New Scottish Golf chair to target women golfers

Alistair Dunsmuir
By Alistair Dunsmuir January 12, 2016 12:24

The new chair of Scottish Golf has said she will use her high-level business experience to try and get more women to play golf.

She will do this by encouraging golf clubs to market to families and offer shorter formats of the game. She also wants golf clubs to think creatively about what they can offer customers, by for example, becoming a base for local cyclists and not just golfers.

Scottish Golf is the new governing body for amateur golf in Scotland, formed by the merger of the all-male Scottish Golf Union and the Scottish Ladies’ Golfing Association at the end of last year. It features a nine-strong board of directors, all with extensive business experience, and comes at a time when many Scottish golf clubs are suffering financial hardships, with participation and memberships in decline in recent years.

Its new chair is the head-hunted Eleanor Cannon, former global head of customer service at Tesco PLC and corporate affairs director at Scottish & Newcastle PLC, who has latterly been running a successful executive coaching business.

eleanor cannon

Eleanor Cannon

Cannon, a member at Ranfurly Castle Golf Club, indicated that research that shows that golf clubs can address their financial plights if they tap into the potential interest from women shows what the best way forward for the industry is.

She said: “The remit is to grow golf among those people who don’t understand it. It just so happens the biggest, most obvious opportunity is to do that with women.

“Only 14 percent of golf club members in Scotland are women – but it’s not just about converting women to play golf. It’s about making them understand that it is a great sport for youngsters to learn and get them into clubs.

“One of the things that has changed in the last 20 years is that men and women both work. That has changed family life.

“It’s now about developing formats so that families enjoy playing together. Some clubs are already doing it but we have to work with the others so that there are means by which people can play golf quicker.

“In my view, golf needs a similar strategy to cricket. They asked themselves who the non-spectators were – and the answer was families.

“Instead of five-day test cricket, they needed to come up with something that was dynamic, much faster and great television. That’s how Twenty20 cricket was born.

04-09 eleanor cannon EJC

“Like cricket, we need to be looking at much quicker six-hole and nine-hole formats, not just 18.

“Similarly, the whole environment has to be far more conducive to family life in a digital age.

“How many businesses do you know who have a chief executive who looks after the men and another who looks after the women – and then they change both every year?

“That’s how the golf model works.

“You only need one board with one leader and you don’t need separate ladies’ and men’s sections.

“Separate changing rooms, yes – but there’s no reason why men and women shouldn’t be playing in competitions together.

“We need the mums of the future to see the sport in a different way and for young people to be welcomed into the clubs.”

She said that at Tesco she had to understand her customers’ needs – something that golf clubs need to do now.

“What we did was give staff much more discretion. That allowed us to take out several layers of management who were just policing,” she said.

“Along with initiatives, we managed to get many more customers.

“The message was, ‘no matter who you are, you’re there to understand customers, deliver their needs and provide a brilliant service.’

“This is all relevant to the challenge we face in golf.”

nine hole hopton short course

Will shorter courses attract more women to play the game? Image by Hopton 9 Hole Golf Course

She also has a clear vision for clubs in Scotland.

“We want to see stronger clubs, in terms of clubs thriving and being very much part of the community. Some clubs certainly are already, but there may still be ways that we can add value – in terms of opening up innovative ideas, different formats of the game, participation and accessibility. We are here to help and support all clubs, including those that are finding it tough and need to engage with their local community in a different way,” she stated.

“We also want to boost membership and promote a unified game, as we have to start talking about golfers, rather than men and women.

“I want to see the facilities at the golf club becoming more of a hub for the local community. All sports are seeking to attract new members. So it’s not just about getting more people to play golf, it’s about getting them into the clubhouse to use the facilities. Cycling has seen a massive boost in the last few years, but they I’m sure would like a base from which to cycle. The golf club could offer that by sharing facilities. Collaboration like that between all local clubs is one way ahead.

Scottish Golf Union AGM Stirling Court Hotel  Hamish Grey, Chief Executive SGU  Pic Kenny Smith, Kenny Smith Photography 6 Bluebell Grove, Kelty, Fife, KY4 0GX  Tel 07809 450119,

Hamish Grey, the new chief executive of Scottish Golf. Kenny Smith Photography

“To achieve that, we have to use what we have to offer centrally to its best effect locally. It’s about research. We need to consult with members of clubs to see what they think about how the game can grow. Then we can use those insights to advise them about what to do. The real secret is communication and making it as effective as possible between the executive organisation and the clubs.

“Many people who don’t play see it as an old-fashioned game. But if we can communicate the values that golf engenders in terms of transparency and honesty and self-governing, then we have a chance. It is a wonderful sport that has a great spirit and is one that can be played in a very safe environment. For me, golf is exactly in keeping with the family values that the vast majority of Scottish people hold dear. It’s about honesty. It’s about being outside. It’s about playing with your whole family. It’s the original generation game.”


Alistair Dunsmuir
By Alistair Dunsmuir January 12, 2016 12:24
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  1. Adam P Smith February 24, 22:26

    The 14% figure mentioned in the article is holding steady since 2011 – that’s not cause for celebration though as the actual hard numbers beneath it show a drop-off in club memberships of over 3,000 women and a further 300 lady juniors in that time. Yet 51% of the Scottish population are women! So Ms Cannon can only be a star by getting the 14% share up…never follow a superstar as they say. Well she can only improve things unless the SGU malaise drags her down too. I do wonder how Hamish Grey’s performance is measured? Time for him to show some positive results in his next Annual Report. Time for him to be getting club membership recruitment going up for a change. Come on Hamish, I dare you to respond.

    Reply to this comment
  2. A Chinaski January 21, 13:15

    We’ve been following this model for 15 years. A short 9 hole course outside Glasgow with a majority of lady members. Unfortunately for 15 years the bigwigs and blazers in ScottishGolf have continually told us that we don’t have a proper golf course, it’s too short and not real golf as “only” 9 holes..

    Hopefully this isn’t just another excuse for ScottishGolf to create a new department and hire another two project managers and two admin. assistants and spend more of their public budget internally. The only growth ScottishGolf has seen in the last 8 years is the ridiculous number of staffing positions, expert consultants and salary spend within the quango.

    Good luck Ms Cannon, hope you have success in culling all the dead wood within your quango. Especially the ones still floating around and collecting a stipend that oversaw the Drumoig fiasco.

    Reply to this comment
  3. S. Forrest January 13, 14:49

    Great idea. As a lady golfer myself and the owner of a lady specialist golf tour operating company which has grown from strength to strength I know and understand the complexities of women in golf and the intricacies associated with encouraging more ladies into golf, in fact the Red Tee Tour, a lady only golf tournament is testimony to this desire to grow golf in this sector.
    Sarah Forrest
    Red Tee Breaks
    Happy to help

    Reply to this comment
  4. Arthur Little January 12, 20:40

    In answer to the question about length of courses and women, that is the most critical issue.
    I wrote a paper for the PGA of America last year about course set up for the average woman golfer.
    I would strongly suggest that Eleanor get a copy of this document. I’d be happy to send it if she
    or someone she designates emails me.
    Arthur Little

    Reply to this comment
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