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  • Alistair Tait

A Golden Opportunity for Golf

Lost amid yesterday’s hype about Tiger Woods holding his first press conference since the car crash that nearly cost him his right leg was welcome news for European golf.

News that provides a golden opportunity to grow this royal and ancient game.

As Woods was talking about becoming a part-time golfer in future, the R&A and European Golf Association (EGA) were releasing the second edition of the European Golf Participation Report. It shows an increase in golf participation from 7.9 million in 2016 to 10.6 million.

What stands out from the report is that there are now more independent players than there are golf club members across Europe. Non golf club members now make up 59% of the total, with 41% affiliated to a national golf associations.

Other key findings show:

  • 73% of national federations in Europe recorded growth in registered golfers from 2019 to 2021, with the total of registered golfers rising by more than 190,000 from 4.13 million to 4.32 million (a 4.6% growth)

  • Markets that saw the greatest growth in registered golfers include England (up by 63,500) and Sweden (up by 54,589)

  • A total of nine markets – largely among emerging golfing nations – saw growth in registered golfers of over 30%, with Latvia and Belarus achieving over 150% growth

  • The markets with the highest proportion of total golfers in the population include Iceland (17.7%), Scotland (10.9%), England (8%) and Ireland (7.8%)

  • Combined registered women golfers across Europe increased by 13,000 (to just over 1 million), with the proportion of registered golfers in Europe narrowly declining from 27% to 26%

  • Germany (221,865), Sweden (129,949) and the Netherlands (125,537) are the top three markets for the number of registered women golfers

  • Combined registered junior golfers across Europe increased by over 43,000 (to more than 350,000), with the proportion of registered golfers in Europe relatively stable at 8%

  • Sweden (61,839), England (45,304) and Germany (41,212) are the top three markets for the number of registered junior golfers

R&A Chief Executive Martin Slumbers said:

“With over 10.6 million golfers across Europe, we are seeing that a wide range of initiatives in several markets are having a positive impact. Broadening access to golf and making sure that all of those who play its many forms feel welcome is vital.”

Michael Thannhauser, General Secretary of the European Golf Association, added:

“There is still work to be done to attract women and juniors into golf, and we look forward to contributing to this endeavour however possible.”

Both men are correct. As I’ve written previously, Covid-19 has provided a silver lining for this game, one we need to build on if we want the game to continue to thrive. Attracting juniors to the game is vital to that growth. That’s why the game needs as many pathways into it as possible. Public golf courses, nine-hole layouts, pitch and putt golf, driving ranges, etc are needed to let people try the game out.

Public facilities were under threat before the pandemic and still are. Meanwhile, I couldn’t tell you where the nearest pitch and putt course is to me, and I’d love to see more driving ranges open to the public, not only in my area but throughout Great Britain.

The R&A, EGA and other governing associations need to ensure these pathways are there for those who want to try this great game. Slumbers has made a start with the Lethamhill facility in Glasgow (pictured). Wouldn’t it be great if every major town and city in Europe had such a facility in future? Then maybe we’d realise Sir Henry Cotton’s dream of an abundance of cheap, basic golf courses to attract people to sample the joys of the greatest stick and ball game ever invented.

The figures the R&A and EGA have produced proves there is growth to be had in this game. Those in charge can’t let this golden opportunity for golf slip away.

#JustSaying: “The green fee was 10 cents for 18 holes. With a mismatched set consisting of his 5-iron and battered hand-me-downs … Murray (Moe) sped around Rockway (Golf Club in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada). He’d play 18, 36, 54 and sometimes 72 holes a day. It became his merry-go-round of golf. In the summer between grade 8 and 9, he’d spend entire days at Rockway.” From The Feeling of Greatness: The Moe Norman Story by Tim O’Connor

Photograph courtesy of the R&A

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