‘Scottish clubs will continue to close down’
The CEO of the Scottish Golf Union has said more golf clubs in Scotland will close down as some venues are adapting to change too slowly.
Two historic Scottish golf clubs, Torphin Hill in Edinburgh and Lothianburn, have both closed down within the last six months, although some Scottish venues have reported strong starts to 2014 partly because Gleneagles is hosting the Ryder Cup later this year.
Hamish Grey said he would be “very surprised” if there aren’t more closures and has called for clubs to offer more flexible membership categories and generally focus more on customer service so that their facilities are perceived as being welcoming.
“I started as chief executive in 1998 and, though membership in Scottish golf clubs was still growing until 2007, it has been a matter of time regarding club closures,” he said. “I’d be very surprised if there aren’t more closures, though I have no idea how many and it would be wrong to speculate on the number.
“You always have to look after the people who are your customers and maybe it was a case in golf when clubs had long waiting lists that they were too relaxed and didn’t feel as though they should be worried about the future.
“The problem is deeper than just the recession. The real issue is that consumer behaviour is changing and that’s not unique to golf, it’s happening to gym memberships, to political parties. People are engaging in different ways. There is more choice than ever, not just what you do but how you do it. With golf, people are playing more nomadically.”
Grey called on every golf club to formulate a business plan that would focus on their own specific issues, but said there are generic details all golf clubs can get right.
“If we continue to offer what we would all recognise as traditional memberships, as a take-it-or-leave approach, then more and more golfers are going to say ‘no’ to that. They’ll not take it. They want flexibility and that varies through life.
“But, no matter what happens in the participation programmes, clubs need to provide the right welcoming environment. We need to make people feel welcome in golf clubs – and we need to do better at that.
“Above all, clubs need a good business plan – it’s fundamental. Then they need good sustainable governance going forward. You don’t want a captain that’s great and all-powerful one year and membership goes up then a year later one that’s not so good on the skills set and it goes down. You can’t run a business like that.”
The Scottish Golf Union has approximately 575 golf clubs affiliated to it, and has deployed three club development officers throughout the country to help scores of clubs improve their financial performances.
Grey added that 30 percent of Scottish golf clubs are currently seeing their memberships rise, and this is largely down to the Clubgolf programme that is teaching the game to juniors.
He also said that proposals to amalgamate the Scottish Golf Union, which runs the men’s amateur game in Scotland, with the Scottish Ladies’ Golfing Association, which happened in England in 2011-12, are progressing well. A working group that was set up to explore a merger is set to write a proposal shortly, he explained.
“There’s a lot of work going on behind the scenes,” he said. “The working group is continuing its work and I think it would be fair to say that they are now starting to write a proposal. We’re not doing this for the next year; we are doing it for the next 50 to 100 years. So we are going to make sure we get that right – and that is right by everyone’s definition.
“The reality is that the Scottish Golf Union and Scottish Ladies’ Golfing Association are now working more closely than ever before. We have joint staff meetings and many of our staff work across both organisations.”