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Has Club Golf Moved Forward During the Past Decade?

By: | Wed 11 Dec 2019

IT’S BEEN quite a decade for club golf - and most of it hasn’t been positive. We have seen dozens of golf clubs closing their doors for the last time, others have lost members in droves and continue to struggle to find innovative ways to remain in business. The golden days of the 1980s, when golf courses seemed to be opening every other week, are a distant memory.

Increasing numbers of club golfers believe that subscriptions remain too high and complain about how difficult it is to find a decent tee time on Saturdays and Sundays. 

We now live in an era where everybody is under time pressure. Despite the best efforts of everybody involved in the sport, golf is a slow game and many people struggle to justify giving up four hours to play 18 holes. Nine-hole membership would appear to be a possible solution and a tiny number of clubs are offering this, but more needs to be done as we move into the new decade if golf is to remain relevant.

It also has to be said that at a time when it is possible to buy excellent pub grub for a tenner that many golf clubs continue to serve up food that wouldn’t be accepted in a school canteen. Why? There is no excuse for it. Worse than that, clubhouse opening hours remain completely out of touch with the modern world, especially in winter. Why is it that so many clubs refuse to take up the challenge to compete with neighbouring pubs? Quiz nights. Dinner-dances. Discos. Guest speakers. Good food. Good beer. Welcoming bar staff. None of it is rocket science.

Take a look around any restaurant and you will see diners wearing jeans. Most employers allow their staff to wear jeans to work. Walk down any high street and most people you pass will be wearing jeans. Can you guess where I am going with this? As I sit and write this article, I am wearing a pair of Levi's - they cost £85. They are smart. They are comfortable. Now try walking into your local clubhouse while wearing a pair of jeans and see what happens. Nine times out of 10 you will be shown the door. I am not advocating the wearing of jeans while playing (although that doesn’t seem to have done the game any harm in France), but I am saying that it’s time to move out of the dark ages and change the dress code when it comes to clubhouses. Little or no progress has been made on this front during the past decade. 

Tiger Woods and many other top pros wear collarless tops. Chances are that if you turn up at your course wearing the same thing that you will be told you need to change it. Does a collar make you a smarter-looking individual? Really?

And heaven help anybody caught using a mobile phone. They were frowned upon at the start of the decade and, if anything, attitudes towards them have hardened further. Nobody wants to play with somebody who is constantly on his or her phone, but here’s a radical solution - if you don’t want your members using their phones in the clubhouse, allocate an area where they can go to make and receive calls. Even smokers are provided with such areas, for goodness sake, and they are social pariahs! If we really want to attract more youngsters to the game, then we are definitely going to need a more enlightened attitude towards mobile phones. Period. Between 2009 and 2014, the average age of the club golfer in the UK increased from 48 to 63. Everybody agreed that this had to be resolved, that action had to be taken to attract more youngsters and their families. It hasn’t happened.

While we are on the subject of technology, at the start of the decade it would not have been too far-fetched to imagine that golf clubs would embrace it with both hands - exciting websites, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram. Take a look at your own club’s website and then compare it to other industries. Most club sites remain clunky, slow, old-fashioned, poorly designed and dysfunctional. In short, they are still not fit for purpose. There are exceptions, of course, but in the main clubs still just don’t get the power of the internet and of social media. As we head into the new decade, that MUST change. 

Fewer people play during the winter. It’s a fact. Of course, the weather plays a part, but there are other factors to be taken into consideration. Most golf clubs will charge visitors slightly less during the winter months, but most visitors feel slightly cheated when they turn up and are faced with winter tees, temporary greens and bunkers full of water. Nothing has changed in this respect over the past 10 years.

We saw a raft of rule changes at the start of 2019 that were designed to make the game easier to play and, crucially, to speed things up. In truth, they have made little or no difference to the professional game, other than the fact that it would appear many of the world’s best golfers didn’t bother to read the new rules. Never before have we seen so many infringements and penalties imposed across the board on the PGA, European, Champions, LPGA and LET Tours. Never before have we seen so many professionals accused of cheating - Patrick Reed, Billy Mayfair, Matt Kuchar to name but three.

But there have been some encouraging signs on the club scene. Increasing numbers of high handicappers are buying into ready golf, just getting on with it when they reach their balls. And there is no doubt whatsoever that being allowed to leave the flag in the hole while putting out has saved time. On the other side of the coin, just as many golfers are still struggling to get to grips with some of the most basic of the new rules, not least dropping the ball from knee height. And that is an issue that still needs to be addressed by the powers-that-be. It is also to be hoped that they will finally take another look at what happens when somebody hits a drive into the middle of a fairway, only to walk up to their ball and find it nestling in a giant hole because somebody up ahead couldn’t be bothered to retrieve their divot and replace it.

As we head into a new decade, we simply have to believe that things will improve, that innovators will continue to come up with ideas and that golf clubs finally start to listen and implement those ideas. The time for change is now - before it is too late.

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Tags: Opinion Memberships industry insider Golf Clubs 2010 2019

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