De­vel­op­ment chief has high hopes de­spite dwin­dling mem­ber­ships

The Herald - Herald Sport - - RUGBY, GOLF - NICK RODGER

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

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