Is golf still part of Scotland's fabric?
Golf seems to be fighting for its life in its spiritual home.
The news that Ayrshire council is considering closing five municipal golf courses – Maybole, Dalmilling, Girvan, Seafield and Belleisle – to try to save £9 million is not good for those trying to grow the game in Scotland.
As Michael McEwan notes on the Bunkered website, Belleisle has a great name in Scottish golf, Girvan is part links with brilliant views of Ailsa Craig, while the 9-hole Maybole track has been around since 1905.
Belleisle, Seafield and Girvan are all James Braid designs. Sad to think creations by the five-time Open champion are going to be consigned to the dustbin of golf history.
This news comes on the back of Glasgow City Council preparing to close five of the six courses it runs – Littlehill, Lethamhill, Linn Park, Alexandra Park, and Ruchill – to try to save money.
Last year saw the closure of such courses as Dollar near Stirling, Mount Ellen in Glasgow and Letham Grange, the course not far from Carnoustie once described as “the Augusta of the North.”
I was fortunate to play Letham Grange (pictured) shortly after it opened. (BTW, it was no Augusta.) There was a buzz about the club in those days. I returned about 10 years ago and it was obvious then the facility had not blossomed the way original investors had hoped. The curling rink had long since closed and looked in a sorry state. It seemed to foreshadow what was in store for the golf courses, which sadly came to pass last year.
Courses closures aren’t mutual to Scotland. England saw a handful of closures last year too. It’s just that we don’t expect Scottish golf courses to close.
For many years, we’ve been sold this notion as golf being part of the fabric of Scottish society. The village or town golf course has long been painted as the hub of the community. Maybe once upon a time but, seemingly, not anymore.
That’s not to say golf isn’t still important in some Scottish towns. The game is still central to St Andrews and North Berwick, while Dornoch thrives from the visitors its eponymous Royal course attracts.
However, golf clubs are obviously no longer as important to local communities as they once were, especially for cash-strapped local councils.
As I reported last week, golf club membership has fallen over the last five years in Great Britain. Scotland experienced a 14.07% drop. There were 209,812 golf club members in the Home of Golf in 2014. There are 180,281 according to the latest figures.
What we don’t know is how many of those 29,531 former members have quit the game entirely, and how many are still playing but don’t want to be tied to one club.
There are multiple reasons for this exodus from club life. Existing clubs need to take note to arrest the slide or they too might be hanging CLOSED notices on their entrances.