Feud over unification of Scottish golf may have done irreparable damage

RELATIONSHIPS in Scottish golf could have been damaged beyond repair by the feud over the proposed amalgamation of the men's and women's games, according to a leading official.

Some of the men's Area associations have fallen out with the governing body, as well as some of their own clubs, over the proposal, which will be voted on today and tomorrow.

Denys Flaherty, president of the Lothians Golf Association, the biggest of the 16 Areas, expressed concern about the future after a second special meeting on the proposal to unite the Scottish Golf Union and the Scottish Ladies Golfing Association.

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Club representatives voted 41-27 against the detailed amalgamation proposal, mainly because it includes an attempt to shift power from areas to clubs in a second tier of governance, which means Lothians will now be joining a number of the other Areas in rejecting it at an extraordinary general meeting of the SGU tomorrow.

At an earlier Lothians meeting, 46 clubs voted in favour of the Area associations being replaced as stakeholders by the clubs, leading one representative to claim after the new vote that it had been a "stitch up".

Flaherty vehemently denied that accusation but admitted that relationships have been soured, which echoed a view expressed by an official of the Border Golfers' Association after it announced a switch from a 'no' to a 'yes' vote earlier in the week following criticism by some of its clubs.

"Unfortunately, I believe that might be the case," Flaherty told The Scotsman. "Some clubs have suggested that we, the LGA Executive, have been acting improperly in calling the second meeting, but I hope I made it clear that we did so due to the fact, at the time of the first meeting, we did not know what the final proposal was.

"I consider that the Lothians Executive has acted with the utmost integrity with regard to consulting our member clubs. Obviously it is for others to judge whether that is the case."

Flaherty was questioned at the meeting on the fact that only 33 of the 122 clubs in the Lothians, 48 of which do not own a course, sent representatives. "I suggested that this might be due to apathy and the fact that clubs are more interested in trying to keep afloat than other issues," he said.

Points made by Alan Grosset, a former Duddingston captain and ex-lawyer, in The Scotsman in support of the proposal were raised at the meeting, including Grosset's claim that it would be more democratic if each of Scotland's clubs had a vote rather than the Areas.

"I agreed with that," said Flaherty."However the apathy shown by clubs regarding SGU matters is historic and there would be practical issues of clubs being able to exercise control over the Board."

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As reported in The Scotsman last Tuesday, the SGU looks to be well short of the 75 per cent support it needs from the Areas at tomorrow's egm despite the governing body having received 89 per cent backing direct from the clubs who replied to a (non-binding) postal poll.

Flaherty added: "If the vote fails, a meeting needs to be called quickly to get the amalgamation process underway again. I think that this should be a much wider group than before and should involve the Board, the Areas and the Counties and perhaps representatives from clubs.

"We need to ensure that the model finally agreed is workable and acceptable. The last few months have been difficult and at times stressful. I would hope that, regardless of the outcome of the vote, we can all get together in a more harmonious way to take amalgamation forward."

The club official who claimed Monday's meeting had been a "stitch up" wished to remain anonymous but added: "They have got the vote they wanted rather than listening to what the clubs were telling them."

The SLGA vote takes place in Perth today, when the proposal is expected to be given unanimous approval and chairman Shona Malcolm warned that any compromise will also have to be backed by the ladies.

She said: "People need to remember that two parties are involved here - not just the SGU. It may be okay for the SGU and Areas to agree on some sacrifices but it should be remembered that the SLGA members also need to agree to any compromise and some things, such as the clubs being the voting members, are just not negotiable.

"The SLGA has, since its inception in 1904, been a democratic organisation with the clubs, its funders and voting members, at its heart. It would be a retrograde step to change this in order to adopt a flawed two-tier system of governance which does not comply with company law and doesn't empower the clubs which provide over 50 per cent of the funding to Scottish golf."