Decline in women’s golf slowing down, figures show

Catriona Matthew has coached promising youngsters at tournaments in the past, including the Ladies Scottish Open. Picture: Phil Wilkinson

Catriona Matthew has coached promising youngsters at tournaments in the past, including the Ladies Scottish Open. Picture: Phil Wilkinson

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ENCOURAGED by a decline in membership finally slowing down, a leading Scottish golf official has dismissed fears of a “doomsday scenario” hanging over the game.

Beth Paterson, chairman of the Scottish Ladies Golfing Association, is well aware her organisation has lost a lot of members over the past decade or so, including a batch when equality resulted in women having to pay the same as men.

But, on the day it voted unanimously in favour of the latest proposal to amalgamate with the Scottish Golf Union, it emerged that the SLGA’s membership downturn could be about to end.

“The early indications of our subscription return for this year is that the decline is not as significant as in previous years,” said chief executive Karin Sharp, speaking after the body’s annual meeting in Edinburgh.

“It is down less than one per cent at the moment. It looks like the decline is slowing. Obviously we would like to completely turn that around and there are initiatives out there such as ‘Get Into Golf’ in tandem with the SGU.

“Among 60 clubs have signed up for that so far, of which 75 per cent of those taking part are ladies, so we would like to get some momentum behind that and encourage that.”

Delighted to see members vote 204-0 in favour of amalgamation, Paterson believes the formation of Scottish Golf Limited – providing it gets the green light from the men next month – can help create a solid base for a new era in the game.

“It’s certainly not a doomsday scenario,” she said of recent reports highlighting participation issues. “There are still a lot of people playing golf. I think it’s the same with a lot of sports. It’s a reflection of people’s lifestyles.

“We don’t want to change the game itself. However, I think there is a place for things like making the hole bigger, particularly for kids at the very start.”

Concurring, Sharp added: “Golf has a lot of history and tradition and clubs focus their competition around 18 holes. But we are seeing an increase in nine-hole golf and perhaps we need to go down to six-hole golf for kids.

“I know some clubs run competitions for kids and we need to be encouraging that and not putting barriers in the way.”

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Following the departure last year of long-time national coach Kevin Craggs, a new SLGA coaching team is being headed up by former Walker Cup player David Patrick with Ian 
Muir, Sally Watson’s coach, and Rick Valentine, the director of golf at Loretto School, also involved.

Muir has been tasked with a new girls’ development programme in a bid to unearth the next generation as the likes of Connie Jaffrey and Clara Young move on to the women’s game.

“We have got quite a small pool of girls, but they have been quite successful – Connie Jaffrey in particular is doing really well,” acknowledged Sharp of the Troon teenager getting into the Great Britain & Ireland women’s team for the Astor Trophy in Australia last month.

“There is a girls’ development programme which will be run by Ian Muir that involves groups of girls getting together on a regional basis. Not ones who necessarily have already shown real talent. We are trying to get a wider network who have shown a bit of ability.

“We want to try to encourage them to participate in the sport and they don’t necessarily have to have a handicap. The club 
returns show that you might have two or three girls who are a bit isolated.

“Hopefully running these sessions on a regular basis in a bigger group they will spur each other on to be doing more.

“It’s fairly early days with our new coaching team but the signs are quite encouraging.”

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