Martin Dempster: Scottish Golf chief Cannon must tread carefully

Typical, just so bloody typical. No sooner have fortunes started to improve significantly for Scottish golf on the course have things off it turned spectacularly pear-shaped.

Eleanor Cannon is facing a difficult meeting in December. Picture: John Devlin.
Eleanor Cannon is facing a difficult meeting in December. Picture: John Devlin.

Not only has the organisation that pulls the main strings in the game in this country lost its chief executive to another sport, but it also has a new four-year strategy that is dead in the water.

It’s not been the best of spells in Scottish Golf’s short history, that’s for sure, and questions most certainly need to be asked of chair Eleanor Cannon and her board.

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Why, for instance, was Blane Dodds allowed to retain his position as chair of Tennis Scotland after being appointed as Scottish Golf’s chief executive 16 months ago?

Was Dodds aware of the black hole that had opened up in Scottish Golf’s finances due mainly to a cut in SportScotland support (down from £1,025,000 in 2016-17 to just £665,000, we were led to believe, though now it seems that has since been topped up by £105,000)?

Why was a proposed rise in the Scottish Golf affiliation fee set at more than 100 per cent when it was obvious that was like a red rag to a bull at a time when clubs are already struggling to hold on to members?

Why have core values been overlooked at the expense of trying to turn a non-profit making organisation into something totally unrecognisable?

Why has Scottish Golf come up with components in its strategy – the Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system, for example – that are alienating clubs rather than supporting them?

That Dodds is jumping ship should be no real surprise to anyone, particularly when he’s off to fill the same post at Tennis Scotland. The moment that job was advertised a few months ago, you just sensed he’d be in the frame and Cannon & Co surely knew that.

They neglected their duty at the start when they allowed Dodds to keep one foot in the tennis camp, albeit on a voluntary basis, when he was being paid by Scottish Golf, and only really have themselves to blame for this unfortunate mess.

Make no mistake, it is a mess because the proposed strategy that has been rolled out in recent weeks – fronted, of course, by Dodds – has no chance whatsoever of being approved at a special general meeting in Stirling on 2 December.

At two meetings in the Edinburgh area last week, Dodds and Cannon faced club representatives and, from what I can gather, the latter made no friends at either. That, I’m afraid, seems to be an example of how people at the grass-roots level in Scottish golf are being treated by certain individuals – not all, by any manner of means – connected to the governing body at the moment, and that simply can’t be allowed to continue.

Put it this way, it was quite appalling to hear someone describe the treatment of one long-serving tournament administrator this year as “horrendous”, meaning one of the first priorities of the new chief executive has got to be making volunteers (without them, Scottish Golf simply wouldn’t be able to function effectively) feel valued again.
In the meantime, what is going to happen with the proposed strategy? Well, the Customer Relationship Management system is almost certain to be put on hold, if not scrapped altogether. In fairness to Dodds, he couldn’t just sit on his hands and do nothing and, influenced a lot by talking to his French counterpart in particular, the CRM became his main baby. Alas, both that and a centralised tee-booking system are simply too difficult to implement across the board, especially in the short term. Both ideas had also come up against opposition.

As, I believe, has a proposal to introduce an international licence fee, with tour operators having expressed concerns about that, although not necessarily about introducing such a fee, leaving the affiliation fee as perhaps the only thing that will be left on the table at that special general meeting.

The proposed rise from £11.25 to £24 is too much. The question, though, is what would club members find acceptable and Scottish Golf needs to find that answer very quickly indeed as stakeholders have to be given 21 days’ notice about what will actually be put to the vote in early December.

In hindsight, of course, that fee should never have been allowed to remain the same for such a long period of time during Hamish Grey’s spell as chief executive, but it’s about trying to move on for the good of Scottish golf and would, for example, increasing it to £15 in the first instance perhaps be acceptable?

Tread very carefully, chair 
Cannon and your fellow board members, because this matter now needs a gentle approach.