Golfers Address Issues Facing the Game
SO THE good news is that we asked you in our August survey if you were optimistic about the future of golf, and 81.6% said that you were, with just 5.6% saying no. There are many reasons why you feel good about the shape the game is in. But there are also areas that continue to concern you - these include cost, pace of play, a perception that golf remains an elitist sport, a lack of youngsters and women playing the game. And while the club game has seen people returning in huge numbers after the lockdown, the reality is that many golf courses have closed their doors for good over the past 12 months - and many failed to survive the lockdown.
The PGA and European Tours have returned without fans, we have had several majors in both the men's and women's games, plenty of first-time young winners and we have witnessed some incredible golf - if we are prepared to subscribe to the relevant satellite TV channels. But it is matters rather closer to your heart that exercise you.
You responded in your thousands and there were plenty of positive comments, which we reproduce here...
"Golf has proved to be very important to a lot of people, easy to socially distance and opened up pretty quickly after lockdown. Booking through apps has made social distancing even easier."
"I have spoken to my doctor before the lockdown and stated that I think the medical profession should promote golf as a good form of exercise for all. There are few other sporting activities that provide the social interaction and exercise that golf does, that you can enjoy from and early age until old age. I started playing when I was 10 years old and have friends in their 80s who still play.”
“We need to build on the goodwill and level of interest by ensuring that petty rules in clubs do not spoil the view of those new to the game. They should be the new lifeblood and should be encouraged and supported."
"Golf is an outdoor sport that combines exercise, fresh air, social interaction, and competition, as such a lot of people have recognised the benefits of playing. The question is: will this year be a temporary blip in the decline of golf or a resurgence? I'm hoping for the latter."
"Golf and tennis are due for a boom time for the next two years because of the lower risk of virus transmission at amateur level."
"The level of enthusiasm in the game has increased and with the changes coming into the game later this year it will make it easier for younger players with families to play more nine-hole events."
“I am delighted to see more people playing than this time last year when I feared low numbers could spell the end of some local courses. And especially delighted to see an increase in mixed groups on the course."
"Having seen first hand how busy courses and driving ranges are, I am optimistic about the future. The pandemic has given everyone an oppportunity to take a breath and really think about what is important to them. Golf needs to use this opportunity for the benefit of all."
"Golf for Good is a great theme driven by the European Tour and the UK Swing and has highlighted some great courses which I will think about playing next year. We not only have great links but also great parkland courses."
"My friend always says it’s a dying sport. But during lockdown, and with restrictions he now moans he can’t get a tee time. This may be the kick up the backside the nomadic golfer needed to commit to a club membership."
“Hopefully the younger generation have realised the opportunities and experience of playing golf now and can appreciate the game."
"Covid-19 could be a watershed moment for golf. So many people seem to have rekindled their love for the game and started playing again. I played a lot as a youngster and infrequently in my 20s. In 2019, I didn't play one round as work got busy and other priorities took over. But in the past three months I have played 18 rounds."
"We as golfers should herald this new era of busy courses and more members. People are realising that golf is good exercise, in the fresh air and is as sociably acceptable as you can get. Let’s be honest, when do two, three or even four players hit the ball in the same place. Hardly ever. And as flags stay in the holes or something like that solution, nobody is at risk."
Pace of Play
When golf returned after lockdown, we had to play in two-balls and everything speeded up. But slow rounds continue to be a source of concern for large numbers of you.
"Pace of play needs to improve. One minute looking for a lost ball then drop in the first cut of rough for a one-shot penalty might work."
"Game still needs to be quicker. SGU and golf clubs must embrace nine-hole competitions that count towards handicap. Lifestyles have changed dramatically since the 1980s and 90s."
"It needs new ways of playing, six-hole packets, 12-hole competitions. Five- and six-hours to play a competition needs to stop."
And many of you believe the tour pros and TV coverage have much to answer for…
“I wish the pros would speed up the time they take.”
“Golf needs to shed its elite image and I think it is doing that. But, like cricket, a major stumbling block is that it is no longer on terrestrial television. If youngsters don't see it, they won't be curious."
"I felt before the crisis that the lack on golf on free to view was preventing the message spreading to potential new golfers. I was introduced to the game by watching BBC golf, including pro/celebrity."
"The lack of free to air TV golf coverage is denying many youngsters an insight to the game. The governing bodies and tours are more interested in the pro game."
Cost of the Game
The cost of the game has always been an issue and it appears that it hasn’t gone away, whether it be the fact that many of you feel membership is too expensive or equipment is too dear...
"Prices are getting ridiculous for equipment."
"Clubs must not overcharge. Need to think about green fees - more need to offer nine-hole rates.”
"I think golf is in 'good health' in the UK. However, the cost seems to be increasing, which does concern me."
"There will always be golf but unless prices come down for membership and green fees, it will always be elitist."
"Golf is too expensive for young players to participate, or parents to fund. Golf club membership is OK but the increasing cost of clubs is prohibitive and one has to question whether the main manufacturers are profiteering. What 17-year-old can afford a set of woods costing £800+. This is clearly way overpriced - no driver is worth £400, - £150 at the most. If this trend is not reversed the game will die."
"Manufacturers and professionals have an obligation to golfers, clubs and growth of the game. The cost of equipment clubs, balls and all that goes with the game is extortionate. Sums paid to pros and prize money is like football and that’s why football will be in decline after this pandemic."
"Gear getting more expensive. No youngsters, too many old members."
Many of you still insist that our sport is elitist and needs to shed its stuffy image before it is too late...
“Golf has to change its image. There are still segments that do not like women's golf. I would encourage more mixed competitions."
“The game takes too long, costs too much, there are too many old farts running golf, and an obsession with 18 holes. Most current golfers will be dead in 30 years. Golf has to change but won’t, even as it dies. Too many blazers."
“It is still run and played by old farts who don't embrace change."
Juniors & Women
It is clear that something needs to be done to attract more youngsters to the game, and many of you also believe that golf does little to make women welcome...
“We need to encourage more younger players and more female players.”
"There are no new or younger people taking up the game, due to the time and cost factor and young people are less active rather stay indoors."
“We need innovation to attract kids. Four and a half hours to play 18 holes is just too long.”
"Unless we can attract youngsters golf will revert to being an elitist game again because less players and members equates to higher green fees and membership fees to keep the courses maintained in good condition."
“It's hard to get young members involved at club level because of the rules regarding dress codes."
"Golf is not doing enough to attract younger players. It is still too stuffy with complex rules and protocols."
“We need to focus on younger players - give them reduced fees to build up a junior base of players."
"Attracting and retaining youngsters requires changes in attitudes."
You have been playing the game in record numbers since the lockdown ended. Clubs the length and breadth of the country report booming memberships. But, for some, it is too late...
"I just feel bad for the clubs that have had to shut down due to the pandemic."
"I have already lost three local clubs in two years in my area, all damn good courses which will be sadly missed."
“We need the find a way to stop closing clubs and building on them."
"The biggest problem is house builders who appear to be able to destroy golf courses at a whim."
"Courses are closing because the game does not appeal to young people.”
"The lockdown affected the ability of many clubs to maintain courses and to retain staff. I am not sure how long the recovery will take and how many clubs can survive".
"Two local courses have already closed recently with another closing and another being converted to a nine-hole course in the near future.”
Growing the Game
So just how do we continue to grow the game? You have some views on that too…
“Golf is run by old farts. No youngsters want to play and I can see why. The future of golf is wholesale change. We need: 10-hole courses; new handicap system built on 10-hole courses; juniors welcome; dress codes abolished, more pitch and putts and foot golf facilities to attract youngsters; driving ranges with TrackMan on each bay, older members to realise finally that whilst they can spend the whole day playing on a course, the rest of us have neither the time nor the inclination. Easy eh?"
“With the pandemic, clubs have had to really take stock of their membership but also how they attract new members and green-fee payers to their clubs. This should help develop diversity within the game and continue to grow people's enjoyment."
"I believe that professional players such as Rickie Fowler appeal to many younger players. New technology also helps and I think having microphones on players to hear their conversations with the caddies can help a lot too."
“We need radical change in membership offerings, get rid of stuffy old boys clubs, need to be more open to change but too many run by old boy committees that refuse to even consider small alterations."
“We must embrace the YouTube/Instagram generation and move with the times."
While there has been cause for optimism in the game due to the enthusiasm of golfers in the midst of the pandemic, the deeper issues remain for many, factors that need addressing in the future for the sport to thrive in the post-COVID climate. Gathering views and reading the comments submitted has been a fascinating and valuable endeavour at Golfshake.
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