As the Open tees off this month and Kent celebrates the news that the 2020 Open Championship returns to the county, we discover that despite the challenges golf faces local clubs and courses are striking back.
It might be England’s fifth largest participation sport but golf faces challenges. Participation has been steadily declining over the past decade and, since 2004, the number of golf club members has also been on the wane.
Through its Raising Our Game plan, England Golf has set itself some ambitious targets. For this year they include increasing the number of weekly golfers by 160,000, reversing the decline in club membership, strengthening routes through which talent can be developed and improving communication, partnerships and governance.
England Golf’s Chief Executive, Nick Pink, says: “Clubs are at the centre of everything we do and it’s very satisfying to work with them to achieve these results.”
INDEX spoke to leading figures from the local golfing community about their work – and we also profile two youngsters making their mark in the sport.
Expressing golf at Sweetwoods
Matt Tyler, Sweetwoods Park’s Director of Golf, says a flexible approach, thriving ladies’ section and the concept of ‘golf express’ are all helping to propel success.
What’s the current state of the sport?
The rounds of golf played here is up on recent years, while membership growth has been focused on flexible categories where players can pay a smaller fee upfront and benefit from reduced pay-as-you-go fees.
What are clubs like yours doing to attract more players?
We’re proud to have a strong focus on mixed golf with a thriving ladies’ section and we’re very pro-active in marketing to new players. Annual open events and female-specific taster days are all part of our calendar and we also offer trial memberships.
How about the issue of “I’ve not got time for golf anymore”?
A new concept for the industry is Golf Express. Many clubs have introduced a nine-hole round for those with less time and we offer Twilight Golf, where green fees are reduced in the afternoon so golfers can make the most of lighter evenings.
Knole Academy key to engaging beginners
Fresh blood is essential to any sport and attracting new players is a key part of the strategy at Knole Park Golf Club, as Andrew Butterfield, its Head Professional, explains.
“We continue to promote golf the best we can and our Academy membership is designed to help local beginners, attracting almost 30 golfers every year. And we also run a Junior Academy on Saturday afternoons that gathers together 50 youngsters on a regular basis,” says Andrew.
“We do manage to get at least half a dozen ladies every year to join the Academy but are working hard to attract more. The biggest problem with golf is time but on an average day you should get around Knole Park in three-and-a-half hours.”
Hever targets the silver golfer
“Despite wider tales of doom and gloom surrounding our sport we seem to be thriving,” says Hever Golf Club Membership Manager Steve Clayton, citing a steady interest in membership that is key in helping to drive growth and nurture players of all ages.
“We include two free junior memberships with our seven and five-day packages which can be used to introduce youngsters to the sport at minimal additional cost. And we are now also offering a two-for-one junior membership that we hope will encourage youngsters to buddy up,” adds Steve.
“The ‘silver golfer’ is also having their day. With more people enjoying active retirements it’s our seniors who have both the most to offer and to gain from full membership with the time to play multiple rounds a week whilst benefitting from the physical and social benefits regular golf provides.”
Lullingstone eyes 50th anniversary celebrations
Lullingstone Park Golf Club celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. Head Professional Mark Watt reflects on one of the South East’s most beautiful – and challenging – courses.
How will you be marking the club’s 50th anniversary?
We’re celebrating the occasion with four days of competition in July. The course will be in pristine condition so it’ll be a perfect time to join and get some competitive play under your belt.
What are you doing to attract the next generation of golfers?
We’re offering some free coaching for juniors this spring as well as introducing a joint green fee for adults and juniors. And our Pitch and Putt is always popular with families.
Has golf had to adapt to address the popularity of other sports?
The key is to look at how we make golf more fun and quicker to play. Courses have to be in top condition year-round and this is what we constantly strive to achieve.
For further information, visit:
• Crowborough Beacon Golf Club (www.cbgc.co.uk)
Image: Sweetwoods Park Golf Club