Golf clubs need to take advantage of the current boom the game is enjoying post the coronavirus lockdown to help grow the game, says R&A chief executive Martin Slumbers.
Preliminary figures from Sports Marketing Surveys appear to confirm anecdotal evidence golf is enjoying a silver lining post lockdown. Based on a survey of 200 British golf clubs, rounds played have increased by 40% over July 2019. The figure was 61% for June. Richard Payne of SMS said:
“It’s immensely pleasing to see that the rounds played recovery going from strength to strength. We know how hard golf courses across Great Britain have worked to make themselves Covid secure and welcoming to members and visitors alike, so they more than deserve to reap the rewards of that now.
“There’s been a lot of talk about the ‘new normal’, both good and bad. SMS believe that busy, thriving golf courses can become a part of that new normal. The challenge for the industry is to keep up the good work and convert new players to the game to make that a reality. To do that, it is imperative that golf courses engage with new audiences.”
Slumbers welcomed the news in a zoom call with journalists from this week’s AIG Women’s Open at Royal Troon. However, he issued yet another call to clubs to do their utmost to help attract more people to the game. He said:
“Our real challenge now is to make it sustainable. You have heard me talk about people will join golf clubs when golf clubs are selling the product that people want to buy, and we've still got to do that. We've still got to keep changing and we've still got to keep being modern and relevant.
“This could be a real opportunity for the game if we can grasp it and start showing the game in a positive way. I think that there's going to be a huge amount more debate about the need for health and the need for mental well-being out of this. It's been an extraordinary five or six months, and I think golf is right up there, and I intend to use my efforts to maximise the value.”
Slumbers has put getting more women and girls involved in the game at the forefront off his tenure as R&A boss. He’s helped that cause by taking this week’s championship to formerly all-male Royal Troon. Two years from now the Women’s Open travels to Muirfield, like Troon previously off limits for women.
Slumbers deserves credit for taking the Women’s Open to these courses, Muirfield in particular, where it seemed as if hell would need to freeze over before the world’s top women would be welcomed. However, the SMS figures prove Slumbers and the R&A have a long, tough road to increase the proportion of women and girls playing the game.
“It is about how to engage with a broader audience as a consumer audience, how to be part of developing what is a better diversity in the sport and a better diversity in the working of the sport, and how they can be part of that journey that we are trying to move the game on. You know, I look at the U.K., and I look at club golfs, and it's about 15 per cent of club members are female. In countries where the game is really growing, that number is in the 20s and 30s, and the high 30s in some cases. So the opportunity to grow the audience is dramatic.”
Covid-19 has given golf a silver lining. The game has emerged stronger despite all that’s going on in the world. The R&A can only do so much. It's carpe diem time for golf clubs, their chance to cash in and help grow the game. After all, it’s in their best interests for more people to take up this stick and ball game.
#JustSaying: “There never was a game like the old Scottish Game/That’s played twixt the hole and the tee;/You may roam the world o’er but the game at your door,/Is the very best game you will see.” Anonymous, 1845