Accounting ‘should be a higher priority’ in Scottish golf clubs

Alistair Dunsmuir
By Alistair Dunsmuir September 1, 2016 11:05

Proper accounting guidance and practice is essential for golf clubs in Scotland to thrive – but could be lacking in many of them, according to a study by a University of Strathclyde student.

The study found that, despite golf’s vast contribution to the UK and Scottish economies, accounting at individual clubs is conducted in an unstructured, unregulated environment, in which clubs are left vulnerable to negligent, or even fraudulent, practice.

It urges the sport’s regulating bodies to promote a more ‘business-like’ approach to clubs’ accounting, to ensure it is at the centre of their operations.


Jonathan Tweedie, a student in Strathclyde’s Department of Accounting & Finance, produced the research paper, which has been published in Golf Club Management. He said: “Golf clubs in Scotland require cultural change to reverse a dramatic decline in their membership numbers. It’s been estimated that, if this drain in membership continues at its current rate over the next two decades, the number could drop below 100,000 – and this would lead to a spate of club closures.

“The decline has been attributed to a number of factors, including the overall fragile state of the economy, unfavourable weather, gender discrimination and a recent change in Scotland’s drink-driving laws. Scottish Golf is aware of the need to support clubs as they adapt and innovate but there has been little discussion of offering formally-led, structured guidance and education on accounting matters.

“This is remarkable considering the clear importance of golf to the Scottish economy and the informal links many clubs have to business through their members. While clubs could get by with their current approach, and while there are examples of good practice, it is essential that they become more business-like if their long-term prosperity is to be secured. Accounting has been described as ‘the language of business’ and it is imperative that it is accorded its place in the future of Scottish golf.”


The research paper begins with an extended allegory in the form of a conversation between a junior and senior caddy, in which the advisory role of caddies to golfers is likened to the role that accountancy could play for golf clubs.

It goes on to explore examples of golf clubs which have placed professional accounting at the heart of their operations and cites an example of a recently closed club which could have benefited from a more robust accounting system.

The clubs researched generally appeared to compile their accounting records internally, on a monthly basis, and these were subsequently passed annually to an accountant to produce end-of-year records. However, a more robust approach would also be designed to offer solid advice on current financial situations and to predict future challenges.

A KPMG report indicated that, in 2014, the number of golfers registered as club members had fallen below 200,000 for the first time since records began. A separate estimate has suggested a loss of 37,000 adult members in the preceding decade.

Kevin Fish CCM, Club Services Manager for Scottish Golf, responded: “Scottish Golf welcomes the opportunity to debate the need for clubs to adopt a business-like approach, a policy which we have been supporting for a number of years. However, we believe the conclusions drawn from this particular dissertation lack credibility, given only two clubs (out of 606) were involved the research.


“Through the support of our own development team, clubs across Scotland have responded positively to the education and best practice guidance we have provided, to help improve their financial management.

“More than 100 clubs have engaged with our Business Planning support programme, including financial analysis, to produce a robust long-term business plan for their club.

“Representatives from 130 clubs have attended our five-day Management Development Programme (MDP) where finance is one of the ten core competencies taught by a highly qualified accountant with golf club experience

“We recently staged an educational workshop aimed specifically at treasurers and finance convenors, led by a highly qualified accountant with golf club experience, which was well supported by clubs with very positive feedback

“We are working with 25 clubs to create a platform of meaningful KPIs (driven by relevant club data) for industry-wide business benchmarking in Scotland.

“Despite this information being made available to Mr Tweedie for his dissertation, we were very disappointed that it was not included. We feel there is much more merit in the forward thinking contributions from businesses such as KPMG on this topic, and welcome any approaches from our affiliated clubs with requests for the support, education and guidance to we continue to provide in this vital area.”

Bivek Sharma, head of KPMG Small Business Accounting, added: “If you’re consumed with the day to day of running your business, then the accounting requirements are unlikely to be at the forefront of your mind. However more than just a legal requirement, keeping good financial housekeeping as a priority is an essential part of your ability to manage your business effectively.


“Crucially, when it comes to tax and compliance, if you get it monumentally wrong with an underpayment, you could be in for a big shock when it comes to cash flow. Conversely, a lack of awareness around certain tax regulation could mean you fail to capitalise on some of the tax efficiencies you may be legally entitled to.

“Good financial housekeeping also means you’re able to actually track your business progress and have greater clarity as to how you’re performing at any stage. It’s all too easy to focus on getting income in the door, but unless you know the profit margins at work in different areas and understand the levers you can pull to improve them, it’s easy to get stuck in a cycle of hard work and small rewards.

“One of the big decisions you’ll have to make is whether to find an accountant, take on a bookkeeper or do it all yourself. It is possible to track sales, outgoings, do back receipts, but it will suck up your time and can distract from the all-important task of steering the business.”

Golf clubs interested in pursuing what KPMG’s accountancy support can do for them should call 0808 231 2839 or visit


Alistair Dunsmuir
By Alistair Dunsmuir September 1, 2016 11:05
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