• Chris King

The Future of Golf in Scotland

Updated: Aug 2, 2019

At a glance

- Between 2007 and 2017 Scottish Golf clubs lost approximately 47,000 members (21%). (Scottish Golf, 2017)

- If that trend were to continue for the next 10 years, then by 2030, there would be less than 126,000 members registered with Scottish golf clubs.

- At Scottish golf clubs only 6% of current members are younger than 35, only 13.35 % are women, while 58.5% are 55 and older. As golf clubs continue to lose memberships through an ageing population there is not a strong enough pipeline of younger members to sustain golf clubs. (Scottish Golf, 2017)


Intro


Figure 1: Number of Scottish Golf Members 2007-2017

Scotland is the home of golf, where the most storied golf courses are located. It is therefore worrying that, collectively, Scottish golf clubs have lost 21% of their members since 2007, as seen in Figure 1.

Not only has Scotland lost 21% of their members in the last 10 years, the majority of golf members are ageing, with 58.5% of members falling into the 55 and older demographic. Unless the current trend in membership decline is rectified, then the 2.4% yearly loss in members would lead to less than 126,000 members across all clubs in Scotland by 2030, shown in Figure 2 below.

Figure 2: Number of Scottish Golf Club Members - Actual & Projected (2007-2030)

Scottish Golf identified three demographics that should be targeted in order to reverse membership decline; families, females, and young people (juniors). Research published by the R&A and Syngenta has concluded that the following factors contributed to the underrepresentation of these groups; discriminatory and exclusive golf club environments, lack of diversity, absence of targeted events and competitions, and the exclusion of women. While some golf clubs have been struggling, there are some clubs that have increased their memberships in recent years:

  • Between 2016 – 2018 Mortonhall Golf Club in Edinburgh increased their junior membership by 130 and now has a waiting list of young people wanting to join under junior memberships.

  • In 2013 Leven Thistle Golf Club reached a low of 280 members; the club now has a membership over 530. Through the recruitment of younger players and juniors Leven Thistle recently recruited their 100th member under the age of 29, compared to only 46 senior members.

  • After Sale Golf Club lost 50 members from 2016 – 2017, the club set out to increase their membership by promoting female-targeted events and memberships. They offered a series of courses and programs that started with a free “taster session”, followed by a 4-week ladies coaching course, a get-into-golf membership, and finally a full membership. With this strategy they recruited 24 women to join the club as full members.

  • In 2017 Oxford Golf Club experienced a further decrease in membership, prompting their new club manager to implement strategies aimed at families and juniors. They offered a free membership to every member’s son, daughter, or grandchild to encourage families to play together. They also stratified their junior memberships and developed a 12 and under training academy to encourage junior participation. From 2017 to 2018 they saw an increase of 80 members, almost all of which were aged 25 and younger.

The key strategies that these clubs adopted are based on targeting population segments that have historically been underdeveloped by golf clubs, namely; women, juniors, and families. These segments represent a great opportunity for golf clubs to increase participation, providing stability and viability for their organisations.


Framing golf for the family

Research compiled by England Golf in 2016 found that 50% of non-golfers and 40% of lapsed golfers (golfers who have stopped playing) would be encouraged to play golf if their friends and family played. Camilla Hodge, professor of Health and Kinesiology Recreation at the University of Utah, concluded in 2016 that, in terms of predicting family participation in sport and leisure activities, the perceived quality of the “product” has been the most consistent factor.

Thus, any efforts made to attract families should also focus on providing an exceptional family experience rather than simply securing a high number of family memberships. To attract more families into club membership, clubs need to create membership categories for families that provide value for money; offering benefits such as reduced yearly fees, or providing lessons and coaching to improve the quality of playing experience.


Attracting female golfers

Only 13% of all registered golf club members in Scotland are women, and only 1 out of every 124 women in Scotland (0.8%) are golf club members, as illustrated in Figure 3.

Figure 3: Scottish Female Golfer Statistics 2017

Regardless of age demographic, females are wildly underrepresented, and marketing efforts aimed at turning latent and non-golfing females into members would serve to greatly increase overall membership. In 2011, Dr. Vanessa MacKinnon, professor at California University of Pennsylvania, stated that although females present a great opportunity for golf clubs to increase their membership, clubs will often prioritise male customers in terms of marketing practices and strategies.

A limitation that may keep females from participating in golf is gender bias typically in the clubhouse and on the golf course. Comments made inadvertently by male golfers, towards other male golfers, who fail to hit the golf ball past the lady’s tees, serve to reinforce notions of gender bias in a golfing environment. Dr. Heather Hundley, professor of communication studies at Middle Tennessee State University, published research in 2004 stating that one of the most successful ways to overcome these types of gender biases is to encourage mixed gender participation events, which often lead to a reduction in gender related stereotypes.

L. McGinnis and J. Gentry concluded in their article, from the Journal of Sport Management (2006), that domestic and childcare responsibilities are a major participation barrier for women in golf, as they factor more strongly for women’s participation than for men. This can be remedied by increasing family memberships at the club, as women will be more likely to play if their family responsibilities coincide with leisure (golf) activities. A survey conducted of 1,000 female golfers by Dr. Niamh Kitching concluded that 65% of respondents identified their partners, parents and other family members as the catalysts for taking up golf. Additionally, 8 out of 10 female golfers surveyed had another member of the household that also played golf.


The next generation of golfers

Without a younger generation of new players coming through to increase golf membership, Scottish golf faces a difficult challenge. As shown in Figure 4, only 3% of golf members in Scotland are under the age of 18, while 59% of golf members aged 55 and over.

Figure 4: Age Demographics of Scottish Golf Club Members

Research on youth participation in golf published by Syngenta found that the main barriers limiting young people from taking up golf include:

  • Difficulty and high cost to take up the sport

  • Perception of golf as an “old persons” sport

  • Lack of younger professionals and role models in the sport

  • Stuffy atmosphere around golf clubs

  • Lack of adaptability in play and course choice

Syngenta found that whilst an underlying interest in golf from young people exists, there are too many perceived barriers preventing them from actively taking up the sport and remaining involved. Tactics that clubs can easily employ to remove these barriers and attract more junior golfers include:

  • Lowering membership fees and adopting more affordable equipment prices and rental fees

  • Improving coaching and academy schemes to teach rules, skills and increase overall enjoyment from playing

  • Improving social culture in the club to build friendships with other juniors at club

  • Promoting younger golf professionals as ambassadors of the club to increase perception that golf is for younger people

  • Creating easier access to clubs to lessen the dependency on parents chauffeuring them

  • Creating flexible play (9 holes instead of 18) to increase speed of play

  • Adopting casual dress on the course and in the clubhouse, creating a more relaxed atmosphere throughout the club

Syngenta suggest one of the prime catalysts for young people in taking up golf is family influence; focusing on increasing family participation in golf, like with female golfers, may result in an increase in junior memberships.



If you are involved in your local golf club and are interested in strategies to help your club grow, contact us using the details below. We can create a bespoke strategy to ensure your club will be around for generations to come.


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