Martin Dempster: It’s all about creating the right environment

Women golfers playing at Muirfield. Picture: Jon Savage
Women golfers playing at Muirfield. Picture: Jon Savage
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In a week when I’ve been accused of “swallowing the corporate spin” and also lacking “gumption”, one thing abundantly clear about golf in Scotland is that people remain passionate about the sport and rightly so.

Both those claims are untrue and I will get to the reasons why, but the mere fact this week’s “Scottish golf at a crossroads” series has generated a debate is a good thing because it shows individuals care about the game and its future.

Sure, there are differing views about why the sport has lost around 50,000 members in the home of golf over the past decade and what needs to done to try and turn things around in that respect. That’s only to be expected, though, because, let’s face it, there is not a single, all-encompassing solution to the problem due to the fact golf clubs around the country can have totally different needs in what, for some anyway, is an ongoing battle for survival.

Some clubs have already gone under and it seems inevitable that a few more will go the same way before the current situation of golfers moving here, there and everywhere from one year to the next is addressed.

That, I’m afraid, is just not healthy for the game. Clubs need to be holding on to members rather than seeing them jumping around all the time and I wholeheartedly agree with David Roy, the experienced club manager at Crail Golfing Society, on this one being firmly in the hands of the clubs.

“The ageing demographic that is often talked about doesn’t trouble me that much,” he said in one of the many interviews conducted for this series. “What is far more important is that you create a type of environment that is right for prospective new members and their families. If you get that bit right, then your membership will be healthy.”

More, much more in fact, needs to be done all around the country to get that environment right, especially in clubhouses. Clubs also need to be prepared to work better collectively to try to make sure those “nomads” are not getting to play at ridiculously cheap rates.

“If all golf clubs got together and agreed a minimum green fee for visitors of no less than £25, there would be fewer of these golfers who probably all have been a member of a golf club in the past five years,” observed Mike Robson, the club manager at Swanston New on the outskirts of Edinburgh. “I suggested that to the 24 clubs in the Edinburgh Summer League and only three got back to me, which suggests a head-in-the-sand attitude.” That was probably behind the accusation that I had “swallowed the corporate spin” when teeing off this series with Scottish Golf non-executive director Stewart Darling’s take on the state of the club scene, yet that was merely a case of highlighting the harsh reality of the current situation.

Make no mistake, this membership decline isn’t going to be turned around overnight and the weather so far this year will have done little to whet appetites to rush out to join the local club.

As for that claim of lacking “gumption”, it was made by a reader. “Very few women want to play golf,” he opined. “Encouraging endless pandering to a demographic largely uninterested in the game at the expense of the bulk of your customer base, is part of the problem, not the solution.” Wow, there really are dinosaurs out there.