From time to time, I have been accused of "negativity," especially when I've written about the topic I'm dealing with now. I do not think so, it's reality. The alarm bells ring for 15 years. One wonders if those responsible are similar to those on the bridge of the Titanic.
KPMG's annual golf participation report for 2019 was released last week, and it's no surprise that membership in British and Irish golf clubs slipped further in 2017/8.
In Scotland, between 2017 and 2018, there was a 4% decline in 7,521 registered golfers. In Wales, there was a fall of 4.06% from 44,551 to 42,743.
England, still with the most registered golfers in Europe, recorded a decline of 1.63%.
There were 645,151 registered golfers in 2018 versus 655,839 in 2017. Ireland has remained relatively static, but the trend is still going in the "wrong direction". A decrease of 0.58% = loss of 1,063 registered golfers to lower the participation rate to 182,398.
It is not healthy that there has been a fall of 8.59% since 2014, when there were 199,550 golf club members. In total, the four home states lost 122,625 golf club members in five years, a decrease of 10.43%.
KPMG did not include golfers who do not belong to any golf club or those who have quit their membership but still play, which could be a significant, if unknown, crowd.
An even more alarming statistic is that twenty years ago 20 rounds per year justified a one-year subscription, now it's 40. Question: What percentage of the members actually play 40 rounds a year?
It is less important, but most telling, that 47 percent of the members submit enough cards (three) to keep a handicap, while only 53 percent take part in official competitions. In the past, membership was the cheapest way to play golf regularly.
Now the unaffiliated golfer can play an abundance of golf courses for almost $ 20 or less on almost any day of the week, which is totally untenable. Golf clubs have conspired to make a disaster in a self-defeated "price race".
With only 14% of female golfers, it's obvious that golfing is most affected by fewer young men than by more women and girls picking up the game and staying with it for a lifetime.
Apart from the few men's clubs, it is the so-called "same-sex" clubs that do not really blame their own female members.
Too often, the apology is made that subscriptions are too expensive, but you have to look more closely than just the cost to explain the decline in the demand for membership in a golf club.
Life seems to be much more in the way than in the past, and lack of time is compounded by the much longer playing time of 18 holes.
Parents have less free time and there are so many competitive recreational activities and attractions that compete for a limited disposable income. When I started playing golf in the early 1960s, golf was generally considered a game for old men. Teenagers or golfers in their twenties were rare sightings.
Golf was for the 40-year-olds. It was the defining activity for the middle and declining years. Most avid golf club members have had and have a common history.
After playing any other sport under the sun, they looked for a not-too-strenuous exercise as soon as their "real" match days were over.
Golf was considered a gentle activity for the Middle Ages, which can be enjoyed long after playing other, more active sports. To be competitive in the sixties and seventies with a handicap was to let the joy run wild.
Strangely enough, demographics in most golf clubs are now considered a problem, especially when failed initiatives to attract more young people to golf fail. Why is that such a problem?
Would not it be just as strategically beneficial for clubs to realize that the future is safe, as long as enough new members are regularly hired in their forties and fifties to replace the dying or give up the game due to illness?
Golf must redouble its sales efforts by turning more attention to its biggest asset as an ideal activity for a healthy and challenging middle-and-beyond age group, with the promise that golfers will live 5-10 years longer when they play twice per game Week 18 hole (and they run; do not ride)
And the best way to make sure the older members have enough fun is to shorten the course by pushing the markdowns forward.
After all, Golf Ireland does not invest its considerable sums of money (which are deducted from any regular club member) to send hounded elite scoundrels looking for "experiences" around the globe, in the false hope that they might become professional ambassadors Irish golf, would not it be better if this money was reinvested in urban golf and free nationwide exercise programs for all?
Words of the wise
Golf is a sport that most people tend to do later in life when they are out of clunk at hurling, football or rugby.
It's great to start a sport where comradeship and competition are possible without the physical trauma of damaged rotator cuffs and dodgy knees (bad backs are the exception).