Long-term decline in Scottish golf club membership slows down
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Digital technology will play an increasingly crucial role in helping golfers and clubs in Scotland deal with the challenges of the coronavirus pandemic, the Scottish Golf AGM has heard.
According to Scottish Golf chair Eleanor Cannon, who addressed more than 100 delegates at the governing body’s first virtual annual general meeting, the investment in one of the sport’s most comprehensive online booking, handicap and membership systems is already paying off.
Speaking after the AGM, Ms Cannon said: “Among a host of benefits, the new system allows for much simpler tee-time booking and eliminates the need for paper score cards for competitive play, so it’s proving a significant asset in allowing our clubs to function smoothly and safely for their members.
"The feedback from those clubs which have already adopted the Venue Management System (VMS) has been overwhelmingly positive.
"We believe our digital scorecard is the only one on the market in the UK that fully complies with competition rules allowing players to complete and submit their scores from their mobile phone.
“However, the VMS is not just important for coping with social distancing – it also drives value back to clubs by providing a fully integrated platform allowing clubs to promote their open competitions to a wider audience once Covid-19 restrictions are lifted, helping make our game more accessible to all.
"This is vitally important as we continue our efforts to promote our game and broaden the demographic of Scottish golfers, attracting more girls, boys and women to the sport and, in turn, making our courses more accessible to disabled players.
“Our clubs and members also deserve enormous credit for the way they have responded to the restrictions forced upon us all by Covid-19. We recognise what an immensely frustrating and difficult period this has been, even as we begin to return to some semblance of normality.
"However, it is only because of the strict compliance and positive approach by clubs and members that we have been able to get back out playing again.”
The AGM also heard that a long-term decline in members at Scottish clubs has slowed significantly, with 500 fewer adult members at Scottish golf clubs during 2019, compared with a reduction of more than 5,500 from 2017 to 2018.
Ms Cannon also explained that post Covid-19 restrictions being relaxed and golf courses reopening, clubs which allowed tee times to be held for club members only, had reported a jump in new membership applications.
She said: “We are getting very positive feedback from lots of clubs which are dealing with membership applications on a scale they’ve not seen for years.
"We have heard of clubs that have had over 80 new membership applications in the past few weeks and that’s a very welcome trend we hope continues throughout the year.
“Many of those applications are from golfers who would otherwise play as visitors, but we have also received reports of new applications from people who visited golf courses for the first time to walk and exercise during the lockdown and have been encouraged to join by the friendly responses they received from existing members.”
The AGM also heard how Scottish Golf rebated £575,000 back to clubs across the country as the pandemic forced courses to close, helping them deal with the inevitable cash-flow hit from green fees and clubhouse takings.
In addition, a £40,000 emergency fund was established to help clubs which have been particularly badly affected by the impact of the lockdown restrictions.
Ms Cannon ended by saying: “Lastly, I’d like to offer my sincere condolences to those who have lost loved ones to Covid-19. Many clubs have lost valued members and friends to this disease in recent months and our thoughts go out to their families and friends.”
Keith Hunter, vice president of Kingussie Golf Club, recently told the Strathy of the challenges the club had and continues to face during Covid-19.
He said: “Things have been tough for us during lockdown, especially with no income for the club.
“We have three members of staff still working and two furloughed, so we still had a wage bill at the end of each month.
“We were lucky to apply for, and obtain, a £25,000 grant from Highland Council, which will go a long way to keeping us afloat.
“All but one or our full members have paid their subscriptions, which also makes things easier, but with no income from the bar, shop and catering we are watching every penny.