This week the National Golf Centre was again quite a buzzing place. The annual Development conference took place and the conference centre was full of County officials and coaches. Growing the game was once again at the heart of the discussions which I guess in one respect is a bit ironic. It has been quite a while since this game was actually growing, at least in terms of membership. There are several signs that the actual number of rounds played is not falling but the issue from golf’s point of view is that the norm is more and more moving towards ‘why be a member of a golf club’. Given the Sport England and Government agenda the talk about numbers is very much focused on the 16+ age group where the aim is to increase participation in sports. For many golf clubs this is a tough ask.
One of the presentations at this conference came from a company called Fresh Minds that have done some work on market segmentation relating to golf. The results are quite mind blowing and incredibly useful I would say as they are able to show, more or less exactly, what needs to happen for golf to be at all interesting for the various segments of the market. The slightly depressing fact though is that there seems to be quite a number of segments where the only advice for golf would be to ‘forget about it’. This most often is down to the perception of golf that does not at all fit with these groups.
As I hear this I wonder about how much it is worth to try to convince these people and ‘win them over’. The alternative is obviously to say that ‘that horse has bolted, let us start again’. The starting again would have to begin with youngsters so that by the time they get to 16+ they already have a relation to golf. Which alternative is the most viable one might be the $64,000 question that we are searching for the answer to, but it is clear that both models require many golf clubs to completely re-think their commercial model
Sometimes things are meant to be. After the Eisenhower Trophy in Argentina in October one of our players did one of the most open and honest appraisals of himself that I have ever seen. I think every coach way too often has sat there with that feeling of ‘if only you knew what it takes’ when players lay out their well intended plans and talks about their strengths and weaknesses. This time was different though. Having been blown away by the conditions and seriously stitched up by both the golf courses and the fellow competitors this player instead gave the impression that makes you go ‘wow, he has got it!’. During the winter our player has become a true scholar, not only of the game but of the whole dynamics involved in performance development for both mind and body. His journey is truly remarkable and even though his first event for the year, the Jones Cup, showed that there is still work to do and even though the Portuguese Amateur certainly did not have all the top players present he has still won, and more importantly done it in a way that he has not done before. The most important thing of all though – if I know the ‘new Eddie’ right – he is not too bothered about that winning thing. All he knows is that there are things he can do better next time. When every time you are on the golf course, or why not at work, is a learning opportunity there is no stopping you. Dave Alred said it – the key question to answer is:
-“Why am I better this Monday than I was last Monday?”
Full scores from the Portuguese Amateur, click here.
In the latest edition of the ‘Svensk Golf’, the Swedish Golf Federation magazine that goes out to every member of a Swedish golf club there is quite a big article about the falling membership of juniors. Since the peak in the year 2000 when Swedish golf clubs had more than 90,000 junior members (under the age of 21) this has been in a steady decline and the number is now down to about 50,000. This is obviously a dramatic drop. When looking at the once so flourishing junior nation-wide tournament (my generation would probably still refer to it as the Colgate Cup even though it has been the Skandia Cup for years) where the big participation event was always the club qualification, the percentage drop is even greater. It goes without saying that there is a huge problem with junior participation in Sweden.
The fight against the trend of falling membership numbers is certainly not unique for Sweden. English golf clubs are bleeding and we see the same in many European countries. Therefore what I learned today is quite encouraging. Through the work of the Golf Foundation golf’s role on the school curriculum has increased from a ridiculous number to about 45% in only the last few years. In other words 45% of the young kids in the country get the chance to try golf in school. This has got to be the way to at least plant the seed. The pro-active clubs will then have every chance to come into the school and pick up the interested ones. The non active ones will still stand there wondering where the good days went. The super pro-active ones will have made sure that the juniors have a course to play on and somebody there to make sure they come back the next day. I do not think it is any more difficult than that! But on the other hand it is not any easier either…
Yes, I think it was a pretty good day. England cleared the deck with Australia and the second Ashes of the year went this way. 13-5 on greens that coach Dave Ridley reported were ‘like trying to putt down a marble stair case’. Apparently they ran at 13 on the stimp at Elanora GC just outside Sydney. England players during the Australian swing were 2nd in the Master of Amateurs (Sullivan), 1st in the NSW stroke play championship (Sullivan again) and both winner and runner up in the NSW match play (Senior and Sullivan). Add to that the impressive win against the Australian team and I would call it a pretty successful start to the year. Andrew Sullivan has certainly has his international break throughout this winter starting out in Argentina the other side of Christmas.
The County Golf meeting I think we will also have every reason to look positively upon. Maybe not quite the progress I was hoping for, but certainly a lot better than my worst fears. Also, it is very important to remember that there are a lot of good things about County Golf, especially in the north where league matches still draw large crowds. One of the keys in re-positioning county golf I believe will be the scheduling and the recognition that can be given to performances in matches. A number of really good ideas were tabled and the discussion will no doubt carry on. Next stop now is to report to the EGU Voting Members next week!
Today could be one of the more important days in English Golf in a long time. Yes, England are playing Australia in golf’s equivalent to the Ashes in Sydney but I am not even thinking about that. Coach Dave Ridley reports that England are up, 3-0, after the morning foursomes by the way. No, I am thinking about the 15 people that are meeting at Moor Park to discuss County Golf.
For as long as I have been involved in English Golf, which is over 5 years now, the difficult position of County Golf has been discussed. Those that have a far longer history in the game than I, have seen the role of County Golf decline over the years and players seem to more and more choose individual events with available ranking points, vouchers and hcp-adjustments before the chance to pull on their County jersey. One of the challenges is that nobody really has a mandate to decide over county golf as it is all organised by the counties themselves and hence very differently ran in the leagues across the country. The meeting today therefore has a wide spread of people with representation from all parts. I think now is the time to say ‘yes, we will do something about this’ or ‘the problem is there but it is too difficult to do anything so let us stop talking about it’. I am hoping for the first but am equally prepared for the latte
About three weeks ago I decided that I was going to go to Egypt this week. This seemed like a go idea for several reasons. I had developed a good relationship with the Egypt Golf Federation through their General Manager who happened to be a British National. As a young and emerging golf country they had started to put some good initiatives in place with the Egypt Amateur and the Egypt Open on the Challenge Tour. My contact also had a number of venues interested in hosting us for winter training lined up and we had some further ideas on working together.
Even though I am now, for obvious reasons, nowhere near Cairo I get reminded of how close I was to be in the middle of everything that has happened when I late last night get a text message from the airline saying that my flight scheduled for this morning from Cairo to London will leave on time. I guess the system has missed that my booking was cancelled a couple of days ago and will probably be taken by somebody else who is eager to get out and hopeful to get to a place where life at the moment is a lot easier.
As all internet and mobile phone traffic has been down in Cairo I have not even been able to communicate with my colleague out there. On Monday, some 24hrs before my intended take off time, he calls me to say – ‘I hope you are not intending to go to Cairo’. He describes how he and his young family literally fought their way onboard a flight that via Beirut took them back to the UK and how the situation in Cairo with surroundings is not short of horrific.
As I sit here in our safe, democratic part of the world I can only be embarrassed about how little I knew. About the dictatorship, values and lack of human rights that existed in a country that I was just about to visit. Hopefully this is a new beginning which means that things can only get better. The importance of golf fades dramatically in the light of recent happenings!