Chief executive Blane Dodds believes Scottish Golf has a “duty” to help nurture professionals and is looking for someone from Scotland’s double European Championship-winning team to deliver an “Andy Murray effect” on the sport.
In his first interview since taking up the top post with the unified body that now runs the amateur game in the home of golf, Dodds also revealed that he’d cut running costs to save jobs and has identified “key areas” for investment in his main challenge, which is trying to “grow the game”.
Scottish Golf’s role in terms of how it supports the country’s leading amateurs has been called into question at a time when the average age of our nine full European Tour card holders in 2017 is 37, the youngest being a soon-to-be 30-year-old, Scott Henry.
With that pointing to a decade of talent having been lost when making the transition from amateur to professional golf, an argument being made by some is that the focus needs to switch from “pampering pre-pros” to delivering a more effective coaching system at grass-roots level.
“I’m aware of all these arguments,” insisted Dodds, who has been in situ for 12 weeks since leaving his post as CEO of North Lanarkshire Leisure to succeed Hamish Grey. “I think we have a duty of nurturing talent. If there’s potential for success from someone in the amateur game, we have a duty to help that, and be part of that journey. I think it’s crazy to say ‘cheerio’, and that’s it.”
Back-to-back victories in the European Team Championship certainly suggests that talent is there, and Dodds is hopeful the likes of Grant Forrest, Connor Syme, Ewen Ferguson and Robert McIntyre can go on to deliver the sort of boost tennis is enjoying, thanks mainly, of course, to Andy Murray but also his brother, Jamie, and Gordon Reid, all of whom are ending this year as world No 1s.
“Looking at tennis, it has the best advert possible in terms of the Murrays and Gordon Reid and what they have delivered,” said Dodds, a former Scotland tennis international and the current Chair of Tennis Scotland. “Membership in tennis has gone up from 30,000 club members in Scotland in 2007 to 54,000 members. It has grown every year, and there’s so much evidence of the Murray effect.
“We need a Colin Montgomerie; we need someone. Russell Knox is doing extraordinarily well. We want to support him to get even higher. We need more people on the world stage. We’ve got the talent, the problem is converting it, and that’s definitely part of our strategy going forward. The amateurs are good enough; it’s just that transition.” Dodds described his time in the post so far as “interesting” and said he’d “quickly identified” that a change of strategy was required. “Over the past year and a half, there have been cutbacks in Scottish Golf, so what I saw as my first job was to stop that,” he said. “So, we put in place a much more robust business plan and budget to re-position income and expenditure. There won’t now be any cutbacks in the next two years and what we want to do is to invest to grow the game. We will deliver a one-year strategy which gives us direction, and that one-year strategy also includes a huge amount of consultation with all our partners, so that we can put together a much more ambitious four-year plan in combination with sportscotland, the R&A and all our key partners.
“How can we grow the game if there are a lot of cutbacks? Performance programmes, events, participation programmes were under threat, also club support. We’ve now stopped that, which is good news. But the challenge now is how do we grow the game, and for me it is all about investing in the key areas.
“I’m not going to be waving a magic wand right now, but we are going to be doing a lot of work, and we have started a lot of work. We want to look at some areas and start growing the game, and if we do that there will be more resources coming in. It all goes hand in hand. More people playing the game means more money coming into the game. Then it is a spiralling upwards instead of a spiralling downwards.
“For me, the main area of potential growth is clubs. There is an argument that, with 750,000 people we know play golf but are not members, clubs are maybe not fulfilling the community need and want. We need to make these clubs grow, and one size does not fit all. It’s all about local n