Leader comment: We must maintain the home of golf

The Himalayas, St Andrews. Picture: Nick Hastie
The Himalayas, St Andrews. Picture: Nick Hastie
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Scotland is rightly regarded as the “home of golf”, the birthplace of a sport that is played the world over.

A study has calculated the worth of this status to our nation, concluding that 4,700 jobs are supported by golf tourism, adding up to a total economic value of £286 million. Whether you love or abhor golf, the sport is one of the pillars of Scottish tourism and we should all recognise its contribution.

Events such as the Open Championship and the recent Ryder Cup at Gleneagles are televised the world over, beaming images of Scotland’s open spaces, fresh air and great courses into the living rooms of potential visitors.

US golf fans make up around 33 per cent of overnight golfing visitors, with many of them heading to play famous courses such as those at Troon, Turnberry, St Andrews, Prestwick, Carnoustie and Dornoch.

Industry figures have welcomed the study – but Danny Cusick, tourism sector portfolio director at Scottish Enterprise, warns we must not be complacent.

Golf, outside of these famous courses, is not in complete good health. Many players have abandoned the game, as it takes so long to complete 18 holes (four and a half hours is not uncommon), others complain about the cost, while the image of the sport as one governed by blazer-clad buffoons with reserved parking spaces does not encourage youngsters.

And the ongoing debate about men-only clubs doesn’t do the sport’s image any favours.

Furthermore, golf’s arcane rules can seem bizarre and overly stringent. A recent example is the four-stroke penalty given to Lexi Thompson during an LPGA major after a television viewer noticed the player had failed to properly place her ball on the green the previous day.

Can you imagine Andy Murray being told by the All England Club that his semi-final win has been overturned because a TV viewer noticed he was taking 26 seconds in between points instead of 25?

We must cherish golf’s traditions and understand its value to the country. But the sport’s administrators must do their utmost to make the sport as accessible as possible, tackle its strange rules, and look for new formats that can satisfy those with limited time to play. Only then can Scotland continue to lead as the home of golf.