Fears that some Scottish golf clubs are on the edge of abyss

Area officials express concern amid mixed views on support

A golfer at Allerton Manor in Liverpool after the lifting of coronavirus lockdown restrictions on some leisure activities in England. Picture: Peter Byrne/PA Wire
A golfer at Allerton Manor in Liverpool after the lifting of coronavirus lockdown restrictions on some leisure activities in England. Picture: Peter Byrne/PA Wire

As Scottish golf clubs enter an eighth week of lockdown, fears have been expressed that “quite a few could be on the edge” of financial abyss due to the coronavirus crisis.

The message has been delivered by officials at grass-roots level in the Scottish game as clubs face significant revenue losses in the biggest crisis to hit the sport.

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While no club in the home of golf has yet admitted publicly to being in dire straits, it is believed that a number are teetering on the brink around the country despite support from both Scottish Golf and the local Area Associations.

Prestonfield Golf Club in Edinburgh remains closed during the coronavirus lockdown.

“None of our member clubs has come forward to say they are struggling, but my guess is that quite a few could be on the edge,” George Young, secretary of the North East District, told The Scotsman.

Echoing that view, his North counterpart, Peter Abbot, admitted: “We have a number of clubs struggling at the moment and no income isn’t helping.”

A similar story was reported in the south of the country by Borders secretary Roy Thomson, who said: “We are aware of at least three clubs currently experiencing financial difficulties to varying degrees.”

In Argyll & Bute, home to some of the smallest clubs in the country, the opening of courses can’t come quick enough. “None that have indicated so as yet,” said Area secretary Graham Bolton to being asked if he knew of any clubs in particular that might be really struggling at the moment. “But I think that will depend if lockdown restrictions are not lifted soon.”

Most of the 16 Area Associations have offered refunds to clubs for the nominal local affiliation fee paid by club members as part of their annual subscription. Those refunds have either been in full or 50 per cent, with the Borders, for example, giving £7,500 back to clubs.

At national level, Scottish Golf is supporting clubs to the tune of more than £575,000 by way of a 25 per cent refund or rebate on its affiliation fee of £14.50 per member.

Since taking over the reins of the governing body following Andrew McKinlay’s shock and sudden departure, chief operating officer Karin Sharp has been spending most of her time communicating with clubs and the Area associations, with the message to her from the latter appearing to be mixed.

“I think Scottish Golf are trying to do their best in difficult circumstances,” said Glasgow secretary Mark Jamieson, expressing a view shared by Young and Thomson, as well as David Doig (Lothians) and Dave McPherson (Fife).

“I do really believe that they are doing everything they can to” assist clubs, but are driven directly with what they physically and financially can achieve in doing so,” said Doig. “I don’t think they wish to provide false promise and can easily be caught out if they do something that they can then no longer deliver.”

McPherson added: “Scottish Golf offer what they can in the way of advice. I’m sure if any club was to contact them with a specific problem, then they would do their best to help.”

But Alasdair Malcolm (Ayrshire), Iain Storie (Renfrewshire) and John Struthers (Dumbartonshire) all claim that the governing body should have been offering at least 50 per cent to member clubs for that affiliation fee refund or rebate.

“The SGL subscription is often the greatest outlay many of the member clubs have all season,” said Malcolm.

“Skirting around the issues with advice and web presentations is all very well, but clubs need practical action at the moment.

“I am aware of at least a couple of our clubs who have written to SGL making that very point.”

Claiming that a larger percentage rebate would have been better in the current climate, Storrie said: “I would suggest that could have been effective for next season, to allow members to benefit directly.”

On the competition front, it will be slim pickings for golfers all around the country. Scottish Golf has scrapped its entire 2020 schedule while the Area scene, still fairly vibrant normally, looks set to be 
decimated.

“We have cancelled our first three events,” said Bolton of the situation in Argyll & Bute. “We are still hopeful about running our main events, but that is all dependent on lockdown restrictions and whether competitive golf is possible.”

In Dumbartonshire, all the fixtures have been cancelled, but Struthers said: “If possible, we will look to run the junior and gent’s championships at the end of the season.”

Elsewhere, the decision depends on how long Scottish clubs have to wait to join their English neighbours in reopening. “We are still hopeful to run some tournaments, but the longer the lockdown continues the slimmer the chances of doing so,” said Young of the plan in the North East.

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