Without Municipal Courses - What Pathways Are There Into Golf

By: | Wed 11 Nov 2020 | Comments

How did you get into golf? Golfshake Ambassador Andy Picken describes the importance of municipal courses, specifically, in his case, Allestree Park in Derby, and the ongoing challenge facing these pay and play venues.

I was introduced to the game by my late father in law who was a member at a local municipal golf club. He loaned me some cast off clubs and I practiced at home chipping and putting until I was confident enough to hit the ball consistently into the air.

He took me to the course, at a quiet time, having spent some time at the range net. Within a few shots I was hooked and addicted for the next 40 years.

Without this municipal facility I may have been lost to the game forever. My first club membership and formal handicap was at Allestree Park in Derby. This pay and play course introduced me and many of my friends to the wonder of the game.

We even developed an arrangement with the course rangers that after a summer night-shift, we would get on the course before its opening at 06.15 am and then we would call into the shop to pay our fees after playing the first six holes.

18 holes of golf in two and a half hours then off to the pub near the newspaper printers that had a licence that allowed them to provide a full English breakfast and a pint before heading home for bed. A second-hand set bought off eBay, the bag carried containing an old shrivelled crispy glove and a dozen mismatched golf balls bought from some kids who “collected” them nearby. Fond Memories.

There does not appear to be a central register of municipal courses in the UK, but from my basic research they are closing in droves. Financial constraints seem to be tightening harshly and these types of courses are the first to be sacrificed.

What are the new pathways into golf for the next generation of those who will take this game forward? I have passed on my addiction to my son and we are both now firmly ensconced in club life. I have derived so much pleasure from this shared experience and having access to some excellent facilities makes the task so much easier.

Can golf as an industry simply rely on the family gene being passed down to the next generation?

How can we capture those who have tried the game during the virus period and ensure that they are kept interested?

Municipal facilities and driving ranges have never been busier, but where are the feeder clubs that allow those starting the game the chance to get a handicap and compete against fellow members? This striving to get better is a wonderful element of our game and should be encouraged because once that bug has bitten the players will remain golfers for the rest of their lives.

The legend Arnold Palmer said: “Golf is deceptively simple and endlessly complicated; it satisfies the soul and frustrates the intellect. It is at the same time rewarding and maddening—and it is without a doubt the greatest game mankind has ever invented.”

I know from conversations with administrators in different sports such as cricket that they are concerned at the number of people who took up golf during the pandemic. I know we go on about pace of play, but cricket requires even more time invested. How does the golf industry convert these recent converts into long term players?

There are massive health and well-being benefits for involvement in the game of golf with even discussions about golf being made available via prescription on the NHS. (Not a new idea really as Dr Alister MacKenzie, the designer of Augusta National was doing this from his Leeds surgery for many years).

Think about what golf membership means to the game as a whole. I have had golf club memberships for 32 out of the last 40 years. How much they have cost remains a secret between me and my maker. Especially as my wife now reads my copy.

How much have I also invested in equipment and clothing and travel and the like over those years?

All this stemmed from the catalyst of some great fun and camaraderie with a bunch of mates hacking a ball around a municipal golf course.

These courses were the traditional entry point into the game supported by local authorities. Many were starved of resources and run on shoestrings, but they still operated despite all these handicaps because of the benefit that they provided to the local area.

Does the wider game now need to think about the reduction of these facilities by ensuring that clubs have entry point facilities for those new to the game to try and practice?

Having checked out many social media posts about the impending closure of Allestree Park, I am very surprised at the number of golfers who have now taken up the game as their main hobby and who invest in club membership within the County. Many started at this municipal facility.

If all the municipal facilities close what other pathways are there into the game?

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