Tavish Scott: We must capitalise on our golf

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MUIRFIELD is a hallowed piece of ground for golfers. The links course will play host to the world’s top male golfers as the Open returns in July. Spectator stands are going up and car parking is being arranged in neighbouring fields.

Tens of thousands of fans will flock to East Lothian to watch the action. Television pictures will beam Scotland to all corners of the globe. The audience will be hundreds of millions.

Golf is big business. An Open can generate nearly £100 million for the economy. Professional tournaments such as the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship – played across St Andrews, Carnoustie and Kingsbarns – are enormous drivers of both the local and national economies. The Women’s British Open will be in Scotland on five occasions before 2020. In these tough economic times, golf is an economic success story.

But how big is the financial impact of the sport? The Scottish Golf Union organises the amateur game and supports membership clubs from Whalsay to Stranraer. It is now leading a financial analysis of golf and what it contributes to Scotland plc. Golf is bracketed with whisky, kilts and shortbread to attract visitors to Scotland, but no definitive study on 
the economic impact of the game has been carried out. The SGU is changing that.

Some figures are known. For every £1 a golfing visitor to Scotland spends on the game, he or she will spend £3 more. Hotels, restaurants, car hire and a couple of Mars bars for the golf bag all boost spending. A total of 70 per cent of golf visitors to the UK come to Scotland, and 14 per cent of them are Americans. The US is still the most important market, which is why direct flights from Glasgow and Edinburgh to America are vital.

But as the world changes, so does golf. There is an explosion of golf in China. A 14-year-old Chinese boy played in the first golfing major of the year – the Masters – in April. Frankly, it was ridiculous. Does he not have school to go to? But putting aside parental displeasure and golfing jealousy, China now has an aspiring middle class who want to play at the Home of Golf.

In world-wide terms, Scotland is the go-to place. Nowhere else has St Andrews and that famous Swilken Bridge. The public agencies should be straining every sinew to deliver growth in visitor numbers.

Scotland has 578 golf clubs. The industry employs 10,000 people directly. The SGU study will produce a wider figure, known to the economists as the multiplier effect. That is people running other businesses for whom golfers are part of their activities.

Golfing visitors want to play the open courses such as St Andrews and Turnberry. But Scotland is rich in courses. Inverness-shire is attractive, with Nairn, Castle Stuart and the incomparable Royal Dornoch. Ayrshire is stuffed with golfing quality. East Lothian too has class in abundance. This is a Scottish product that needs selling.

• Tavish Scott is Liberal Democrat MSP for Shetland. He plays off ten