Men to join women and unite Scottish golf

Hamish Grey (centre right): Compromise. Picture: Kenny Smith

Hamish Grey (centre right): Compromise. Picture: Kenny Smith

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UNLIKE many of the famous battles in Central Scotland, the final act in this one, in the shadow of the Wallace Monument, didn’t last long.

Seven minutes was all it took for a unanimous 16-0 verdict to be delivered as the men’s Area associations gave their backing to the Scottish Golf Union’s proposed amalgamation with the Scottish Ladies Golfing Association at the second time of asking.

Coming on the back of a similarly resounding “yes” from the women earlier in the year, it means the home of golf will fall into line with all but two countries in the world when a new unified body, Scottish Golf Ltd, is set up on 1 October to govern the amateur game.

Consisting of a nine-strong board with a minimum of three from either gender, Scottish Golf Ltd will replace the SLGA, founded in 1904, and the SGU, which is 16 years younger.

“It’s the result we wanted,” said SGU chairman Tom Craig after emerging from the organisation’s extraordinary meeting in a hotel on the Stirling University campus. “I said from the outset that I wanted unanimous support as that means we have had a good debate, we have thrashed it out and come to something that everybody can support.

“Yes, there were people who didn’t like bits of the proposal and we didn’t expect everybody to like every bit of it. Amalgamations don’t work that way. Any merger involves some form of compromise. I do believe that what we have reached what is good for the future of Scottish golf. There are hundreds of volunteers that work in the game and this is an opportunity to have a big partnership of all these people. There are a lot of really good people in Scottish golf, some great, great people, giving up their time because they want to.”

While it may only have required less than ten minutes at the business end, the process to see golf fall into line with every other governing body in Scottish sport has, of course, been long and laborious. The merger proposal was first put on the table in 2010 but, while the women were also in favour then, the men voted 10-6 against after a rebellion came close to breaking out in the sport’s cradle. In the wake of that setback, Craig was appointed as the new SGU supremo with a mandate to come up with a fresh proposal, which he did in conjunction with his SLGA counterpart, Beth Paterson, as well as other members of a working group that had Sheriff Alastair Thornton as its independent chairman.

“This is an absolutely historic day,” added Craig. “The SLGA has been around for over 100 years, the SGU more than 90. We have come together after all this time. We have a single body for Scottish amateur golf.

“I am very satisfied. Satisfied because the proposal was good. I wouldn’t have supported something I didn’t believe in. If you go through a process that is open and allow participation it takes time, but you get people engaged. You have your debates and arguments, but you come together. You have a model there that we should take note of for the future.”

The merger means that a threat of Scottish golf losing Government funding if the present set up remained has been lifted. “This day is vital in terms of going forward,” said SGU chief executive Hamish Grey. “I felt when I first started [in 1998] that this was possible, but you have to go through a process that involves compromises being made.

“Tom deserves a lot of credit but he’s been supported by a lot of people. What’s so pleasing has been the contributions of so many people in Scottish golf. Their focus has been on what’s right for Scottish golf, not on one individual or one club. That’s encouraging because you can work with that. This is an opportunity to say ‘how can we get even better’. It’s a beginning.”

From 1 October, one body will run the main amateur tournaments in Scotland and get sponsors for them. It will also be in charge of coaching for both genders and will also be responsible for supporting clubs, 58 per cent of which took part in an independent poll that delivered 97 per cent backing for the proposal.

“We all know our big challenge is declining numbers, men, women, boys and girls, but this joined up approach can help improve that,” insisted Craig, was ready to resign immediately if the vote was ‘no’ again but is happy to be part of the new set up. “It’s so much more streamlined and we can put more time into helping clubs help themselves. We, both the SGU and the SLGA, have proud histories. Now we can look to proud futures.”

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