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
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.