Meeting showed ‘golf at its worst’

Seamus Rotherick
By Seamus Rotherick February 28, 2013 04:52

The manager of an English golf club has said that a recent county golf meeting that he attended showed golf “at its worst”.

The anonymous manager told Golf Club Management that many of the positive initiatives carried out by golf clubs that were highlighted at the meeting were undermined by the attitude of an “old guard that is against progress that continues to lurk under the surface”.

“For example,” he said, “many clubs have seen drops in membership levels and are running up overdrafts. But offers of free golf lessons for beginners by the county golf partnership were met with opposition by two people representing two golf clubs who said: ‘New golfers just clog up our courses. We don’t want beginner golfers – we just want golfers with handicaps.’ Most depressing was that their comments were applauded by many others.”

He added that some of the comments from attendees suggested that some clubs are not being run as professional businesses.

One club that is in debt to the tune of a seven-figure amount had just spent a large amount of money on an unessential clubhouse refurbishment project, for example.

“Another club’s spokesman told me they make golf cheap for the elderly but expensive for youngsters – over 80s get an 80 per cent discount. He said: ‘They’ve made the club what it is, so they deserve cheaper golf, but young people have to pay for their lifestyle,’” said the manager.

“This truly is golf at its worst!”

He added that the meeting did also showcase how some golf clubs are tackling the difficult financial climate in order to improve their fiscal performances.

“There have been many green shoots of progress,” he said, “especially with inclusive clubs that have helped juniors come through. But this has been against the traditional backdrop of old fashioned dress codes and subscription bias towards senior memberships that is opposed to change.

“The very least golf club committee members can do is acknowledge the efforts being made by their county officers on their behalf, and applaud and support them. Such negative comments from the old guard can be so discouraging for those struggling with membership issues.

“In my experience club or committee members often tell you how the downturn doesn’t affect them and that their club is doing all right. Then you find out from the club’s manager, who actually knows what’s going on, that the club is, in fact, in trouble.”

Has your club encountered opposition to necessary change from an ‘old guard’ of members? Please detail any stories in the comment fields below


Seamus Rotherick
By Seamus Rotherick February 28, 2013 04:52
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  1. Kerry Scott April 9, 15:28

    Why am I not surprised that different people see issues in a different way? Many of the so-called old-guard started playing golf and joined clubs in a totally different environment than exists today and they are comfortable in that world. Why should they be castigated for it as they were brought up with membership waiting lists and golf membership being quite exclusive? Many of them might regard the changes as detrimental to their enjoyment of the game. Golf is a game that requires its participants to have high regard for each other, an example being that you cannot play faster than the group in front and concentration is not easy if a fellow player is screaming and shouting!

    However, this group who represent many of those who nurtured and promoted the game in the past and ensured that it promoted the finest traditions of sportsmanship, are slowly being replaced by a new breed who regard golf as a business in competition with many other sports for the leisure market. This is what we know as evolution!!

    In order for golf to remain healthy, the game needs clubs to adapt and offer services and facilities that meet the needs of their members and prospective members. This will mean changes for clubs that wish to attract younger members e.g families, different socio-economic or ethnic groups. For other clubs, who wish to serve a more traditional clientèle, changes may not need to be so great, at least in the short term. It would be a disaster if all golf clubs offered the same formula, there would be no choice and the game would likely lose many players who value diversity.

    So my thought is – Horses for Courses. Let’s have different clubs serving different needs. There will be clubs, both proprietary and member owned, who do this well; they will prosper. There will be others that don’t manage themselves well; they will struggle and perhaps fail.
    County Golf Partnerships are the principal vehicle for helping clubs understand the market they are in, take advantage of national sport participation initiatives, and develop their products to ensure they can face the future with confidence.

    Reply to this comment
  2. (@golfenvironment) March 4, 12:00

    Interesting article, we all know which approach is better for sustainability » Meeting showed ‘golf at its worst’

    Reply to this comment
  3. @QueenieQantas March 2, 08:11

    “@AlDunsmuir: County golf meeting

    showed ‘golf at its worst’”

    Comments please!

    Reply to this comment
  4. @SouthCerneyGolf March 1, 22:52

    » Meeting showed ‘golf at its worst’ the game will never progress until attitudes change.. #golfforall

    Reply to this comment
  5. Matthew Orwin March 1, 16:46

    Anyone working in the industry in the UK will not be surprised in the slightest.

    I have to say though, if the County Golf Partnership is focusing all their efforts on the beginner market alone (especially Juniors), the impact will be too late. Golf clubs are in financial trouble TODAY. Waiting until we’ve nurtured complete beginners into regular full-course play and therefore membership or green fee revenue will be too late (especially if you’re seven figures in the red).

    I’d like to see some specific programmes to re-introduce golfers back into the game who got out of the habit during the recent poor winters. Following more of a “get BACK into golf” theme will see quicker results. Golf’s habitual and there’s a large audience who’ve lost the habit. They don’t need free lessons. They need something else to get them playing again – just the once or twice to re-ignite the habit.

    And just to add a controversial note, let’s look at history. During the late 1980’s/early 1990’s the game experienced a HUGE surge in participation. How much of this was due to pro-active Junior initiatives in the 1950’s/1960’s? How much was due to free golf lessons dished out in the 1980’s/early 1990’s? Not a fat lot I’d suggest. We need to look beyond free golf lessons – these are not the only answer.

    Reply to this comment
    • Alistair Dunsmuir March 1, 17:15

      Matthew – there was a huge surge in new golf facilities in the early 90s, but I didnt think there was an increase in golfers in that time. I thought that was part of the reason why long waiting lists became long vacancy lists over the 1990-2010 period?

      Reply to this comment
      • Matthew Orwin March 1, 18:28

        Well there really was – I promise!

        Reply to this comment
        • Stephen March 4, 12:27

          The reason for partnerships having more focus this year is due to funding. As far as I am aware from conversations at these levels, unlike last year where partnerships could target and invest in a scatter of different area’s – this year they have been told what area to work in, and focus in.
          These reports don’t even shock me anymore, and neither do clubs closing due to 60 years of unrealistic focus. If senior members of clubs want to run their club as a hobby location, let them – its business minded clubs that will survive and I strongly believe that partnerships involvement in that at any level or investment or time will be where the major rewards will come from. What should be said is that clubs that voice these “feelings” and openly speak out against what their Union ask for support in – shouldn’t be allowed to expect help in return when they are faced with closure. There is a business plan there, if its ignored, what can you do.

          Reply to this comment
  6. Richard Penley-Martin March 1, 16:32

    Having worked for a quality golf club in the South that at times was unrealistic about its attractiveness to players, I now manage a very traditional ‘premier league’ club in the North East that appreciate that the days of ‘build it & they will come’ have gone for all but the best & that they don’t want to wait until the writing is on the wall before doing someting to secure the future of the Club. Average age of nearly 70 but embracing Twitter, LinkedIn (Facebook when I get a moment to create it!), as well as modern membership options (but not flexible memberships) for minority groups. Being proactive is going to allow them to maintain what they have & value without having to change too much.

    Reply to this comment
  7. Neil Plimmer February 28, 19:16

    I know that there are plenty of clubs, coaches and volunteers out there who are busy planting seeds and watering them to create the green shoots you are talking about. Attended MANY of these meetings and have had MANY of these conversations! Has NEVER put me off doing what i do! As long as there are enough gardeners out there then the people who are happy with the dogma of golf clubs will slowly see the efforts that these people are going to. Celebrate and share the great initiatives that will show these people that the sport has to continue to look at itself and adapt to the needs of ALL its participants (and those that have not tried the game yet) Please take a look at in our news section of how Royal Eastbourne Golf Club is utilising the JOLF programme to attract new players.

    Reply to this comment
  8. @ispygolfpro February 28, 13:25

    ‘Golf at it’s worst’ @AlDunsmuir Doesn’t surprise me!

    Reply to this comment
  9. Alan John Bough (@AlanBough) February 28, 11:09

    » Meeting showed ‘golf at its worst’

    Reply to this comment
  10. Brian Inglis February 28, 10:00

    Interesting experiences, and I do agree that such occasions can be rather soul destroying. Ricky Gervais would have a field day with some of the characters you come across!
    Beginners and new members ARE an inconvenience to the people described here, there’s no doubt about that. They might want to play between 8 and 10 am on a Sunday morning, or attend a social function or go on the Captain/Pro weekend, and the regulars don’t want that. The regulars want it to stay the way it is until they’re gone……and that is a serious barrier for golf to scale, but scale it we must.

    Reply to this comment
  11. Golfing Journalist (@AlDunsmuir) February 28, 06:49

    County golf meeting involving an ‘old guard of golfers who are opposed to change’ showed ‘golf at its worst’

    Reply to this comment
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