Scottish Golf aims to have 30,000 women members by 2027 in bid to 'move dial significantly'

Governing body sees female game as main growth potential in strategy unveiled to member clubs

A woman I’ve known since our children went to primary school together has been bitten by the golf bug, having taken up the game through her son’s passion for the sport. It’s the sort of scenario Scottish Golf is aiming to see happen on a widespread basis at clubs the length and breadth of the country as it aims to give the women’s and girls’ game a much-needed nudge over the next few years.

It’s pretty shocking, after all, when you consider that only around 12 per cent of the total golf club membership in Scotland are female and even more so when that compares to 34 per cent nationally across all other membership sports in the country. And that’s despite Catriona Matthew doing her bit to put women’s golf in the spotlight by winning a major, playing in nine Solheim Cups and then being a history-making back-to-back winning captain in that contest.

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Given the first of those successes as European skipper came on home soil at Gleneagles and also the dramatic way it came down the final putt holed by Suzann Pettersen, it’s a bit worrying that Scottish clubs have felt little impact from that over the past five years and maybe there’s just not that interest from women and girls to make a telling difference when it comes to those all-important club membership numbers.

Scottish Golf is planning to push women's and girls' golf in a bid to boost golf club memberships before 2027. Picture: Scottish GolfScottish Golf is planning to push women's and girls' golf in a bid to boost golf club memberships before 2027. Picture: Scottish Golf
Scottish Golf is planning to push women's and girls' golf in a bid to boost golf club memberships before 2027. Picture: Scottish Golf

Well, we’re going to find out because Scottish Golf has set a target to increase female playing membership to 30,000, which would represent a 15 per cent rise on the 2023 figure, by 2027, describing the plan as “ambitious” but, at the same time, believing it can be achieved through support the governing body is gearing up to deliver as part of its three-year strategy.

“This presents us with a huge opportunity for growth and to help achieve our stated vision that golf is Scotland’s game for everyone,” is the message from Scottish Golf’s board to member clubs ahead of an upcoming annual general meeting about why the women’s and girls’ golf is being targeted through a plan that includes the creation of two dedicated posts at a total cost of £200,000. “Scottish Golf has ambitious plans to increase female participation in the sport, through its club support, participation, performance and marketing teams.

“With our membership’s support, we need to accelerate and invest in this area over the short, medium and long term if we are to move the dial significantly, and to do so will require committed resource, energy and investment into this area of work. We are clear that golf clubs are critical to the potential growth in women and girls in golf.”

So, how exactly is that significant proposed hike in female membership going to be achieved? Well, for starters, it will be helpful if Gemma Dryburgh continues to do both herself and her country proud at the highest level in the professional game and, equally, if Hannah Darling keeps moving in the right direction in her journey in college golf and in the amateur game in general. Because, more than ever, youngsters are looking for role models and just imagine the boost England Golf, for example, was given recently when Lottie Woad won the Augusta National Women’s Amateur. It’s been the same, of course, in Ireland over the last decade through the incredible achievements of Leona Maguire.

As illustrated, though, by not nearly enough women being inspired by Matthew, that alone probably won’t be enough to make the sort of impact the governing body is looking for, hence why it is planning to increase the number of female coaches in Scotland, offer and market more beginner programmes to a female audience, create specific golf and coaching programmes for girls and work with schools and within communities all while “showcasing golf as a welcoming sport for women”.

All of that sounds great and there can be no denying, surely, that clubs would be the beneficiaries in the long term, especially at a time when the membership boost delivered during the Covid pandemic, when people turned to golf at a time when other sports were not permitted, has worn off. After increasing since 2019, the total membership figure for the 560-odd clubs affiliated to Scottish Golf dropped last year, albeit by just 0.1 per cent across the board. Which means that “stability” in that respect is Scottish Golf’s goal for 2024/25 before then aiming to increase it by two per cent in both 2025/26 and 2026/27. “We have worked hard to stabilise the organisation and put in place a clear strategy to continue to grow the game of golf in Scotland through to 2027,” the board, which will have Fraser Thornton as it’s interim chair after Martin Gilbert steps down at the end of his three-year stint at the AGM, stated in its outline statement to clubs about a proposal to raise the per capita affiliation fee by £3 to £17.50.

It’s right to point out that hasn’t been increased since 2018 and, no matter how hard anyone tries, you are always going to get people questioning what they actually get directly as individual in return for that and, let’s not beat about the bush, Scottish Golf hasn’t exactly done itself any favours at times since its inauguration in 2015. Lots of hard work lies ahead, which has to include clear lines of communication with other organisations also now heavily involved in the delivery of junior events and coaching, but at least the key targets are known and now it will be down to those member clubs in particular if the big push with women’s and girls’ golf gets the green light,

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The woman I mentioned at the start of this column went for golf lessons along with my wife, who jokes that it was “only for the coffee and biscuits that were also on offer”, before family life took over, but seeing her now out on the golf course certainly shows there has to be some potential mileage with this particular strategy and it will be down those involved to deliver the required impact.



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