The top 40 trends of 2015

Alistair Dunsmuir
By Alistair Dunsmuir December 22, 2015 06:42

The year 2015 was fascinating for the golf club industry. It started with a wake-up call – Rory McIlroy’s failure to win the BBC Sports Personality of the Year prize, despite a sensational 2014, gave a jolt to the industry that showed the sport was not as popular as it once was, and this, in turn, gave more authority to some golf club managers and industry associations to deliver a raft of initiatives throughout the year that were intended to boost participation in the sport, and membership at clubs.

But what were the biggest trends of 2015?

Tania Longmire and Alistair Dunsmuir have compiled their annual top trends list:

40. The golf industry did more for people with disabilities than ever before

From individual stories like Mid Sussex Golf Club creating a 56-inch-long putter with three twists in it so that a local cerebral palsy sufferer could play golf to generic ones like the launch of a guide that teaches clubs how to reach out to deaf people, it was a great year for golf and people with disabilities.


Other case studies included Padbrook Park running a taster session for the Exeter Deaf Academy, the School of Golf at Little Channels setting up a ‘Discover Golf’ project with the City of Chelmsford Mencap group, Hatchford Brook hosting a golf festival for local special educational needs schools and Boringdon Park connecting to the Plymouth Deaf Children’s Society.


39. Despite the economic difficulties, golf courses were still being developed

The £100m golf resort planned for Bushmills Dunes in Northern Ireland was shelved, but plans to redevelop the derelict Woolsington Hall in Newcastle into a £23m five-star hotel with spa complex, golf course and restaurant were approved by Newcastle City Council and Arnold Palmer announced that his company will begin construction work on a second course at Castle Stuart in Scotland shortly.



38. A club used crowdfunding to raise money

Golf clubs have been thwarted by banks when it comes to raising revenues for years, so many have turned to members to finance projects, but in 2015 a German company went to the internet to source half a million euros to build an inclusive golf course in Munich.

It is thought it was the first time that crowdfunding had ever been used in golf and it was a staggering success – the money was raised within two weeks.




37. Facilities started chasing the Chinese yuan

With so many millionaires in China interested in golf and travelling to the UK, and the UK government this year relaxing visa restrictions on people from China visiting the country, golf clubs were keen to make money out of the opportunity.

A delegation from Highland Golf Links (HGL) made a pitch at the China Golf Show in Beijing in 2015, with Neil Hampton, general manager of Royal Dornoch Golf Club, and Stephen Laurie, sales manager at Kingsmills Hotel in Inverness, at the event.

Mr Hampton said: “Golf has grown rapidly in China. The volume of people in China means that even the smallest percentage increase in tourism turns into a very large number visiting Scotland.”



36. The finger of blame for golf’s economic problems got pointed at club committees

There are several reasons why many clubs have struggled in the last few years, and the core reasons are a drop in the number of people playing golf and fewer people being members of clubs.

But in 2015 analysis was carried out of what was underlying the issues – and in one famous case golf club committees were blamed.

Student Tom Bowen was given a four-figure business grant to develop a voucher product that people can buy to give them eight rounds of golf at any club that has signed up to it. Several clubs expressed interest in the product, but only one signed up to it.

“I’m trying to sign up as many as possible but the problem comes when they say that they have to take it to their committee. It’s a real challenge to get them to sign the contract,” he said.

“It’s no wonder some of the golf clubs are losing members. The committee structure really puts off change.”


35. A rival to golf became apparent: cycling

Two reports in 2015 revealed a correlation between the decline in participation in golf and the growth in the number of cyclists over the last 20 years.

The World Travel Market (WTM) Global Trends Report found that in the USA the number of golfers dropped by 24 percent between 2000 and 2013, while the number of cyclists rose by nine percent in just one year from 2012 to 2013.


“The net result is that cycling appears to have become a strong contender for the leisure time of middle-aged men, the traditional mainstay of golf tourism,” stated the report.

This follows figures from Sport England that found that there are now about three times as many regular cyclists as there are regular golfers – a massive change from just 20 years ago.



34. Proactive clubs, especially ones that have launched flexible membership schemes, are still recruiting new members

Proactive clubs, especially ones that have launched flexible membership schemes, are still recruiting new members

It’s not true to say that all clubs have struggled in the last few years, as many, such as several that have launched flexible membership schemes, have thrived. The ones that have performed the strongest have tended to be proactive at recruiting new members.

For example, an ‘easy and affordable’ scheme to teach golf to beginners, in which golfers purchased lessons at a cheap price that could be redeemed at any one of three golf clubs in Sheffield or one in Chesterfield, over a three-month period, led to new members at all four golf clubs.



33. Speedgolf is getting more popular

More golf clubs in 2015 trialled ‘Speedgolf’, which involves a normal round of golf in which the score is calculated both by a mixture of the fewest number of strokes and the time it took the participant to play the course.


Beauchief Golf Course in Sheffield and Chartham Park Golf Club in West Sussex both had Speedgolf events for the first time, while the inaugural British Speedgolf Championships were held at the Boars Head Golf Centre in East Sussex at the end of 2014.



32. Urban Golf briefly became massive

This might be a passing fad, but in May Cross Golf or Urban Golf became huge.

The game involves using clubs to hit slightly softer balls against targets, such as bicycles and bins, in as few shots as possible, and can be played in urban areas. London hosted two major Cross Golf events – the UK Cross Golf Open and the European Urban Golf Cup (EUGC), at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, and it was reported on BBC News in the UK and CNN in the USA.


Cross Golf or Urban Golf is being seen as a way to attract people, especially youngsters from deprived urban areas who would never normally play golf, to take up the game.



31. Some clubs led the way on helping the environment

Coventry Golf Club, for example, was hailed as Britain’s most environmentally friendly golf club after it became the first in England to be re-certified to the eco GEO standard.

The club built a close relationship with the Warwickshire Wildlife Trust and created wildlife boxes and log piles along with a new wildflower area providing good opportunities for a range of pollinators, birds and small mammals. The creation of an artificial otter holt in a disused irrigation pump house on the golf club’s grounds even led to otters settling in.


Meanwhile, at Elsham Golf Club, wide expanses of grassland were taken out of regular cutting, at St Andrews several areas of the Eden and Strathtyrum courses were scarified, resulting in a thinning of the more dense grasslands, allowing wildflowers to come through naturally, at Bowood Golf and Country Club large areas of grassland, in out of play areas of the course, were allowed to grow to maturity and at Ely City Golf Club, wildflower areas were created across the golf course.


30. Golfers began ‘surfing’ fairways

It all started at West Bolton Golf Club in the USA, which brought in devices that were ‘part skateboards, part Segways and part buggies’, which allow golfers to ‘surf fairways’ between shots, dramatically speeding up play. The publicity that we gave it led to three golf clubs in the UK, The Hertfordshire, Paultons and Sherfield Oaks, hiring similar machines, called GolfBoards, this summer.


Simon Blanshard at Paultons Golf Centre in Hampshire said: “Golfers start out sceptical, but they come back every time and people are now coming here to play just because we have them to rent.”



29. Three and even four clubs began merging into one

One way struggling golf clubs have coped with the economic downturn is to merge with each other and this trend continued in 2015.

The Northern, Bon Accord and Caledonian golf clubs in Aberdeen joined forces to form Aberdeen Links Golf Club for example, while it was proposed that four Dundee clubs: Monifieth Golf Links, rated the 47th best course in Scotland according to, which was officially established in 1858, although its course is described as the 16th oldest in the world, as it dates back to 1845, Broughty Golf Club, which has been in existence since 1878, Ladies Panmure Golf Club, another venue that was established in the 19th century, and Grange Golf Club, which was established more recently, form one club.



28. Clubs had AAA screenings

In 2015 a new trend started that saw golf clubs receive free Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm (AAA) screenings for their members.

AAA screening teams approached golf clubs to offer their services. They provide simple ultrasound scans which can detect if an AAA, which occurs when the aorta, the main blood vessel in the body, weakens and expands, has appeared. If untreated, AAAs can lead to a rupture of the aorta, which creates a serious risk of death due to internal bleeding. Around 3,000 people – mostly old age male pensioners – die every year from ruptured AAAs.

Retford Golf Club in Nottinghamshire, for example, had 25 of its male members screened, and an AAA was picked up on one of them.

The screening team detected member David Moore’s aneurysm in its early stages and he was entered into a 12-monthly surveillance programme to keep an eye on the condition.



27. Golf still attracted its range of bizarre stories

What is it about golf clubs and unusual stories?

In 2015 a woman was given a fine for running an illegal teeth whitening business at one club, Calverley Golf and Country Club in Yorkshire was left with a £100,000 bill after several loose horses ran over the course, Chelsfield Lakes Golf Centre in Kent dealt with one media storm when the press said it had suspended one of its greenkeepers, after he allowed a neighbouring animal sanctuary to take some of its irrigation water in an emergency, and Whetstone Golf Club in Leicestershire dealt with another after three members resigned and another was suspended when a story appeared that an unnamed woman complained to a member of staff when she heard a female member say ‘that’s put me right off my food’ as she breastfed her baby in the clubhouse.



26. The industry worked even more closely together

Another way clubs have coped is by working more closely with each other, in recent years this has been exemplified by the growth of reciprocal deals in which members of one club are given free access to the course of another.

This took on a new dimension in 2015 when, for example, the UK’s largest golf club owner and operator, Crown Golf, offered its management skill-set, ‘Open Play Affiliation’ scheme and purchasing power to any golf club in the UK.


Another case of clubs working more closely together came with the Pennines Golf Trail, in which five golf clubs along the Pennines, Clitheroe GC, Woodsome Hall GC, Huddersfield GC, Manchester GC and Pleasington GC, joined forces to offer tourists a ‘golf trail’ featuring ‘scenic beauty’.


25. Despite the doom and gloom, overall rounds of golf played are slowly going up

There is a lot of negativity about golf participation and membership levels at the moment, but 2015 did bring some good news: the numbers of rounds plays was actually up compared to 2014.

It was only one percent (for the first three quarters, and participation fell quite dramatically in the third quarter compared with 2014) but it is, overall, good news and it means that the first nine months of 2015 saw the most rounds of golf played since 2011. Weekly participation in England also saw a small rise compared with 2014.



24. More juniors than ever before are being exposed to golf

Many golf clubs, especially via their PGA professionals, have been proactively attracting juniors to the game, and this seemed to step up in 2015.

For example, Windermere Golf Club fostered such a strong partnership with Grasmere Primary School in Cumbria that the school has put golf on its curriculum for the next four years. In 2015 the England Golf Trust was also set up to provide grants and bursaries for boys and girls who need financial help to play the game.


Former world number one golfer Rory McIlory said that more children will play golf if the world’s best golfers have more athletic bodies.

“If more golfers look athletic, it portrays a much better image for the game. That encourages kids to maybe pick up the sport or pick up a club and maybe it encourages parents to get them into golfing as well. Because maybe 15 to 20 years ago the image of golf wasn’t athletic, it wasn’t the way it is now and Tiger has changed that. If you look at some of the younger guys, the look is much different. I think that is a great thing for golf,” he said.



23. Clubs and golfers continued to do exceptional work for charity

There has always been a strong link between golf clubs and charity, and 2015 was no exception.

Susan Caton, for example, the captain of Pleasington Golf Club in Blackburn, raised thousands for North West Air Ambulance, by playing 18 holes at 18 different golf courses – on the same day – for charity.

Just as impressive, Rob Walsh, the captain of Stourbridge Golf Club in the West Midlands, raised nearly £12,000 for Promise Dreams, a charity that delivers promises to sick and terminally ill children, by playing an incredible four 18-hole rounds of golf in four different countries on the same day.


Major charities targeted golf clubs to help them. The Rainbow Trust Children’s Charity called on every UK golf club to spend one hour raising funds for it in October, while the Movember Foundation teamed up with The PGA and the Organisation of Golf Range Owners (OGRO) to launch Movember Mondays – weekly events in November that encouraged new and existing golfers to discover the health and social benefits that swinging a golf club can bring


22. Legal issues over getting hit by golf balls became more prevalent

Every year, it seems, more people launch legal action against golfers and golf clubs after they have been hit by a wayward ball.

The Court of Session in Edinburgh ruled that John Ure deserved a payout of £10,000 after he suffered a head injury and was knocked to the ground following a sliced drive at Bellshill Golf Club.

Terry Gosling, 75, who wasn’t even playing golf, is suing Alford Golf Club in Scotland after he was hit in the head by a ball.

These cases follow famous stories such as that of Mary Brennan, who was awarded nearly £200,000 after she suffered a stroke when a golf ball hit her on the head, while she was standing on the clubhouse balcony at Old Conna Golf Club, and golfer Anthony Phee, who was awarded nearly £400,000 when he lost an eye after being struck by a golf ball at Niddry Castle Golf Club. Both the golfer who hit the ball and the club were ordered to pay the sum.


21. Golf’s authorities brought in more measures to help clubs

There has been a cry for a number of years that golf’s authorities have not done enough to support golf clubs during the economic downturn.

There was distinctly less of that in 2015 as, for example, England Golf brought out its most comprehensive guide ever produced to help golf clubs attract women to their venues. The organisation also published a report for golf clubs that revealed that ones that offer free golf coaching and the ability to play less than 18 holes of the game are seeing a ‘surge’ in new players and club members.


Not to be outdone, Hamish Grey, the chief executive of Scottish Golf, called on struggling golf clubs to undertake a complete change of mindset in which they must start welcoming the entire family to their venues, and not just men aged older than 50. He said one key way to bring this about would be via offering flexible memberships. “The one-stop-shop of ‘here’s our membership, take it’ is increasingly under question,” he said. “We’ve spent a lot of time researching and understanding that.”


20. The increasing number of defibrillators meant more lives were saved at golf clubs

One of the biggest trends of the last two years has been the number of golf clubs that have purchased potentially life-saving defibrillators, largely thanks to the campaign by Bernard Gallacher to get one in every British golf club.

The importance of these devices became even more clear in 2015 when the Midlands Air Ambulance Charity revealed that one in 20 of all its missions were to treat golfers who had fallen ill on a golf course.

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That story came about after it emerged that the golf development officer at Norwood Park Golf Centre in Nottinghamshire, Jackie Macey, had saved the life of golfer Danny Needham, who suffered a heart attack on the course, by using a defibrillator on him.


19. Even less top golf appeared on terrestrial television

Or at least 2015 was the final year in which the Open appeared on the BBC before moving to Sky. It was originally announced that the change would take place in 2017, and then came a surprising announcement after July that Sky would begin the live broadcast from 2016, meaning that the era of the Open on free-to-view television had already ended.


Several in the industry were furious, Alastair Griffiths, general manager of Saddleworth Golf Club in Greater Manchester, said: “Golf needs free-to-air TV coverage to survive. It seems that the appeal of the money was too great to resist, even at the expense of the very game itself.” Fynn Valley Golf Club retweeted ‘sad day for golf’, ‘could be detrimental to participation’ and ‘disgraceful, money-driven and short-sighted’. Similarly, The Buckinghamshire retweeted a post stating that the decision ‘will consign golf to the margins’ and Allendale Golf Club simply wrote ‘The Open and Sky is about megabucks we never see at the other end of the scale. Not wild, bloody livid.’


18. More clubs became victims of crime

Every year several golf clubs are victims of crime – in recent years especially trophy thefts – but in 2015 there seemed to be more reports of criminal activity than normal.

In January police urged all golf clubs in Tyneside to be extra vigilant after a series of at least five major robberies in three weeks.

In Merseyside, 19 people were arrested as part of an investigation into several thefts at golf clubs.

Riverside Golf Centre revealed that thieves stole thousands of driving range balls by hand, and several golf clubs in the Midlands joined forces in April to post pictures of a man who they believed had been robbing their pro shop, on their social media accounts.


In August Foxhills Golf Club in Surrey, Ashby Decoy Golf Club in Lincolnshire and Southerndown Golf Club in Wales all suffered robberies within the space of a few days of each other, while in one bizarre case, a greenkeeper at Cleeve Hill Golf Club in Gloucestershire saw his golf clubs on eBay after they were stolen from the club’s greenkeeping shed.


17. Golf clubs were still investing – especially in adventure golf

With the drop in membership at golf clubs in the UK over the last decade, you might think that middle end clubs in particular have less money to spend on improvements. But 2015 saw many clubs investing.

Pretty much all eight of the Manager of the Year awards finalists clubs invested in their facilities in 2015, while, for example, Portsmouth Golf Centre and Parley Golf Centre in Bournemouth both put in more than £200,000 each to improve their venues, and Hamptworth Golf and Country Club in Wiltshire pledged to invest £250,000 into its facilities.

Hersham Golf Club spent thousands on a new adventure golf course, and Broome Manor Golf Club also unveiled plans to build a new adventure golf course, which would signal an investment of more than £3 million in about two years in the complex.



16. Municipal golf clubs continued to struggle in 2015

The decade-long trend of the sharp decline of municipal golf clubs continued in 2015.

Wirral Council and West Cheshire agreed to sell-off seven municipal golf courses: Arrowe Park, Brackenwood, Bebington, The Warrens, Hooton, Knights Grange and Westminster Park. Inverclyde Council proposed closing down the area’s only municipal golf club, Whinhill Golf Course, Ealing Council stated it had plans to turn Horsenden Hill Golf Course into a mixed leisure use and Christmas tree farm, Lewisham Council announced its intention to close Beckenham Place Park Golf Course and the City of Edinburgh Council cut its annual grant to Edinburgh Leisure, which runs six golf clubs, by £0.89 million.

And at the end of 2015 Leicester City Council announced it was closing down Western Park Golf Club.


15. Wentworth made an extraordinary announcement

One of the top trends of 2014 was Britain’s leading golf clubs being sold to very wealthy foreigners, and in 2015 one of those clubs, Wentworth, made the extraordinary announcement that annual subscriptions would double from £8,000 to £16,000 for existing members from 2017, and they would have to pay a £100,000 debenture on top, and new members would have to pay a joining fee of £125,000 (the current joining fee is £15,000).


Reports circulated that this was a move by Wentworth’s new billionaire owner to cull the club’s rich members – because most of them are not wealthy enough.


14. Golf clubs continued to close down

Another year, another list of golf clubs that closed forever.

For example, Hurst Golf Course in Reading closed after making a reported loss of £50,000 in 2014. It also saw its income drop by 38 percent over the last three years and the number of rounds in the summer months of 2014 were at less than half what they were in 2013.

Austin Lodge Golf Club in Kent closed after its owner, Pentland Golf, decided to convert it back to farmlandFrome Golf Club in Somerset also reverted to farmland because its owner could not find a buyer and Canford Magna Golf Club in Dorest went under due to financial losses.


Several other clubs also suffered extreme financial difficulties.

Wrangaton Golf Club in Devon entered liquidation (later bought by another golf club) and Brocket Hall in Hertfordshire entered administration, for example.


13. Scottish golf clubs were hurt by new drink driving legislation

At the end of 2014 the legal driving limit was lowered from 80mg to 50mg of alcohol in Scotland, and several golf clubs said this change had a devastating effect on their business.

Blairbeth Golf Club closed down for good due to financial losses and stated that the legislation was partly to blame. “We noticed within the first month that takings were massively down and that’s not just alcohol, because if people are using the bar for drinks then they’re more likely to hang about and order some food as well,” said captain Davie McKay.

“Towards the end, barely anyone was staying for even one pint because they obviously didn’t want to run the risk of being caught. After events and nice days during the summer, our clubhouse was sitting empty.

Other clubs had similar reports.

Stuart Graham, captain of Panmure Golf Club, said: “The club is being affected by the change and members’ behaviour is certainly changing. All members and visitors to the club have to travel by car. Previously members would feel comfortable having one drink after their round and then driving home but now that has changed. Our alcohol sales have dropped markedly.”


David Norman, director of Strathmore Golf Centre, added: “The new drink drive limit has definitely had an effect. By January, our bar sales were down by 36 percent year-on-year and our restaurant sales declined again by 16 percent.”

Andrew Turnbull, managing secretary of Edzell Golf Club, said: “In the first month of the new legislation bar sales were 20 percent down.”

Allan Shaw, president of the Lothian Golf Association, said: “This [law] is certainly a threat to the existence of the clubs.”


12. Giant holes became a thing

The size of a golf hole is 4.25 inches in diameter, but in 2015 it became seriously questioned if this was deterring people from playing the game.

Lee Westwood led the calls for clubs to offer larger holes to attract beginners. “The holes need to be made bigger – the game is too difficult and that makes it less fun,” he said. Others to support increased hole sizes included Ted Bishop, the former president of the PGA of America, Mark King, CEO of TaylorMade-adidas Golf, course architect Jonathan Gaunt and golfers Sergio Garcia and Justin Rose. And venues that brought in larger holes did report increased activity.


Even Europe’s first master greenkeeper, Laurence Pithie, joined the chorus. “This idea is not aimed at replacing the existing hole size on established full length courses, but it could be introduced on ‘entry level’ nine-hole or short-hole courses,” he stated.


11. The general public found out a lot more about the industry’s financial issues

The industry has known about club closures, falling participation numbers and the general financial malaise for several years, but in 2015 the general public started to hear about it too.

The year started with the industry undergoing a post-mortem as to why Rory McIlroy didn’t win the BBC Sports Personality of the Year prize, with many agreeing with the golfer’s own analysis: “Participation is down.” This led to, for example, the BBC publishing an article entitled ‘How can golf respond to Rory McIlroy’s call to widen its appeal’ and The Telegraph writing ‘How to make golf appeal to the kids’. Big names in golf such as Lee Westwood and Greg Norman came up with radical ideas to address the slump, such as for buggies to be able to play music.

Away from the media, golf’s biggest sponsor, HSBC, said the game is at a crossroads and must now change.

“No one would have said 25 years ago that Twenty20 cricket would be the success it is and it has grown. It doesn’t mean that through Test cricket those who are the purists don’t still get their diet,” said Giles Morgan, the head of sponsorship for HSBC, which produced a viral video that showed that golf can attract non traditional profiles to the game.


And in the autumn one of the biggest golf companies in the UK, Direct Golf, filed a notice of intention to appoint administrators.


10. The health benefits of golf became more widely known

Every sport brings in physical and mental benefits but in some ways golf, because of the age range of its participants, is the best placed to tackle the obesity crisis that’s hit much of the developed world.

The European Union seems to thinks so, because it funded the GoGolf Europe project, an initiative designed to test innovative new access pathways to golf for European youth while also documenting the unique health benefits which the sport can provide to all people.

The funding came as a 12-year University of Cambridge study found that twice as many people die each year from inactivity than they do from obesity, and that the walking benefits from golf could reverse the problem.


Individual stories also showcased how beneficial golf can be. For example, 82-year-old Joe Canetti, whose wife recently died, and was himself diagnosed with cancer, has said he is being kept healthy by his golf club membership, and Jenny Moss, who cares for her husband who suffers from Alzheimer’s, said that she has found mental and physical wellbeing by taking up golf.


9. Housing continues to be a threat and an opportunity to golf

It’s an opportunity because, for example, Meltham Golf Club, Sonning Golf Club, Westhill Golf Club and Whitstable and Seasalter Golf Club all submitted planning applications in 2015 to build homes on land the venues own to boost revenues coming into the clubs.

“This development will provide a significant boost for the golf club, which requires much needed funds,” explained the captain of Westhill.

But it’s a threat as well because Botley Park Golf Club in Hampshire confirmed that the golf course would be closing to pave the way for 1,400 homes to be built, the trustees of the Clandon Estate put forward a plan that Clandon Golf be developed for 1,000 new homes, and both Oxford Golf Club and Bradley Park Golf Club in Yorkshire could make way for thousands of new homes under proposals.




8. Data on long term participation trends revealed some worrying facts

Everyone in the industry knew that participation had been dropping over the past few years, but in 2015 Golf Club Management revealed that in England the trend over the last decade had been much worse than realised.

Golf in England had lost more than 200,000 weekly, and well over 400,000 monthly, players between 2008 and 2015, due to analysis of Active People Survey data.

There were, for example, 1.54 million golfers who played the game at least once a month in 2007. By March 2015 this had dropped to 1.1 million, and that figure continued to fall by the autumn of 2015.



7. Clubs started abandoning ladies’ tees

More than 30 UK golf clubs abandoned their ladies’ tees in an effort to encourage improving golfers, retain ageing players and promote social golf.

They replaced them with movable ‘gender-free tees’, which are now common in the USA.


Gemma Hunter, England Golf’s handicap and course rating manager, explained: “It is still very new here but I know of over 30 courses which have rated at least one course for both genders.

“This is all about making the best use of your golf course for all your members and for newcomers who want to take up the game. You’re not building new holes or tees, you’re just rating what you already have.”


6. Struggling clubs had their futures secured

With so many golf clubs struggling, why didn’t more go under?

The truth is that in 2015 for every club that closed down, at least twice as many that teetered on the brink were saved.

Broome Manor and Highworth golf clubs in Swindon, for example, which were both in danger of closing down, were bought by Twigmarket, which began investing in them, Blair Atholl Golf Club was struggling and brought in an operating arrangement with Pitlochry Golf that secured its future, North Inch Golf Course brought in a flexible membership scheme that improved its finances, Castle Park Golf Club, which was about to be converted into agricultural land, was rescued after five local residents got together to purchase the entire venue, Llangefni Golf Course entered into a partnership with a social enterprise group to keep it open, Mentmore Golf and Country Club was saved weeks after it ceased trading and Derby Golf Club benefitted from a seven figure investment when there were fears that its Sinfin golf course would close.


5. The industry became preoccupied with tackling slow play

The length of time it takes to play a round of golf is one of the most cited reasons why people either stop playing golf or feel deterred from starting, with England Golf calling it the biggest barrier to participation at the start of the year. And as a result the industry became slightly obsessed with speeding up golf in 2015.

Driven by research that found that 54 percent of golfers are intimidated by 18 holes of golf and 31 percent of golfers are leaving the game because it takes too long to play, 19 golf clubs formed ‘Golf Express’, which offers nine-hole green fees and formats.

Also in 2015 the chief executive of retailer Timpson, John Timpson, the former captain of Delamere Forest Golf Club in Cheshire, offered to supply a book he wrote on how golf clubs can reduce slow play free of charge to any golf club manager who requested it.


Several big golfing names also called for the game to be speeded up. Lee Westwood said there needs to be a two-hour format of the game, Greg Norman called for more 12-hole courses to be built, Stephen Gallacher said the time golfers should be allowed to search for lost balls should be reduced and leading golf journalist Ewen Murray said there should be more punishment for professional golfers who play the game too slowly.

At the end of 2015 an R&A Pace of Play International Conference took place at St Andrews to address the issue.


4. Many golf clubs were placed up for sale

One of the biggest trends of 2014 was the number of golf clubs that got put up for sale, and this continued into 2015.

Dozens of venues, big and small, were looking for, and in some cases finding, buyers, including Formby Hall Golf Resort & Spa, Hawkstone Park Hotel & Golf Club, Boston West Golf Club, St Mellion, Gleneagles and Cameron House (which was sold to KSL Capital Partners for nearly £80 million, less than one year after QHotels bought it from the De Vere group).


“There is strong demand from investors for quality golf courses, particularly from international buyers looking for a safe place to own property which can also turn a profit,” explained Kay Griffiths, an associate at Savills.


3. The VAT saga rumbled on

Back in 2013, after years of legal wrangling, the Court of Justice of the European Union ruled that green fees at member-owned golf clubs should have been exempt from VAT.

This meant that scores of golf clubs were able to reclaim VAT previously declared on green fees, collectively worth millions of pounds, which in January 2015 HMRC said would be partially paid by April. And then HMRC announced that it was going to invoke a defence of unjust enrichment, which meant nothing was paid out and more legal hearings took place in the summer of 2015.


By the end of the year the the First Tier Tribunal ruled that HMRC’s argument that private members’ golf clubs should be restricted to claiming 50 to 67 percent of the VAT back on green fees had failed and should be just 10 percent, and this should apply to all claimant golf clubs, paving the way for a huge payout to hundreds of golf clubs in 2016.


2. Golf clubs tried to get more women to play the game

The number one trend of 2014 continues to dominate the industry.

The year started with more research showing that golf clubs can reverse their financial decline if they can eradicate their ‘male culture’, and throughout the year some of the few men-only golf clubs that exist, such as Royal St George’s and Lundin, voted to allow women to join. Peter Alliss, who in April said that equality for women had destroyed golf and gave completely inaccurate data to ‘prove’ it, was widely ridiculed, and later in the year the all-male Scottish Golf Union amalgamated with the Scottish Ladies’ Golfing Association.


The real change happened in the clubs, perhaps best exemplified by Wimbledon Common Golf Club, which until 2005 was all-male, and in 2015 announced it now has a waiting list for its ladies’ academy. A ‘This Girl Can’ movement teed off in the summer that saw many clubs embark on female-only coaching sessions, Europe’s Solheim Cup captain Carin Koch advised many clubs on how to recruit female golfers, especially through relaxing dress codes, and the governing bodies got in on the act, England Golf focused on marketing to women, the Irish Golf Union explored female participation programmes, Scotland Golf considered governance and equality, the Golf Union of Wales explored shorter, fun formats and competitive opportunities to get more women playing and even the PGA targeted theatre goers to get more ladies to try the game!


1. Footgolf became massive

It only came to the UK less than three years ago, but already more than 150 UK golf clubs offer footgolf, the new sport that combines football and golf (and at least two golf clubs have now abandoned golf to become ‘footgolf centres’).

In 2016 the number is set to pass 200, with the figure doubling in Scotland alone.


“Courses in 2015 have reported up to 300 footgolf rounds on a given day, and upwards of an additional £70,000-plus in green fee revenue, matched with significant increases in food and beverage spend,” said Gareth May, head of UK development at the UK FootGolf Association.

He said that in the summer of 2015 there were more than 30,000 people playing footgolf every week, and his association has a membership database of nearly 50,000 people on it.

“This can only be good for golf, as footgolf cannot exist without the ability to be played on a golf course.”

“It’s bringing to a golf club people who may have never thought about setting foot in one before and there is the hope that some of the footgolf players could then take up golf as well,” said Paul Doherty, sales director of the UK FootGolf Association.


“There was a club in the Borders that I spoke to who were losing £30,000 per year. I was showing them a way of how they could earn £90,000 to £100,000 per year with very little investment.

“You get some funny looks from time to time. At Hilton Park, we had a couple of golfers saying they weren’t too happy about us doing it. It was the same at Dunoon, but now they get three times as many footgolfers as they do golfers.”


Alistair Dunsmuir
By Alistair Dunsmuir December 22, 2015 06:42
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  1. Joey Gallardo May 14, 23:16

    Valuable piece , Apropos if people are searching for a a form , my business partner filled out and faxed a blank document here

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  2. sabrinayuzon May 13, 23:41

    Valuable piece , Apropos if people are searching for a a form , my business partner filled out and faxed a blank document here

    Reply to this comment
  3. Matt Davies January 8, 16:07

    On #6 I would disagree with the statement “Mentmore Golf and Country Club was saved weeks after it ceased trading” as the previous owner retained ownership following pre-pack and to date has not re-opened the club, far from it! The 2 once fantastic golf courses are in a terrible state due to lack of greenkeeping staff, machinery and suppliers willing to work with the club to supply vital chemicals, fertilisers etc. The only thing the owner is interested in is the Mentmore Towers estate adjacent to the golf courses. The planned ‘Corporate Golfing Destination’ is yet another example of his promise to invest but never actually deliver. The whole saga is a sorry tale of affairs and frankly a tragedy to the 80+ staff, 3,000 members and countless customers who enjoyed the tremendous facilities that Mentmore Golf & Country Club had to offer. Hopefully the old/previous/current owner will relinquish his stranglehold on the golf courses and allow a company to take it over and run it properly. I doubt it but I live in hope!!

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