Hard to believe it’s only six months since Scotland witnessed arguably the greatest final day of any golf tournament ever staged. The contrast between the joyous scenes at Gleneagles at the conclusion of the Solheim Cup and the depressing news from Scottish Golf headquarters couldn’t be more disparate.
How hard can it be to run a successful organisation in a country of less than six million in what is the Home of Golf? Impossible it seems.
If you haven’t been reading the dispatches of Scotsman golf correspondent Martin Dempster and Courier golf writer Steve Scott, I suggest you do so. Especially if you’re interested in what’s happening in the country that gave us this great game. My learned friends are chronicling what appears to be the unravelling of the body that governs the game in its birthplace.
Martin isn’t the shoot first aim later type, so when’s he’s calling for Scottish Golf board chair Eleanor Cannon to quit following the sudden departure of chief executive Andrew McKinlay, the third CEO in the four years, then you know something’s rotten in the headquarters of Scottish Golf.
I’m not surprised Scottish Golf is in a mess. I’ve been lamenting the state of Scottish golf for years. You only have to look at the bare facts to realise the game isn’t in as good a shape in its birthplace as it should be.
There are now just 180,281 registered golfers (golf club members) in Scotland according to the latest KPMG figures. There were 209,812 in 2014. A spate of golf clubs have closed in recent years, while many municipal layouts are in danger as cash starved local councils look to save money.
Scotland has produced just two major winners in the last 21 years. Catriona Matthew is the last Scot to win a major, the 2009 Ricoh Women’s British Open. In fact, she's still the only Scottish woman to win a major. Paul Lawrie’s 1999 Open Championship victory is the last by a Scottish man. You have to go back to Sandy Lyle in 1988 to find the previous Scottish major winner.
Don’t throw that "we suffer from a smaller population argument" at me. New Zealand has less than five million people yet its rugby team is the best in the world. Canada has a population of just under 40 million but is the superior nation in (ice) hockey. Oh, and Northern Ireland has produced three major champions in the last 10 years.
Matthew and Lawrie are great ambassadors for the game. Matthew captained that victorious Solheim Cup side last year, and has been the sole Scot in the upper echelons of the women’s game for far too long. Eight-time European Tour winner Lawrie has done his bit while mentoring promising young Scots through his eponymous Foundation.
Steven Gallacher, Richie Ramsay, Scott Jamieson, Marc Warren, Russel Knox, Martin Laird and a few others have also given Scottish golf writers stories to write since the heady days when Colin Montgomerie was sometimes the only Scottish story.
Robert MacIntyre’s 2019 season gave Scottish golf fans much hope. He finished 11th on the Race to Dubai to win the European Tour’s rookie of the year award. He was the only Scot in the top 50.
Four Frenchmen finished in the top 50. There were three Italians. Golf is a minority sport in France and Italy.
True, there are young Scots like Connor Syme, David Law and Grant Forrest just starting their careers who could go on to do much in the professional scene.
A look at the amateur ranks doesn’t inspire confidence either. Hannah Darling is the highest ranked Scottish woman on the World Amateur Golf Ranking at 62nd. She’s one of three Scots inside the top 100. You have to go to 195th to find the fourth, Chloe Goadby, and 396th to find the fifth, Eilidh Briggs.
Things aren’t much better on the men’s side of the WAGR table, despite Nairn’s Sandy Scott clocking in at world number 10. You have to scroll down to 238th to find the next highest Scot, Connor Mckinney, and 356th to find the fifth, Callum Bruce.
I seem to have been writing what’s wrong with Scottish golf stories forever. In 2008, I canvassed players during the Scottish Open for their opinions on the state of Scottish golf. The quotes below could easily apply today.
“Things have hardly changed since my day.” Andrew Oldcorn.
“All you have to do is look at the number of good continental players, and players from other parts of the world, to see that we need to catch up.” Colin Montgomerie.
“We are getting lapped by the rest of the world.” Bob Torrance.
“I want to see something put in place for guys when they turn pro to give them a bit of help. It’s just a case of getting the structure in place.” Steven Gallacher.
That last quote is perhaps most depressing. The structure was arguably better in 2008 than it is now. It seems to be crumbling. Scottish Golf must get its house in order.