Monday, January 18, 2010

Scottish golf clubs still reluctant to become

wiser with old age and encourage the young

Hands up all those Scottish golf clubs that have taken positive steps to encourage young people, women and families to join them and redress the balance of our great courses and clubhouses that are threatening to become eventide homes populated mainly by greying old men.
From here, it looks like a minority, but the number of enlightened clubs is certainly more than a year ago when The Herald ran the original Timebomb series, warning that the vast majority of clubs, top heavy with senior men expecting heavily subsidised and even free golf, urgently needed to change course from what was a highway to oblivion.
It is not that clubs want rid of these passionate veterans. Tom Watson, who turned 60 shortly after almost winning last year’s Open Championship at Turnberry, showed that age can be overcome by attitude, and likewise Jack Nicklaus who will be 70 on Thursday.
Seniors have an important role to play, but at stake is the issue of asking them to pay a fair price for the services they receive and retaining them as members while at the same time attracting on board a new generation.
An unprecedented army of baby-boomers are about to enter the ranks of the 65-and-overs but there is little evidence of that younger generation coming in behind to support them. Waiting lists that bred complacency for decades are gone, or fast going, and indications are that memberships are more than 10,000 down over the last six years in a trend that has not yet bottomed out.
Club golf has become a buyer’s market and young people have a choice to the extent that there are tales of some turning up at clubs and attempting to negotiate a bargain in the same way that they would when buying a car.
These people are unlikely to be impressed by stuffy old clubs, from a faintly pompous era with an outdated culture notable for intolerant dress rules, demanding a hefty entrance fee up front in addition to the annual subscription.
What they are more likely to be looking for is an affordable, modern environment catering for their needs and offering value for money. A growing number of clubs understand that and are ready to present a persuasive case why membership is better than a nomadic existence paying green fees.
Yet there are signs that the majority still don’t get it. For those clubs where apathy reigns, they may have to extract their heads from the sand sooner than they think and not only because of ailing balance sheets. Legislation is on the way that promises to outlaw mixed-gender clubs who do not have a policy of equal rights. It may even become illegal to offer subsidies to those pampered senior men, curiously the ones who are often in a position to make most use of the facilities.
The Single Equality Bill that is going through parliament is understood to permit positive discrimination, which means it would be allowable to offer discounts to minorities. In Scottish club golf that tends to be young people, specifically the 18-to-30 age group, and women.
In the past, senior men were a minority, but not any longer. So the generous subsidies that are enshrined in many constitutions as soon as you hit 65, with a suitably long continuity of membership, are under threat.
While we will have to wait and see on that count, there are some clubs who have already grasped the nettle, presented a compelling case to the membership, and taken decisions either to reduce the subsidies or eliminate them altogether.
The ones who have done so deserve credit. They have shown that seniors, an ever more powerful group when it comes to votes at annual meetings, are open to persuasion and are willing to take decisions for the benefit of the club even if it hits them in the pocket.
Another aspect of life at traditional members’ clubs that may have to change is the all-powerful committee comprised usually of well-meaning amateurs, few of whom are the least bit qualified to undertake the job their fellow members have elected them to do. At some clubs they presume to direct key personnel like the manager, steward, professional and head greenkeeper.
These committees change regularly leaving the professionals, who have a much better grasp of what has to be done and are aware of the need of pursuing a long-term plan, in a state of exasperation.
There is a mood of change brought on by a combination of the economic downturn and the demographic crisis, but the indications so far are that it is not happening fast enough.
* Do you think seniors pay enough for their golf?
* Is your club doing enough to attract young people?
* Are equal rights a good thing?
* What is your solution to falling memberships?
Send your views to



Post a Comment

<< Home

Copyright © Colin Farquharson

If you can't find what you are looking for.... please check the Archive List or search this site with Google