Many clubs may have to embrace ‘change’ as membership falls again

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SCOTLAND’S club golfers are to have their say in shaping the game’s future, with experts predicting that flexible memberships and shorter rounds could be the answer to declining numbers.

According to the Scottish Golf Union, adult male membership in the home of golf fell by 1.8 per cent in 2012 – the third year running figures had dropped by a similar level.

At the same time, nearly 40 per cent of the 578 clubs increased their membership in 2011-12, including Fortrose & Rosemarkie, where 75 new members were attracted on the back of a local marketing campaign. Kevin Fish, the SGU’s club development manager, can not promise clubs better weather in the future.

But he is determined to find out exactly what the next generation of Scottish golfers want and then play a part in giving it to them.

“The SGU is about to commission some research to ask that exact question – what will a golf club look like in the future, what will membership be like, how will membership categories evolve and what will golf clubs need to do to attract future generations of consumers,” he said.

“We will be looking ahead ten to 20 years, not just the next three to five years, to help provide clubs with the evidence on which to base decisions about the futures of their clubs.

“We may find that the next generations of consumers might want more flexible memberships, shorter rounds – six or nine holes – family golf, more social use of the clubhouse for families, but that’s just our own feelings and we’ve got to go out and ask the market.”

While the SGU has been criticised in the past for not engaging enough with clubs, Fish and his team of regional development offers have visited almost 300 this year, while a series of seminars around the country are scheduled to resume next month.

“ ‘Change’ is generally recognised to be the biggest challenge facing any organisation and, typically, golf clubs that are steeped in tradition and history would prefer to leave things as they are simply because its ‘aye been that way’,” he added.

“Whilst many of our top-tier clubs can quite rightly continue to excel in their segment of the golf market, many clubs will have to consider change and possibly follow market forces to review the current traditional membership model that has been around for more than a hundred years.

“Let’s not forget that there are still 230,000 golf club members out there who enjoy being members at our 578 golf clubs, demonstrating that golf remains in great demand in our country.”