Sponsors support Scotland’s new unified golf body

The SGU's sponsorship manager Ross Duncan, left, Belhaven sales director Gordon Muir and Neil McRae of GolfKings, right. Picture: SNS
The SGU's sponsorship manager Ross Duncan, left, Belhaven sales director Gordon Muir and Neil McRae of GolfKings, right. Picture: SNS
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HE STOPPED short of adding the bit about a bargepole, but Ross Duncan got his message across. “In the past, companies said that they would not touch us if it was something only for male golfers,” said the Scottish Golf Union’s marketing & sponsorship manager.

There are always exceptions, of course, and two new deals worth an estimated £50,000 have just been struck for men-only events – one that will see the final of the Belhaven Best Scottish Club Handicap Championship held in Turkey and the other securing a new title sponsor, Spire Edinburgh Hospitals, for the Scottish Seniors’ Championship.

We are trying to add value to being a member of a golf club in Scotland

Ross Duncan

However, Duncan is already seeing fewer doors being slammed in his face as a result of the exhausting process to create a unified body to run Scottish amateur golf finally getting over the line, the result of which will be the emergence of Scottish Golf Ltd on 1 October as the men’s body, the SGU, comes under the same umbrella as the women’s organisation, the Scottish Ladies Golfing Association.

“From my point of view, it was massive to see the amalgamation go through,” he said of a proposal that gained overwhelming support from the stakeholders in both long-standing bodies at the second time of asking earlier this year. “If you remember, sportscotland said at the time (just before the initial vote in May 2011 that failed to win sufficient support from the SGU’s Area Associations) that public funding of golf could be reduced.

“That threat didn’t come to anything, thankfully, and in the interim we managed to bring in Scottish Hydro as a new sponsor. But the amalgamation has helped because, as well as some brands just targeting male golfers, corporate politics had changed. There was more pressure on companies to make sure women get their place in the sun.”

Having supported the Scottish Club Handicap Championship since 1999, Belhaven is the SGU’s longest-standing sponsor. It supplies beer to 200 golf clubs and has a vastly predominant male target market, but sales director Gordon Muir agreed that Scottish golf falling into line with most other countries by having an amalgamated governing body is a good thing. “Our core target are male, but there are lots of ladies who enjoy a pint as well,” he said.

With 20,000 club members taking part in local qualifying each year, the Belhaven-backed event is already the biggest participation event in Scottish golf. Its attraction is now likely to be even greater due to the fact a final featuring 20 club pairings will be held in Turkey next February – the first time the SGU has staged one of its championships overseas.

The Regnum Carya Golf & Spa Resort in Belek will play host to the event, having come on board as new partners along with Turkish Airlines and travel company GolfKings. Every club in Scotland can host a qualifying event, with the winners going forward to four regional finals – at Uphall, Nairn Dunbar, Erskine and Downfield – in August. The leading five pairings in each of those events will then do battle on 6-7 February. “It is a very exciting development for us and one we hope will capture the imagination of club golfers,” said Duncan. “It’s free to play in, so is a reward for being a club member and we are trying to add value to being a member of clubs in Scotland.” While women can play in another Belhaven Best-sponsored event, the Captains & Secretaries Championship, this particular one is for men only, though that could change once the new structure is in place. “The whole competition structure is part of an ongoing review, but this is something we would be looking to do for female golfers,” admitted Duncan. “It might be a mixed event, perhaps as a one-off, to celebrate the first year of the new unified body.”

As well as becoming the new title sponsor for the Scottish Seniors Championship, which is being held next week at Deeside, private healthcare provider Spire Edinburgh Hospitals are also offering “special offers” to rank-and-file senior golfers if they register for the Scottish Golf Membership Card. Launched last year, 48,500 people have signed up for it.

“We are trying to add value to being a member of a golf club in Scotland,” said Duncan. “Getting all 218,000 golfers in this country to register is the Holy Grail for the Scottish Golf Membership Card, but our initial target was 50,000 and if we can get half of that overall total that would be big news as it helps attract sponsors as it means they are getting a bigger audience.

“The biggest criticism in the past has been that club members don’t know what we do, but our website now has 40,000 unique users per month. That is increasing all the time and a lot more people are aware of the SGU now than five years ago.”

With RBS no longer involved, a search is taking place to find a new sponsor for clubgolf, the national junior initiative, while the Scottish Boys’ Championship has no backer at present. Both tasks could fall to the SGU’s new commercial manager, Brian Mair, who also believes the move towards amalgamating with the SLGA offers “huge opportunities”. While he’s left the Gleneagles-based PGA in Scotland to take up his new role, Mair insisted he had no intention of trying to take sponsors with him. “There’s no point robbing Peter to pay Paul,” he said.