Meghan MacLaren asks an interesting question in her latest blog, one that’s very easy to answer.
“When we talk about ‘golf’, do we refer to the sport as a whole? Its grass-roots? Or what we watch on television? While the latter might only represent 0.1% of golfers, what % does it engage? And which of those things is more important to golf’s future?"
Well we all know the answer don’t we? As former Golf Magazine editor George Peper once famously said:
“Golf isn’t about FedEx Cups and Race to Dubai points. If professional golf were to vanish from the earth tomorrow, golfers around the world would observe a moment of silence and then go right on playing the game they love. They’d hardly notice the professional tours had disappeared. Golf would carry on.”
Peper made the comment in a speech at the 2010 Association of Golf Writers Dinner ahead of the Open Championship at St Andrews. Former PGA Tour and European Tour bosses Tim Finchem and George O’Grady were sitting a few feet away as Peper delivered these lines. I don’t think they were too happy, especially Finchem. He’d signed a lucrative deal with FedEx and wasn’t best pleased at Peper having the temerity to talk down the tour’s points race.
Many in the room that evening nodded in agreement. Newly crowned US Open champion Graeme McDowell was one of them. Perennial US Open contender Colin Montgomerie gave Peper the thumbs up.
Of course the grass-roots of the game is far more important to the game’s future. The good news is that grass-roots is apparently becoming far more active.
Latest figures from Sports Marketing Surveys shows rounds played in Great Britain last year were up 12% year on year despite most courses being closed for two months. SMS had been reporting consistent growth in each of the previous three quarters, and the fourth quarter of 2020 was no different. After a 59% increase in the third quarter, the end of the year saw a 41% jump.
As quoted in Golf Business News, SMS Director Richard Payne said:
“I know from speaking to them just how hard so many of the golf courses and governing bodies have worked to generate these results, but we still shouldn’t take them for granted. Golf has been one of the massive success stories of the past year in sport, with the UK success emulated in America. … We are optimistic and expect to see a further boost in 2021 when golf courses can reopen.”
What the figures don’t tell us is if the game grew. Are these rounds played from existing golfers, or has the game managed to attract newcomers? (If anyone has answers, then please forward them on.) That’s the key to golf’s future. Those that govern the game, from the R&A on down, need to attract new comers, especially children and people from diverse backgrounds, and do their utmost to ensure there are places for newcomers to play.
Answering to Meghan’s question is easy: the 99.9% matter far more than the .1% we watch on TV. This might come as blow to many tour pros, especially those pampered, entitled ones who blow a gasket when their luxury courtesy car shows up a few minutes late, but many of the 99.9 percent couldn’t give a flying you know what about professional golf. In fact, many might not observe a minute’s silence if it disappeared, because they might not even notice it had gone.
The .1%? Who cares about the .1%? Not as many as they think, that's for sure.
#JustSaying: “The attraction of the game for many club players lies in the simple matter of escape and change – escape from the routine of work and home, and change from the inhibiting environment of factory or office.” Peter Alliss