a size­able pro­por­tion of the gen­eral pop­u­la­tion still be­lieve those club­houses to be ar­chaic bas­tions of re­tired mid­dle man­age­ment, where jeans are not per­mit­ted, col­lars are com­pul­sory and ties must be worn af­ter 7pm. And the anec­dotes that prove this re­mains to be the case in cer­tain dusty quar­ters drown out the ad­vance of the en­light­ened.

Yes, even­tu­ally, those lu­di­crous di­nosaurs will die off and their ridicu­lous old cus­toms will be bless­edly ex­tinct, leav­ing the sport to make in­roads into mod­ern re­al­ity. But, by then, golf might have for­saken a huge op­por­tu­nity and turned away the masses rather than lur­ing them in for ever.

The here and now can be the start of a golden age, if only ev­ery­one could be wel­com­ing.

It is hor­ri­ble to write, but this pan­demic has been a boon. With team sports pro­hib­ited, with Bri­tons des­per­ate to en­joy the out­doors dur­ing an above-av­er­age spring and sum­mer, and with golf the first sport back due to its lack of con­tact and ease of so­cial dis­tanc­ing, the game has stolen a sub­stan­tial march.

The ev­i­dence to back this up is ev­ery­where. Con­sider that a study has re­vealed that the num­ber of rounds played in Eng­land this June was up 70 per cent year-on-year; con­sider also that golf club mem­ber­ships have shot up by an av­er­age of around 10 per cent and, in some cases, even more.

Lis­ten to Brian Liv­ingston, the sec­re­tary of Glen­cruit­ten Golf Club in Ar­gyll, in­form the that the club have 200-plus new mem­bers, more than double the 170 they had be­fore the lock­down. “We had been in sur­vival mode,” said a dis­be­liev­ing Liv­ingston.

Hear the Golf Foun­da­tion an­nounce an 11 per cent in­crease in ju­nior mem­ber­ship in the net­work of 437 clubs that have been awarded ac­cred­ited sta­tus as a fun and fam­ily friendly ju­nior fa­cil­ity.

These are re­mark­able num­bers and they are backed up by the young­sters play­ing at the elite end. In con­ver­sa­tion with Sir Nick Faldo re­cently, he was croon­ing about his Faldo Ju­nior Se­ries, an ini­tia­tive that was es­tab­lished in 1996 as a global am­a­teur se­ries for boys and girls aged from 12 to 21.

“Our en­try num­bers are off the charts,” Faldo said. At eight events in the UK, the se­ries boasted 1,199 par­tic­i­pants com­pared to 587 in 2019. Of these, 197 were girls com­pared to 31 last year.

Golf is boom­ing and with so many ac­ces­si­ble schemes and with the en­ergy, drive and fund­ing of the golf union sand the R& A, it must be won­dered what could pos­si­bly go wrong. Well … I will tell you what could go wrong: snooty golf clubs.

They were re­spon­si­ble for the last great missed chance at the end of the last cen­tury, when a pro­lif­er­a­tion of cour­ses opened as par­tic­i­pa­tion shot through the club­house roofs. All too soon the en­thu­si­as­tic de­parted, the new lay­outs shut and sur­vey af­ter sur­vey pointed to one of the main cul­prits be­ing the stuffy at­ti­tude and ar­cane rules. Not again, please.

Alas, last week Ca­tri­ona Matthew, Europe’s Sol­heim Cup cap­tain, posted on Twit­ter that her daugh­ter had been told to leave the bar at Gul­lane be­cause her shorts were un­hemmed. The ju­nior mem­ber was buy­ing a drink to take out­side af­ter fin­ish­ing her round.

An iso­lated in­ci­dent? The replies sug­gested not, rang­ing from a per­son be­ing asked to leave the club­house for car­ry­ing an in­fant who was wear­ing denim dun­ga­rees to a five-month preg­nant woman be­ing or­dered to tuck in her shirt.

Be­lieve it, the “pompous blazer brigade” are still out there and if their ghastly in­flu­ence is not erad­i­cated im­me­di­ately, they could in­flict one fi­nal, de­bil­i­tat­ing wound on a sport they laugh­ably claim to be pro­tect­ing.

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