Development chief has high hopes despite dwindling memberships
RATHER like leafing through the Pictorial Guide to Aviation Disasters prior to handing over your boarding pass for a long-haul flight, the absorbing of a variety of facts, figures, stats and data regarding golf club memberships can make for fairly depressing reading.
Over the water on the Emerald Isle this week, for instance, the Golfing Union of Ireland announced that it had lost a quarter of its members since 2010. Figures for 2015 memberships back here in Scotland, meanwhile, will not be available for a few more months yet but Andy Salmon, the deputy chief executive of development at Scottish Golf, is more of an optimist amid the kind of pessimism that would make Private Frazer look upbeat.
“Ireland had a greater height to fall from after the whole ‘Celtic Tiger’ thing where they were selling all sorts of expensive memberships,” he said. “We can’t deny the brutal facts and the challenges but you have to put it in perspective. If you take all the sports clubs in Scotland and add all the members together, 25 per cent of them belong to a golf club. Golf is part of this country’s DNA. You can find accessible, affordable golf just about anywhere here and I think there is far too much focus on the doom and gloom.”
While the last round of official figures from 2014 showed that overall membership had increased by 2.14 per cent to some 223,000, actual playing memberships had declined by 0.56 per cent, the smallest decrease this decade. “I think the theme for the next figures will be a slight decline but nothing compared to previous years when it was maybe two or three per cent. What we are seeing is a U-shape. We are almost at the bottom of the U and I’m confident we are going to return to growth.”
There are reasons for this optimism. At Haddington Golf Club, for example, a perilous financial situation was resolved with a flexible membership rate which brought in 100 new members within three months while over 20 former members re-joined.
It’s hardly genius-like thinking on a par with Einstein doing a cryptic crossword but in a game that has always been reluctant to change, simple measures have brought considerable rewards. “It sounds too simplistic but those clubs which have recognised the need to change and modernise are doing well and the clubs that hope the good old days will just come back are seeing continual decline,” said Salmon.
There is plenty of work still to do, of course. “We need to be engaging with women and families,” he stressed. “The tee sheet on Saturday should be available to all members, not gender prioritised. Almost as many women go to work as men so why should it be that the ladies events are during the week and the men’s at the weekend? If we can crack that one, then we can go a long way to encouraging growth at junior level. It’s about going to a club as a family rather than dad playing on a Saturday and mum playing on a Tuesday but she can’t anyway because she’s working.”
The nomadic golfer has been on the rise in recent years but Salmon remains encouraged by the club mentality. “Membership still appeals to over two thirds of golfers in Scotland,” he said. “In addition, roughly 300 clubs, pretty much half the clubs in Scotland, are doing Clubgolf (the national junior initiative) and those clubs have three times as many junior members. We are optimistic about the future, but not complacent. It doesn’t need to be a disaster for golf.”
SURE SHOT: Golf clubs in Scotland are trying to encourage junior members