MOST of the “big hitters” in St Andrews today will be nestled in chairs up at Fairmont St Andrews rather then flexing their muscles on any of the 189 holes (amazing, isn’t it? – and also hard to believe that there is another course being designed by Tom Weiskopf on the way) either in or around the Auld Grey Toun.
It is book-ended by rounds of golf – yesterday at the host venue’s Kittock’s Course and tomorrow at the Castle Course – but the significant event being held in the home of golf in the early part of this week has, for a change, got nothing to do with birdies or bogeys.
The Golf Business Forum, which is celebrating its tenth anniversary and features an agenda that will focus on “how the industry is facing the future, the changing wants and needs of customers and the globalisation of the game”, has been billed as “the most important industry event of the year”. A quick glance at the cast list indicates why.
It is a “Who’s Who” of the game’s most powerful people, with three head honchos – Peter Dawson (R&A), George O’Grady (European Tour) and Tim Finchem (PGA Tour) – being joined by the likes of Aberdeen Asset Management chief executive Martin Gilbert, HSBC’s global head of sponsorship and events Giles Morgan and Marc Player, Gary’s eldest son and chief executive of Black Knight International.
What they will be discussing might not necessarily affect the average club golfer straight away but, in a sport that is evolving, get-togethers like this can only be helpful for the game’s long-term future.
Across a wide spectrum, we are talking, after all, about people who have contact with everyone involved in golf at grass-roots and ground level, from club members to greenkeepers and Tour professionals to sponsors.
If they cannot come up with ideas to keep the game appealling, make sure it stays both affordable and enjoyable, generate new initiatives and drive them forward, then we had all just as well stick our clubs up the attic for good.
The Boardroom, a CEO roundtable discussion involving O’Grady, Gilbert and Player, as well as Dana Garmany (Troon Golf) and Andrea Sartori (KPMG), is due to commence today’s proceedings while other sessions include an on-course management masterclass, ways of growing the UK growth industry and, perhaps most intriguing of all given the society we now live in, how the latest technology is pushing golfers’ buttons on the course, in the clubhouse and on their smartphones.
“Game Changers: Shaping the future of golf” is also on the agenda, with Dawson and Morgan being joined on that panel by both Tim Trinka of the Asian Golf Federation and IMG’s Guy Kinnings as they discuss the rise of golf in China and strive to map out a vision for the game.
With a Ryder Cup at Gleneagles looming on the horizon, there is also a focus on Scotland, which has been split into two parts.
The first involves the presentation of Golf in Scotland, a special report commissioned by the Scottish Golf Union, in partnership with Scottish Enterprise and Event Scotland, that “provides in-depth analysis of the value of golf to Scotland, including operations, capital investments, tournaments, sponsorship, golf tourism and real estate”.
The floor will then be handed over to BBC Sport presenter Hazel Irvine, one of the country’s treasures, and, along with Colin Montgomerie, the pair will look at how Scotland is aiming to capitalise on its global status as the home of golf in the build-up to the Ryder Cup being staged here for the first time in 40 years.
Yes, of course, there will be plenty of hot air spouted and we should not forget that a lot of people involved have their own commercial interests at heart. By the same token, however, they share a passion for golf and, with the game battling harder than ever before, both in terms of trying to retain members and keeping sponsors on board, today is a chance for that to shine through and help put a buzz back into the game again.
For my tuppence worth, here is something to mull over. Is there too much emphasis in golf on individual events, with most fixture cards being followed by one stroke-play medal after another? Having played in a Texas Scramble and also covered the Dispatch Trophy, a historic double foursomes event at the Braid Hills in Edinburgh, in the past week and both feeling and seeing enjoyment from those, perhaps it is time for clubs to host more of these types of tournaments.
For starters, it would help restore a bit of camaraderie that appears to have been drained from the game.
Kids event shows talent despite worrying element
SCEPTICISM has surrounded the US Kids Golf European Championship ever since it was first held in East Lothian six years ago, mainly due to it being elitist as competitors pay a chunky entry fee for the privilege to battle it out for various age-group titles on “Scotland’s Golf Coast”.
In that sense, the winners are not true European champions, more champions of well-heeled people who can
afford not just that entry fee but also flights from all
corners of the globe – last week’s event attracted players from 40 different countries – as well as accommodation for the whole family.
No matter what way you look at it, the event is a boon for East Lothian and there is little doubt that Craigielaw, Gullane, Luffness New and Longniddry – the venues on this occasion – embracing it has helped in its enormous success, with the dates for 2014 having been confirmed as the final putt was dropping on Friday.
On the one hand, I found it a little disturbing to see some of the youngsters almost being treated like robots by parents as they put them through pre-round practice drills, though they will no doubt point to the likes of Rory McIlroy and Carly Booth and claim that was what helped turn their natural talent into success.
On the other, the vast majority of those taking part have serious games and it will be interesting, for example, to see if Rina Tatematsu, an 11-year-old Thai girl, goes on to make her presence felt on the world stage. Based on a 23-shot victory over Gullane No 3, that certainly come as no surprise. It is a pity the event is held
during term time in Scotland, although the Stephen Gallacher Foundation entered around ten players this time.
It has managed to grow
despite that and, while an Open Championship comes around now just once in ten years, one event certainly looks to have found a permanent home in East Lothian.