It is women and children first in the R&A’s latest bid to grow the game of golf. In the opinion of Martin Slumbers, the R&A’s chief executive, “a significant growth opportunity” exists for the game in the UK if it can attract more women, girls and families into playing the sport more often.
Slumbers’ feelings are entirely in accord with the findings of a new research report published by the R&A. The report, which is headed by Dr John Fry from the International Institute for Golf Education, begins by pointing out that golf has plenty of things in its favour, what with the game becoming an Olympic sport and more spectators homing in on the majors than ever before. Against that, though, he notes that according to one survey, the number of registered golfers decreased by more than 4 percent in the UK and nearly 8 percent in America between 2012 and 2017.
There are plenty to argue that these two golfing lands do not necessarily share the same problems. Whatever the reason for the 8 percent dip in the States, it is almost certainly not down to any desperate dearth of women and children. By all accounts, they are the fastest-growing segment of the American game.
In a video going hand in hand with the written research, Fry makes a good fist of explaining how clubs in the UK need to understand parents’ aspirations for their children. For the most part, he thinks that such aspirations have less to do with any great desire to compete than to have fun. Not, mind you, that too many people would go along with his notion that if kids want to kick the ball out of the rough, they should be allowed to get on with it. (Not a good move for the future, I would have thought.)
Believing as he does that no club should try to be all things to all men, he goes on to recommend that there should be family-friendly clubs sitting side by side with more traditional venues. The family-friendly clubs could forget dress codes and offer a range of restaurants and membership rates which make sense financially. As for the more traditional clubs, they could be more about competitive play and encouraging members to take aim on county squads, etc.
Yet can it be that easy? How, for instance, is the family-friendly, non-competitive club going to work where, say, a family includes a boy who is mad keen on becoming a top player while his sisters prefer the emphasis to be on having good time?
Presumably, the parents would have to pay for the son to join a second club. All that and a family holiday as well? It’s not going to happen.
My own view, for what it’s worth, is that clubs in this day and age should be tackling a bit of everything.
For years, I have advocated, to no avail, that your usual traditional club in the UK could be doing more to develop mixed junior golf instead of creating a situation in which boys disappear into a men’s section and girls join up with their sister women members.
Why can’t clubs organise mixed junior matches against neighbouring clubs – and hold a good supper for the two parties on match evenings? Such an arrangement would offer the possibility of both sexes improving their play and having some fun in the process. No less importantly, the juniors – good golfers and bad – would be that much more likely to develop friendships and stay as club members.
Many will be well aware that the Americans are way ahead of us in this sphere. Hence, it might do us still more good to try following their example before embarking on the next round of research.