What challenges will the game of golf face now and in the future? It’s a fair question to ask and there is certainly plenty to consider.
When as a society, we are seeking to save money and resources, reduce our usage of natural resources and become more aware of environmental issues, can the game of golf not afford to take heed and carry on as ‘tradition’ dictates?
In this article, we’ll look at the many issues facing the amateur game.
To suggest that the amateur game is in fine fettle doesn’t really portray the full picture. Certainly, there are many emerging markets, eastern Europe, India, China and South America, where golf is slowly starting to gain popularity and has the potential to grow massively.
Research from KPMG has shown the game continues to grow in popularity in many European markets, such as Switzerland, Turkey and the Czech Republic for example.
Yet that same research highlights many of the problems facing the amateur game and in our humble view, these key issues are outlined below:
1. Declining Club Membership numbers
Club membership in the UK and Ireland is falling rapidly and declining numbers of members is impacting greatly on whether clubs can remain viable as a business. Given the global economic downturn, how can this be reversed?
Solution?: There’s no simple solution here other than a willingness for clubs to embrace a far greater diversity of members and to have a much greater ‘open door’ policy than they do at present. Allowing a number of payment options for members (monthly payments via direct debit, monthly, 3-month or 6-month memberships, cheaper rates for visiting players). Just as explained in the video below
Reducing membership fees may help, but actively encouraging golfers through the door and making them feel welcome at the course and offering them incentives to return would, I believe, play a much greater role in halting the decline in club membership numbers.
Key to this though is not just clubs coming up with offers to entice golfers in. There are already many ‘two-for-one’ or similar green fee schemes in place that do that, but a vital element is attitude. Unfortunately, while many clubs are welcoming, they suffer from the belief that they may not be due to the somewhat elitist attitude of certain clubs.
It is this shift from a club being inclusive to the local community, rather than excluding the majority within it, that is vital in changing attitudes and leading to a healthy flow of golfers to the club, certainly within the UK and Ireland. By becoming accessible and affordable, golf clubs can then arrest this sharp decline in membership numbers certainly in the UK and Ireland.
2. Course Management & Environmental Issues
With the cost of fuel bills, land rent, water and the scarcity of these resources, not to mention the need to be far more environmentally friendly, how can well-established courses adopt new measures to drastically reduce these costs and become not only more efficient, but greener and cheaper for members?
What can be done to facilitate year-round play (if possible) especially when the ground is very wet underfoot and using traditional greens is impossible?
Solution?: There is a growing need for courses to become far more frugal with the resources they have and to not only reduce the detrimental impact they have on the environment, but rather improve it. Courses like the ecologically-friendly courses in Lavaux, Switzerland, show the way forward.
Use of renewable energy and resources, such as the collection of rainwater throughout the year to help water the greens in summer, is vital if clubs are to cut costs and have long term ecological viability.
Other more radical solutions include the use of ‘astroturf’ or similar on greens to facilitate year round play and reduce the demand for constant watering and cutting (though of course, many golf purists would disapprove of this idea).
It will be interesting to see if any course is willing to be brave enough to try this out to discover whether technology has moved on in this area to make Astroturf greens, as they are used in crazy golf courses, could be viable.
3. Promoting the game to the next generation
The fact of the matter is that golf’s long-term popularity comes only from exposing people to the game at increasingly younger ages. What are amateur golf clubs, organisations and societies doing to promote the game beyond their obvious user? Is golf being taught in schools, if not, why not and how can that be put right?
Solution?: Fortunately, golf’s ruling bodies have realised that there is a real need to bring golf to a wider audience. The problem golf has is that it has never been seen as a child-friendly game, in that it is something that can be taught in schools. Fortunately, that hasn’t stopped many pro’s developing ideas for kids to learn the rudimentary skills of the game in a school setting. (See Video below)
This needs to be more than just an ad-hoc approach though in order to have the desired effect. The younger we can introduce children to the fun aspect of the game, the enjoyment and benefits the game has, the sooner they, like we did, will get hooked by its charm and beguiling simplicity.
There are ways and means golf can be promoted in schools and there is certainly a lot more that golf clubs and teaching centres can do to involve local schools and the wider community in the sport.
Getting golf into schools and also part of the culture of sports young people play is vital to the long term growth of the sport I believe and currently, it is an area where the game does lag behind. There are only a select few youngsters able to play the game when compared to other sports such as football, rugby, athletics or other similar school-based sports.
So, the amateur game is, I believe, in something of a confused state at present. In established markets such as the UK and Ireland, club membership rates are falling, yet globally, the game continues to attract more new players each year.
Yet that doesn’t mean we should ignore the issues facing amateur golf. In order to grow the sport and promote inclusion for all players, regardless of age, sex or disability, we need to address fundamental issues to do with the game at local, national and international levels.
This may involve some tough decisions and a lot of funding from somewhere, the game of golf for the amateur would always survive, but it would be so much nicer if it could thrive globally and allow as many other people enjoy playing the game as possible.