I pen this item mid-way across the Atlantic on a 9 hour flight to Seattle – I always find that sitting quietly on an aircraft provides me with the opportunity to contemplate the “meaning of life” or on this particular occasion, “what’s happening to golf?” I’m not sure that right now at grass roots level, it’s in the desperate state that the more pessimistic would have us believe. However, I do feel that it is somewhere on the slippery slope and that at Club level it needs to take a long hard look at itself.

In our own case, we have been blessed with a considerable infusion of Environmental Agency monies following our agreement to help alleviate a long-standing flood issue in Skipton (click here to read more) but whilst this may have provided valuable funds, it also allowed our competitors to spread “Fake News” by suggesting that we weren’t offering an 18 hole golf course to members and visitors alike. Actually, we have never offered anything but 18 holes and with the course development now undertaken and maturing rapidly, we believe that we will be providing in the future, one of the finest golf courses in the North of England.

Record crowds

For us at Skipton Golf Club or any other club for that matter, a “windfall” could be a recipe for complacency but as anyone should know, complacency can also lead to disaster.  We are confident that this won’t happen at Skipton. Strangely, at a Professional level, the game has never seen so much prize money available as there is right now.  Consider a $10 million bonus for the winner of the FedEx series in America.  It’s a touch obscene and yet at this level, the game still attracts massive crowds.  Take the recently held British Masters at Close House where record crowds attended the event. But is this popularity washing through to the very lower levels of Club golf?  In my opinion, a big no, it isn’t and unless something changes then golf is in the very early throws of a death spiral.  We have for instance witnessed over the previous twelve months an escalation in golf club closures.

The Professional ranks used to be the catalyst and the inspiration for people like me.  Faldo, Lyle, Ballesteros and Langer. When they were winning majors, it created a boom time in golf and I well remember my own experience of trying to find a club without a waiting list and a joining fee.  Heady days, long gone and possibly never to be revisited – unless of course we change.

The ‘Wiggins effect’?

But what is the problem?  Some blame the Wiggins/Froome effect which has turned people to Lycra and cycling.  Some blame the time-consuming nature.  And then there are those who still believe it’s a game played by stuffy, old people (yes, that’s me) who are unable to tear themselves away from the past and drag themselves into the 21st Century.  All these go some way to explaining things but they do create an urgent need to take a long hard look at ourselves and to change.

Personally, the word that I would major on as we go forwards is Welcoming.  It’s surely the key word and is the umbrella for everything we should be trying to achieve at our own Club.  As members we all have a responsibility for the success or indeed failure of a Club.  Under that umbrella are other words vital to our success – Smile, Enthuse, Enjoy, Help, Support, Volunteer, Positivity.  I could go on. We have a terrific example in our Professional Peter Robinson who personifies everything that golf clubs should be doing.  Has anybody ever experienced a miserable Peter and a poor welcome to members and visitors alike?  I’d stake a King’s ransom they haven’t!

Negativity achieves zilch!  Is this a peculiarly British disease?  Surely not but I fail to understand why we all thrive on negativity and liking things to fail rather than emphasising the positives.  At my age and waking up in the morning to find I’m still breathing, what do I have to complain about?  Even better, stand on that first tee of any course with the prospect of exercise, good company and fantastic scenery and life surely feels pretty good.

I’m not delusional. I certainly haven’t discovered nirvana and boy, our own club doesn’t always get it right but we need to learn from those mistakes we make, albeit unintentionally.

The future

Golf clubs can only survive if they attract new members and visitors through the gates.  The staff in any club are fundamental to survival and success but so are members and those staff need support both on and off the course.  How many of us never venture into the clubhouse to support our catering and bar staff?  Lots I would suggest and yet the contribution from these two sources are critical to Club income and at the end of the day, to keeping subs down.

I for one have committed to doing my bit in any way that benefits my own Club.  Smiling, enthusing, supporting and volunteering.  In fact, anything that contributes to the survival and the success of a brilliant golf club.

As a Past Captain, Past President, Chairman of the Board and long serving Committee member at Skipton Golf Club, I feel qualified to comment as I have.  Perhaps this article might make our own members want to “shoot the messenger”.  On the other hand, I hope it might make anyone who reads this article, to think a little!