An­drew Cot­ter col­umn

But... does golf ex­pect too much from a na­tion of five mil­lion peo­ple?

Today's Golfer (UK) - - CONTENTS - AN­DREW COT­TER

The Ry­der Cup fea­tured no Scots, but do we ex­pect too much?

There is a very good rea­son why Pri­vate Frazer in Dad’s Army was Scot­tish. You know the one – un­der­taker by trade, played by John Lau­rie and his sor­row­ful, star­ing eyes, given to ut­ter­ing “We’re doomed…” now and again. Well it’s be­cause – rightly or wrongly – Scots have a cer­tain rep­u­ta­tion for be­ing dour, favour­ing a rather bleak view of the world. And I freely ad­mit that I tend to­wards the pes­simistic my­self. Not so much glass half full or half-empty – more that I’ve dropped the glass, which has shat­tered and I’ve stood on the bro­ken shards. And the glass con­tained Novi­chok.

So when asked about the state of Scot­tish golf, per­haps my thoughts should be taken with a pinch of salt. Or just seen as the rant­ings of a man who is pick­ing splin­ters out of his foot and start­ing to feel a lit­tle dizzy. Be­sides, maybe I am more jaded than usual be­cause an­other Ry­der Cup is slip­ping by with­out Scot­tish in­volve­ment. Grow­ing up I took it for granted that there would be some Saltire-wa­vers in any side, even if their ac­cents some­times came from south of the bor­der. We could al­ways rely on a Lyle, Brown or Brand Ju­nior to go with Tor­rance. Then Monty of course, and Lawrie. Yet, by the time Stephen Gal­lacher made his wild­card ap­pear­ance at Gle­nea­gles in 2014, it was a buck in an oth­er­wise down­ward trend.

Or per­haps it is be­cause it is in stark con­trast to the strength of Eng­land’s golfers at the mo­ment. Justin Rose has just be­come world No.1 and I re­cently watched the four-way, en­tirely English play-off for the Made in Den­mark tour­na­ment. Mean­while, Ge­or­gia Hall ob­vi­ously pro­duced one of the per­for­mances of the sea­son in the women’s game.

Now, I re­alise I’m prob­a­bly en­gag­ing an even smaller au­di­ence than usual on this one. If you’re not Scot­tish you might not care about the game be­ing par­tic­u­larly fee­ble north of the wall. But if you’re still here, feel­ing con­cern, or per­haps just laugh­ing cru­elly, let us ex­am­ine things more closely. KPMG re­leases an an­nual re­port on golf across Eu­rope and cer­tainly last year it gave cause for some con­cern, high­light­ing a drop in reg­is­tered play­ers in Scot­land (down from 199,244 to 192,533 if you’re into the finer de­tail). The coun­try also lost 19 cour­ses from 2015-2016. The over­all trend in Eu­rope was one of very slight growth.

And what about the pro­fes­sional game? On the men’s side of things Eng­land has 10 play­ers in the world top 100, Scot­land just one (go, Knoxy!). Eng­land has 20 in the top 200, Scot­land has three. But do we Scots ex­pect too much? Scot­land is a coun­try of just over five mil­lion souls, Eng­land 55 mil­lion. Which by any­one’s arith­metic is 11 to one, so in that re­spect Scot­land is ac­tu­ally out­per­form­ing its south­ern neigh­bour. Com­pare Scot­land in­stead with Wales which has a pop­u­la­tion of three mil­lion, for whom Stu­art Man­ley leads the way at world num­ber 197. And Jamie Don­ald­son may have holed the win­ning putt at Gle­nea­gles four years ago, but he has been Wales’ only Ry­der Cup player since the Mick­el­son­slay­ing ef­forts of Philip Price in 2002. I’m not here to knock Wales. Mainly be­cause most of my Welsh ac­quain­tances are rugby play­ers and, there­fore, not averse to vi­o­lence. My point is sim­ply to try to put things in con­text when I hear of the demise of Scot­tish golf.

In one re­spect it is the suc­cess of golf world­wide which con­trib­utes to things look­ing worse for the more es­tab­lished coun­tries. Glob­ally, golf is not in bad shape at all – grow­ing as a sport in terms of num­bers, cour­ses and the spread of the game into new ar­eas. So for Scot­tish (or Welsh) golfers, it is harder than ever to suc­ceed. And yes, peo­ple do tend to judge the pros­per­ity of the game by how well the best of the coun­try’s play­ers are do­ing. But they are only the very tip of the ice­berg. In re­al­ity, the gauge that mat­ters most is play­ing num­bers. As men­tioned they are drop­ping off slightly in Scot­land, but they are still a long way from dread­ful – as a per­cent­age of to­tal pop­u­la­tion only Swe­den, Ire­land and Ice­land have more play­ers. And Ice­land only be­cause the pop­u­la­tion there num­bers 14! Be­sides, as a golf­ing tourist des­ti­na­tion Scot­land is still thriv­ing. Golf as an over­all busi­ness in Scot­land is in de­cent shape. So I’m go­ing to break from the habit of a life­time and try to be pos­i­tive in­stead. Yes, the gov­ern­ing body has much to im­prove on, but we can also look to the great work be­ing done by the likes of Lawrie and Gal­lacher with their own pro­grammes to get young­sters – boys and girls – in­volved. There is no doubt that bad news makes punchier head­lines th­ese days – crit­i­cism gets more clicks. But it’s not al­ways the en­tire truth. Of course that’s not to say Scot­tish golf is in per­fect health. Things can cer­tainly im­prove. But per­haps the glass is never quite as empty as we think.


Who’ll be the next Lyle or Monty?

Part of the BBC com­men­tary team, An­drew Cot­ter grew up tack­ling Ayr­shire’s links and plays off 3. Fol­low him on Twit­ter @Mran­drew­cot­ter

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