KPMG recently revealed the results of their Golf Participation in Europe 2013 survey, publishing the latest findings of their annual review of the state of the game in one of its key markets.

Unfortunately, for those with an interest in the long term future of the game, the report does not make particularly attractive reading.



To summarise the key points:

  • In 2013, the total number of golfers in Europe grew by just 2,800. That is despite a large number of new players taking up the game in some established and emerging markets, such as Germany, the Netherlands, France, Bulgaria, Serbia and Lithuania.
  • Membership at UK private courses fell by 11,300 in 2013, continuing a downward trend that started in 2007 in by far the biggest golfing market in Europe.
  • Since 2007, 228,000 golfers in the UK have not extended their membership at a golf club and now either do not play, or play on daily pay-as-you-play tickets.
  • The number of Junior Golfers playing the game has dropped by a staggering 11,500. The UK and Ireland alone saw 7,760 fewer junior golfers on the courses in 2013.
  • Women golfers make up just 22% of golfers across Europe.


Based on the findings of this research, the experts at KPMG made the following conclusions

Firstly about the state of the UK and Ireland’s golf market:

“While this decline in Europe’s largest golf market has negatively offset any positive gain in some of the emerging markets; it has become clear that new initiatives and support are needed to stimulate additional participation in the game.”


Secondly, about women’s participation in golf:

“The importance of populating the game among the female population is unquestionable as women golfers currently only represent 22% of all players in Europe…Golf clubs need to make continued efforts to meet the needs of women and families on and off the golf course.”



And finally about Junior players:

“There is no doubt that the drop-off of junior players in Europe is concerning and joint forces and initiatives are needed to popularise the game among (sic) the future generation.”

“It is crucial to find creative ways to make the game more fun and more accessible.”

(All information courtesy of the KPMG Golf Participation in Europe Survey)



The Gorilla Golf View

If you read any of the opinion pieces on Gorilla Golf (and we hope you do), then you’ll be aware that this is an issue which is something we are passionate about. Nor are the findings of the KPMG study about the worrying state of the game across Europe something we are surprised about.

For too long, certainly in the UK & Ireland, many private golf clubs have treated those who are not members at their club with a degree of mistrust and disdain. Exclusivity, it seems, has been worn like a badge of pride by members.


The folly of these actions are now being felt as increasing numbers of men, women and juniors are not renewing their memberships and either opting to play elsewhere, or even give the game up altogether. What kind of example does that set?

Fortunately, in terms of inclusion, there is progress being made. Many private courses will now offer discount tee prices to players at certain times of the day (Twilight tee times for example have proven very popular in allowing players without membership access to courses that they would otherwise not be able to afford to play). Yet much more is needed.


In terms of membership issues, too many clubs still charge far too much for membership. Given the current economic climate, how can a family of four keen golfers be expected to pay often well in excess of £3,000 a year, simply for the privilege of playing on one golf course?


Why do the powers that be award an Open Championship to a course, where women members are still excluded?

There is a strange dichotomy in golf at the moment, for all the more studies and experts tell private courses to expand their range of facilities and offers to be more inclusive to more people, there are still many courses who seem hell-bent on the exact opposite.

Until courses and members (who are 78% male and likely to be of a certain age) lose this fear of “the unwashed proles”, or worse still women or children taking to their pristine courses and “cluttering up the fairways”, then this attitude will prevail.


It is a facet of golf history that we can well do without in the 21st century.



Therefore, if clubs across Europe want to really improve the long term future of European golf, here’s our list of recommendations:


1. Slash Membership prices – Not only should membership prices at most clubs be halved or more, clubs should also offer easy payment options so that members can pay monthly via direct debit.  Becoming a member of a golf club is far more attractive if you are paying £35 a month, as opposed to having to find £900 or considerably more once a year.

2. Children are offered free membership with a fee paying male or female member.  – In addition, if a woman or her husband isn’t a member, then their children should be offered membership at a token rate. Furthermore, both women and children should be encouraged onto the course on a regular basis. Not just on a token 2 or 3 days a year basis.

3. Develop family friendly facilities at the golf club- For too long, golf club bars and lounges have resembled the “old boys clubs”. Many only recently allowed women to enter the building and children are still frowned upon in a significant number. If you want to attract more women, children and families to golf, then you need to update your outlook and present a family friendly establishment.

4. Reduced Fee Golf Tuition with each membership – Of course, a large influx of new golfers doesn’t mean we want anarchy on the fairways and riots on the greens. Ideally, we’d like all new players to be schooled in the skills and finer points of the game, so why not with a new membership offer reduced fee tuition at the club shop? Not only will they learn key skills to help them improve as golfers, club pros would be busier teaching and standards would improve. Not every golfer, self-teaches themselves as well as Bubba Watson or Rickie Fowler!

5. Rethink competitions – Why not have a family golf competition at your local course? Why not pair an adult with a child and have a competition where the adults play the shots onto the green and the children putt out? Who says it has to be the same old monthly medal or Stableford system between the same 30 or 40 middle aged men?

6. Be Welcoming – It is hard to stress how important this is. To an outsider, a golf club does not have a particularly positive image. Many people believe they are populated by middle-aged bores, obsessed with their own self-importance and with a high-degree of in built snobbery. That is not really an accurate portrayal of the modern golf club, but it is an image that is still perpetuated to this day by a few clubs. Why not throw open the doors of your golf club and welcome the keen golfers of all sexes, abilities and ages that many clubs are trying to keep away, through your doors?


And why does the emphasis need to be on private clubs? Quite simply numbers, there are far more private facilities than public across Europe and if changes are going to have a lasting impact, engaging private clubs in participating in this process is not just welcome, but vital. Without their support and willingness to change to a new era for golf, the game will stagnate.


Images courtesy of KPMG, Gorilla Golf Blog


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Claude May 20, 2019

Investors do pay direct and oblique prices.