The loss of 50,000 members over the last 10 years suggests that something is wrong in Scottish golf clubs, with Scottish Golf non-executive director Stewart Darling pinpointing factors such as an ageing demographic and failure to attract sufficient youngsters into the game.
Has the game really lost its appeal in its birthplace? We asked that question in undertaking four case studies into the sport and, while it is certainly not all doom and gloom due to the fact it continues to provide fun for all ages, there is no doubt that some aspects are not being helpful in terms of either keeping people in the game or enticing them to become club members.
Just starting out: Hannah Darling, 14, school pupil
When I started out in golf, I’ve got to admit the reaction from my friends wasn’t very positive. I was playing a sport that most others my age didn’t play – a normal girl my age would be into dancing or gymnastics, I suppose – and, in truth, it was seen as an old person’s game.
As I have progressed, though, and got a lot better – I managed to become the youngest-ever Scottish Girls’ champion last year – it has changed. All my friends are now very supportive and that’s huge.
I have my brother to thank for me getting into game, really. He had a memebership at Broomieknowe, where I’m now a member, and he was going to give it up when he got into football.
I was at the age where my dad said, “why don’t you give it a shot”, so I took over my brother’s membership at nine and started in the ladies’ section.
I started playing in medals and 12-hole winter tournaments and the women were all very welcoming to me. It’s kind of like a family at Broomieknowe and they all sort of took me under their wing straight away.
Though it has started to grow now, there wasn’t a junior section back then, really, and I had to compete against the women, which I suppose hasn’t done me any harm. The same applies to my friends not really understanding why I had taken up golf. I think them slagging me almost made me want to go out and do well in golf. I like to think of golf as being a cool sport, but I know that others think it is boring. They say that at school but people need to experience it and see how exciting it can be. Something as simple as having a putt for a birdie can give you a great feeling. Until you get that, I think it can be hard to push kids into playing golf.
I’ve already had some success, so I’m grateful I got into golf. Now I am looking forward to seeing what lies ahead in the future. I will often stand thinking I’ve got a putt to win a big tournament or to win the Solheim Cup for Europe.
I am trying to help grow the game and that’s part of the reason I try to do as well as I can. There are a few young girls coming through at Broomieknowe and I want to inspire them.
Lost to the game: Frank O’Donnell, 47, journalist
I was once a very keen golfer and through my teens I was a member of three clubs in Edinburgh: Duddingston, the Merchants and Edinburgh Thistle at the Braids.
I would often play five or six days a week and some days 36 holes or more. But over the last ten years I’ve played very little and my last round was back in July 2016.
I’m not alone. Of the others in my social group, few now play regularly – families and life have taken precedence.
When there’s a group dynamic, you get other people pushing you to play but, when people start dropping out of the group, that changes.
From my perspective, I also think golf could be more welcoming to newcomers. When I was growing up, juniors were tolerated rather than encouraged.
I also remember when I recently moved house I telephoned my local course. The secretary wasn’t friendly and asked if I had a member to propose me.
I didn’t as I had just moved into the area and that was that. Privately, I thought to myself, “Golf courses are struggling, why are these barriers in place?” If I had phoned the local gym they’d have been glad to take my money.
It does feel of odd that I no longer play a game that I once loved so much. My room as a teenager was full of golf magazines. I had them piled high with pages ripped out on Jack Nicklaus giving advice on your backswing and Tom Watson on the short game. I think I will probably resume golf in later years when I have a bit more time.
Slow play is definitely an issue and cost is too. When you come out of golf, you start to look at the cost of other sports and realise they are a lot cheaper.
I’d spend around £2,000 on equipment when I was playing golf, but it costs me a fraction of that to play tennis, which is now my main sport. I can play in trainers and a racket can be under £100.
I think golf has rested on its laurels for many years. The question is whether it can now rouse itself and move with the times.
Playing as a nomad: Stephen Comes, 47, police officer
I’m not a member of a club and never have been, but I am very passionate about my golf, so grab a game anywhere I can. I normally play with a few friends that I work with and we go to various clubs, using the apps available to get a deal for a tee time.
Recently, we’ve been playing at Darley in Troon, while we also play at Windyhill and Dullatur and, earlier this week, we had a game at Westerwood close to Cumbernauld.
I think the dearest we have paid is £22 for Darley, whereas the rest of the time it is normally in the teens. One of the downsides of not being a club member, of course, is that I don’t have a handicap, though that is not really a major priority, to be honest.
My golfing requirements are being fulfilled without me having to become a member, although I have been thinking about that more recently.
I’ve not settled on anywhere in particular and it also depends what clubs you are looking to join. I know a lot of them are fairly expensive when you have a joining fee and then the yearly subscription on top of that, which I think is driving some people away from the game.
You won’t get people paying £2,500 to play there when there are other clubs actively pursuing new members by waiving the joining fee and then setting annual fees that are a bit more realistic and affordable.
Pastime for life: Denys Flaherty, 72, retired
If you really get into it, golf gets under your skin and that has certainly been the case for me.I started playing as a teenager at Swanston, have been a member at Liberton since 1969 and was club captain there before joining the Lothians Golf Association Executive and subsequently serving as president of that fine body.
There is no doubt that the club scene in particular has changed over the years. When I first became a member, I got in with a good group of guys and we played every weekend basically. We’d say “cheerio” to our wives at lunchtime and didn’t get back until 6 or 7 o’clock at night.That just doesn’t happen these days and that’s had an impact on golf clubs.
Unfortunately, the game has also become a lot slower over the years, but I’m not too sure about tricking things up like introducing nine-hole events. For me, golf is about 18 holes. But, if that’s going to attract people into the game, then fair enough. However, please don’t take the fun out of the game.
Golf tests your character. It tests your honesty. It tests your ability to suffer defeat as Kipling would want us to, ie taking it on the chin and being as gracious in victory as you would hope to be accepting defeat. All these characteristics are part of why golf is a fantastic sport.
The worrying thing for me is that there are too many golf clubs for those people who want to be members. I want to see clubs flourishing but, at the same time, some golf clubs need to go to the wall. I obviously hope it’s not mine, but it’s an economic fact.