Scottish Golf’s second national conference, which takes place in Edinburgh this weekend, is set to be more important in terms of trying to shape a brighter future in the sport’s birthplace than the inaugural get-together of 500 delegates in the capital 12 months ago.
The message hammered home then was that golf in Scotland was sinking fast. “We are all on the Titanic if we choose not to do anything,” said Stewart Darling, a Scottish Golf board member, in his presentation to delegates at the International Conference Centre.
With all due respect, most people didn’t need to be told that alarm bells are ringing over membership levels at lots of golf clubs around the country. Published just before that conference, KPMG’s Golf Participation Report revealed that Scotland had lost more “registered golfers” than any other country in Europe from 2015 to 2016 as the total fell by 6,711 to 192,533.
According to the 2017 version of that same report, which came out last week, a further 4,731 have been lost in the subsequent 12-month period, though, on this occasion, Scotland was fourth behind England (38,784), Netherlands (12,913) and Ireland (7,422) on that depressing list. Add in the report claiming that Scotland had lost another 18 courses in the same spell, taking the number to 37 over two years, and there are indeed serious challenges to be faced by the game’s governing body.
On Saturday, Scottish Golf will be in the spotlight as it sets out its plans to rise to those challenges and, quite frankly, it will be bitterly disappointing if it fails to deliver a galvanising boost that is badly needed on the club scene.
At the conference a year ago, Scottish Golf didn’t have a chief executive following the departure of Blane Dodds to Tennis Scotland, while a series of proposals tabled by him, including the affiliation fee being hiked up from £11.25 to £24 and a golf tourist tax being introduced, had all been put on hold.
Seven months into the job and having talked to a whole host of people involved in different aspects of the sport in the country, the new chief executive, Andrew McKinlay, should be ready now to really get to grips with the main issues and, by all accounts, the former SFA man appears to have earned the respect of his staff, which can only be helpful.
So, too, is the fact that McKinlay was handed a significant boost when, following an earlier rejection of a £15 proposal, a resolution to increase the affiliation fee by £3.25 to £14.50 was passed at a special meeting of Scottish Golf stakeholders in October. That fee has been frozen until 2022, with an increased revenue of some £500,000 being ring-fenced to support the provision of services to clubs while helping to alleviate proposed cuts in light of decreased funding from sportscotland.
“Having attended as an ordinary club member first time around, I am very much looking forward to leading this year’s conference, as we outline some of the solutions and plans we have been working on in response to the challenges identified last December,” said McKinlay.
“The output from the conference gave us a clear mandate for our future plans and that has been our area of focus in recent months. Clubs continue to operate in a very challenging environment, but there’s been some good momentum building and some great work being done by clubs we are supporting. The conference gives us a fantastic platform to showcase some of that work, discuss solutions and continue the debate among those with a passion for golf and a desire to make a difference at national and local level.”
Of particular interest will be exactly how Scottish Golf plans to tackle the issue of “nomadic golfers”, which was one of the main subjects of last year’s debate and, of course, is how a large chunk of those lost “registered” players now get their golfing fix.
Equally fascinating will be how McKinlay, along with Cannon , who is standing for another three-year term as chair at the agm early next year, and the other board members plan to get more females into the game because, with only 12 per cent currently making up the total of golfers in this country, there certainly appears to be plenty of scope in that respect.