Golf: It's current state - A professional opinion

By: Golf Shake | Thu 21 Aug 2014 | Comments

Recently we published an article about the state of the game; Golf is dying - is this how we can save it? Following on from that, we have invited those in the industry to share their views. 

This is an article from Tim Coxon, Head Professional at Mickleover Golf Club, Derby. 

I felt compelled to write a few words on the subject of ‘the decline in golf’ after reading an online article and the comments that followed.

As a PGA Professional of nearly 25 years and one that has been head pro at the same members club for over 20 years I take close interest in the current state of golf and feel I am more than qualified to offer an informed opinion. Most PGA professionals at golf clubs will operate on a similar role to me, they will be responsible for the shop, teach, and be the expert on site for all things golf. In short they are qualified and experienced industry professionals.

When we discuss decline and its reasons, I think it’s important to understand the true meaning. I’m not so sure that golf is actually in decline, as the number of people participating in the game is still at a high level. It’s fair to say that golf membership is suffering in some areas, and at certain clubs. Golfers find it harder to justify a club subscription and if clubs aren’t careful they can easily lose members who disappear into the abyss and become what’s described as nomadic. The proactive clubs are offering new initiatives that were traditionally outside of their comfort zone such as online booking with sliding scale greenfee rates, flexible membership options, and a more relaxed approach to areas like dress in the clubhouse are examples. There will always of course be those clubs that don’t need to break away from their traditions as there is still a reasonable take up in the benefits of a more exclusive club.

One of the areas that prompted me to write this article was regarding what I feel is unfair criticism on the fees and experiences of golfers when visiting golf clubs. I read where one golfer was appalled at paying as much as £30 for a round of golf with a bacon roll for a society day. In addition and also being charged for a buggy as one of the party couldn’t play without it. For me this is a classic case of wanting everything but not being prepared to pay for it. This will be the same golfer that wants to play when he wants (although he’s not a club member), have nobody in front of him, or behind him, no ongoing course maintenance to spoil his round, yet still expect the course to be presented in a first class condition.

It is simply not possible to do this. Golf clubs are businesses and quality greens and fairways come at a cost, as does the best tee-time on a Sunday morning. As previously mentioned the switched on clubs will have a varying greenfee rate; cheaper when the tee is quiet, and premium rate when it is busy. This is not overcharging it is being proactive and putting the benefit back into being a club member. It is only fair that a member should have the first pickings of the prime times, after all that is one of the many benefits.

Another area discussed avidly across all platforms is the pace of play. It is common sense to expect a fourball to play more slowly than a twoball, and typically throughout any day there will be a mix from 1-4 players on group sizing. The more golfers on the golf course generally means slower rounds. If cheaper greenfees are charged then footfall will increase, (some say this is an advantage) and inevitably contribute towards slower play. In short it’s about creating a fair balance.

If we take the subject of the cost to play golf, and it is often criticised as being expensive, then this is where I do have a strong viewpoint. So many new or inexperienced players head straight for the well-known high street superstores and end up paying out hundreds or even thousands of pounds on equipment that will not give them an advantage straight away. They then have little budget left for lessons and for paying to play the game. In short you cannot buy a golf swing with a set of TaylorMade or Callaway clubs. Visit a PGA pro who will advise accordingly, if possible invest a fraction of the cost in a used set (under £200) that will allow a novice to still afford to take instruction and develop the skill. Whilst golf isn’t easy even at the top level if the basics are developed this build confidence and the understanding it is possible to achieve progress more quickly than throwing all the hard earned money on a shiny new set. A line often used in golf, all the gear no idea, has never been more appropriate I’m afraid.

I feel the real decline is in youngsters taking up the game. When I learnt to play in the 80’s golf was experiencing a boom and you were never short of pals the same age to have a game with. Nowadays clubs have very disappointing numbers of junior members, and for me it is not the cost. You can join a golf club for under £100 as a junior, some even offer it for free just to get kids interested. This kind of kills the argument that it’s too expensive to get youngsters involved, there are also often promotions that offer free or subsidised coaching.

So what is the problem?

What has changed since the 80s boom?

Well for me I feel a huge problem is engagement. You are scratching your heads now. Engagement is what I had when I first started to show an interest. I could go and watch a European Tour event at The Belfry, Forest of Arden, Moortown or Fulford, (the opportunities were wide). I could watch the world’s best players playing in Europe, or the UK on terrestrial TV on a Sunday afternoon after playing earlier in the morning. Seve, Langer, Faldo, Lyle & Woosnam were all plying their trade on our Tour. This is engagement.

By going to watch them at one of the above venues it creates such a buzz, the dream of following in their foot-steps and it gives youngsters (in fact all players) the bug, the bug to keep playing this fantastic game of golf. A game, where you can if you are prepared to pay, actually play where your hero’s played only days earlier. You can walk the same fairways and you can try and play the same shots. This is engagement.

This is where you find people wanting to get involved,
This (for me) is the difference'
This is what has changed since the 80s boom.

We need clubs to be more proactive and be more prepared to change. Put the importance back into being a club member, having a sense of belonging and having a CONGU handicap (we have done at our club).

We also need the governing bodies to help get people engaged in the game again, get golf tournaments back in the UK so we can go and watch it, and not just once a year.

As always we would love to hear your thoughts and if you agree or disagree with what Tim has had to say. Please feel free to comment below:


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