Scottish Golf held their first national conference this past weekend at the Edinburgh International Conference Centre (EICC). An encouraging 500+ delegates turned out from clubs all around the country to debate the future of Scottish Golf and the key challenges facing the game today.  So an event I was very much looking forward to.

Scottish Golf Limited as they are now known, like the game of Golf itself, have reached a crossroads.  Earlier this year they suffered a huge blow when Sportscotland announced that funding for Scottish Golf was being reduced from £1,025,000 to just £665,000 for 2017-18, which was part of a wider £10million reduction in the backing for Scottish Sport from the National Lottery and the Scottish Government. Scottish Golf Limited’s controversial new strategy was then shelved after receiving widespread criticism, and with it, the CEO Blane Dodds resigned. The plan received heavy criticism, not least for the proposal to raise affiliation fees from £11.25 to £24, but there was a general feeling that the plan was based on a one size fits all approach. As a result, Scottish Golf now have some important choices to make, and hence they are now trying to connect and consult with their member clubs, as part of a process to help build a consensus for a way forward.

Scottish Golf’s cash position does remains strong; in 2017 it has generated £3.7million of income, and the board has protected reserves to ensure sustainability, but the gap left by funding means they need to find new revenue streams. However, this is proving difficult. Roz Cushieri from the Board of Directors spoke of the challenges they face in generating income through sponsorships, which are mainly due to golfs exclusivity. This deters investment, as companies do not see golf as an attractive investment and due to its exclusivity, one that cannot produce a ROI when compared to other sports. The message therefore, is that Golf needs to be focus on attracting families, women and youngsters, and to do so we need to look at ways of becoming more family friendly and lose the exclusivity label.

The board presented some useful insights into the challenges Golf Clubs across the country are facing, along with some alarming statistics for Scottish Golf:

  • Reducing memberships: In the last 10 years, approximately 5,000 golfers have resigned from golf clubs each year.
  • Reducing visitor fee’s: Membership fees have been steadily heading north over the years, whereas visitor fees are heading south.
  • An ageing demographic: The vast majority of golf club members are now over 55 years old and with that, more and more members are falling into discounted categories, putting more pressures on Golf Club revenues.
  • The new ‘squeezed middle’: the ageing demographic is putting more pressure on the full members in terms of fees, and along with busy lifestyles and family commitments is creating a new time poor squeezed middle.
  • In addition, we are competing in a saturated market.

The issues facing Scottish golf are very real and the cost of being a member of a golf club could soar unless we can stop the decline in memberships.  Stewart Darling, a member of the Scottish Golf Board said that if membership numbers continue to decrease at the current rate over the next 10 years, then we would see a net decrease in golf club members of 29%, and as a results clubs would then need to increase fees by 84% in order to sustain such a loss. Therefore, Clubs must become pro-active in recruiting new members and imaginative in creating the right environment that appeals to the modern golfer.

In terms of creating the right environment Scottish Golf have partnered with Deloitte Consulting, and together they shared an exciting video giving us an insight into a future project that will better connect all aspects of golf clubs through digitalization. Click here to see the video. This will allow clubs to connect with their members, visitors, friends and family and better target consumers. So making golf more social, visual, and using data to create insights. This for me is key to the future of golf clubs, critical for attracting the younger generation, and the power and potential for data is huge, but something the game of golf is sadly lacking. This project will bring with it some much-needed value-add to golf clubs, so something to be excited about.

The debate itself centered on how we can increase the value of membership, generate a greater contribution from the nomadic golfer, and how to attract and retain more women, families and the younger generation of golfers? These questions generated plenty of ideas, as well as many innovative ones, and so a very productive session, with plenty for to ponder for both Golf Clubs and Scottish Golf.

 

The main take-away for me however, is that no one has a solution to the challenges we face, there isn’t a one size fits all, and it is going to take time. Nevertheless, we are all in this together, so we must work together, we must share ideas, share successes and of course lessons learned.  Then, together we can move forward, but we can only move forward if we change our approach and our thinking.

 

 

 

 

Andy Fairbairn

Cawder Golf Club