The golf industry has come out of Covid swinging, but a long-term strategy is key - Craig Waddell

Covid-19 has had a devastating impact on many industries, and for a time there, it threatened the golf industry in Scotland which historically thrived from the lucrative national and international market. However, whilst the first lockdown made any sort of revenue impossible in the short term, as golf was one of the first things to reopen it helped benefit the industry, injecting a new youthful appeal and resurgence in the popularity of the game.

The 18th fairway on the East Course at Dalmahoy

When restrictions lifted after both lockdowns, golf was one of the first sports permitted. Many golf courses throughout Scotland, including our two 18-hole courses at Dalmahoy Hotel & Country Club, witnessed a surge in memberships. At Dalmahoy in particular, we saw a huge spike in demand for memberships, visitor play (which was only available August – December in the second half of 2020) and also tee times from existing members on both our championship East Course and our popular West Course. I’ve been in the industry more than 20 years and I hadn’t seen demand like this across the industry since the 1990s, where waiting lists and joining fees were the norm.

With all this extra time and less of life’s other pastime distractions, people have chosen to try something new and they’ve chosen golf. It’s like its underlying greatness has been discovered.

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And then there is the age demographic. In what was once viewed (unfairly) as a somewhat traditional and ageing sport, popular with an older generation, this is no longer the case. There’s been a significant upward trend in new, younger players joining including the under-29s and the junior golfers. Dalmahoy’s new young members make up 67% of new memberships in 2021, growing from just over 20% last year. Initially, this was undoubtedly because golf, by its very nature, is a socially distanced sport and something people could do outdoors together. But the swing appeal has held strong and we’ve seen a prolonged spike in younger members. The shift has been remarkable and this younger demographic, who are key to golf’s longevity and long-term success, are viewing it as the physical and mentally stimulating sport that it is – rather than dismissing it as a less physically challenging and more leisurely pastime.

Craig Waddell, PGA AA Professional and Director of Golf & Leisure at Dalmahoy Hotel & Country Club

Along with our two courses, our floodlit driving range with indoor and outdoor bays, two short game areas and championship putting greens have never been more in demand from players taking the sport seriously and training like athletes. It’s a physically demanding sport and it’s refreshing to see that this key generation get it.

However, demand for memberships across the board may plateau so now is the time for the industry to pivot and ensure the offering stays relevant. As restrictions continue to ease, other sports will lure players away so it’s imperative the industry is ready. Here at Dalmahoy, the golf and leisure team have been analysing the trends of our current members and using these key insights to enhance the offering for players and think more outside the box.

Both inclusive and competitive golf within the local market is where the industry as a whole needs to focus short term. And so, we’re currently running tournaments for weekday members, junior tournaments in the evenings and weekends, open tournaments, along with our 2021 Club Championships. This summer we’ll also be hosting junior summer camps, as well as 1-1 lessons with our PGA Pro, Scott Dixon. We cater towards every skill level as we have two golf courses. The East Course designed by James Braid is our championship golf course which held high profile events such as Scottish PGA Championships. There is also the West Course which is shorter in length, but still very challenging.

We have an online dynamic pricing model for 2021 and focus is firmly on the local guest experience. Plus, should further restrictions come into play, perhaps with local authority travel restrictions, we can filter our database by postcode to market our offering accordingly.

So whilst COVID-19 tried to bring the game of golf to its knees, we’ve been given an opportunity to evolve and those in the golf industry who grasp that opportunity will triumph. We may be the international home of golf, but it’s time to think closer to home. The local market needs nurturing in the short term, but the golf industry needs to think long-term about how we continue to ride the wave of this welcome resurgence. Our future depends on it.

Craig Waddell, PGA AA Professional and Director of Golf & Leisure at Dalmahoy Hotel & Country Club

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