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Friday, May 7, 2021

The lost generation must be retained 

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In May last year, the strangest thing happened. Young people started playing golf.
I’m not talking about junior golfers kitted out to follow in the footsteps of idols like Rory McIlroy or Leona Maguire. I’m talking about young, working professionals taking up the game of golf because they had nothing else to do.

Yes, after years of witnessing the great Brain Trust of golf butting heads in a bid to reduce the sport’s median age, a global pandemic achieved what countless get into golf campaigns could not, returning golf’s lost generation to the fairways, and in the nick of time, too.

If it wasn’t for working in golf, I’m sure I would’ve fallen the way of many of my friends who were pushed away from our great game.  I’m thirty now, but when my generation was graduating from junior membership programmes to more expensive senior packages, the transition coincided with the great recession of 2008. Simply put, golf memberships were unaffordable for most young adults like me.  

Back in those daysthe golf industry mirrored that of a bubbling Irish economy that had lost the run of itself, a time where golf well and truly earned its elitist tag. Initial joining fees were unsustainable. Green fees were astronomical. Like the property market, nothing was worth the asking price. The bubble had to burst. It did. 

As golf’s ivory tower came crashing down, so did its outer walls layered with pretentious dress codes and dated rules. The industry lay in rubble. There was nothing to stop the riff-raff coming in. An ensuing race to the bottom ensured golf was suddenly affordable, but even as it sat in ruin, its stuffy past pushed potential newcomers away. 

In recent years, however, golf has made great strides in giving its wrinkly old image a face-lift. The game has embraced modernity and diversity, and increased its accessibility. We knew golf was for everyone before this pandemic hit but not everyone did. With the wider sporting world shut down with restrictions, the game has only now been given the injection of life it so desperately needed. Thanks to Covid-19 – if such words can be penned without scorn – people have finally been introduced, and reintroduced, to a game for life. 

Which makes it so hilarious when I see keyboard warriors weighed down by that eternal chip on their shoulder, scalding golfers for their outspokenness during this latest lockdown. Our calls for golf to reopen were met in some quarters by claims that the Celtic Tiger had returned; another band of out of touch golfers playing their entitled tune. They obviously hadn’t seen my friends play. 

With barely a golf ball between them, never mind a collared shirt, my generation descended on golf like wildfire last yearWorking professionals with money in their pockets, conscious of trends in tech and fashion, and keen for a pint to boot, golf was energised by an influx of youthThe mission now is to keep it. 

Which leads to a pertinent question we recently polled on social media; would golfers be renewing their subscription this year? For life-time members, this isn’t even up for debate. Your club is your club, you carry it in your heart through thick and thin. But for the lost generation of golfer, such loyalty doesn’t exist. 

Out of about a thousand votes, there was a 50/50 split on whether fees would be paid. For many, they’ve already paid for a product that returned little value. Another investment given the uncertainty makes no sense. And I write this as a word of warning for golf clubs… while there is a breed of golfer who will renew without question, the new faces are a different ilk of consumer. When other sports return, golf will lose its position of privilege. Clubs should act now to ensure our sport remains the priority when choice is reintroduced. 

From my bit of research amongst friends, they aren’t asking much. Many of them would only need clarity around their club’s current financial situation to commit to another year. They don’t know how much it costs to run a few mowers over winter, or the extent of work carried out to keep a course maintained. Educate them, and be honest. 

We know it’s not the fault of golf clubs that play remains suspended through Covid-19, but inaction will be the downfall of many clubs if subscription renewals fall short of last year. Loyalty doesn’t have to be bought, but it has to be earned. Whether it’s a four-ball voucher, a lunch in the restaurant or a simple hello, staking a small amount of interest now could yield a massive return.   

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4 COMMENTS

  1. In my opinion the only equitable solution will be to align the new golfing season start date with that date that the government allows the golf industry to return to the pre Covid 19 way of doing business. Such a decision would be easily explained to all members, guarantee that no member gained an advantage or was discriminated against and most importantly move the traditional payment demand date from January to late spring or early summer. The sight of golf club invoices landing in hallways so soon after Christmas has always been a point of contention with the silent majority of the golfing public. The change of date would also lessen the danger that vast numbers of the playing population would defer payment for a year and rejoin in 2022.

  2. For the remainder of the year clubs should only charge a reduced green fee to members and an ordinary green fee to visitors thus creating an immediate much needed cash flow,every club should have daily opens to enable players stay within the 5k limit and who knows they might pick up a few more memberships,I can’t see a fall off of people playing as every golfer in Ireland is chomping at the bit for a game anywhere and will find the money for one,no matter where you live in Dublin your within 5k of a club,clubs desperate for cash and will open the course from dawn to dusk to get it,and with reduced green fees I think your going to find it hard to get a game but don’t panic theres 7days a week to play and I can see plenty of courses surviving if they have a good cash flow,they might need the banks to put aside loan repayments till next year when I’m sure members will show loyalty and pay their fees.remember if we don’t support our clubs and only the big ones survive you will have a return to the elitism we fought hard to rid our beautiful game off,

  3. I am a member of a small club in the midlands, we spent a lot of money on developing our course during the boom, when the recession hit we lost over half the membership, the club was on its knees for about 10 years until someone came up with the idea of introducing, social membership to try getting some new members at a more affordable price. we got enough new members , around a 100 to keep us afloat, to prove your point on Covid we also got as many more last June. Our management got very excited about the new members and patted each other on the back at every opportunity, with the result that at last Decembers AGM they increased the Social Membership for this year by 25%
    with a similar increase for next year and the following year, it has been pointed out to them that these increases will again make golf unaffordable for a lot of people and we will be back to square one again. Their response was that it was not their problem if people could not afford to play golf. Has anybody got any suggestions?

  4. Make new friends but keep the old. The new are silver BUT the old are Gold. Look after the members that kept the clubs going up to now. Clubs won’t survive without the certainty of members renewing every year. Surely this is what the main finances are based on.

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