Andrew Cotter column
But... does golf expect too much from a nation of five million people?
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.
‘MY POINT IS TO TRY TO PUT THINGS IN CONTEXT WHEN I HEAR OF THE DEMISE OF SCOTTISH GOLF’
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