The Guest Blog: Michael McEwan

Welcome back to our latest web feature for 2015 – the Guest Blog!

Every month this year one of Scotland’s leading golf writers or broadcasters will offer their views on all things golf, across the amateur and professional game. After an historic, notable year for Scottish Golf, there is much to look forward to in 2015 and our team of great writers will document it all in their own unique styles.

Providing our second blog of the year is Michael McEwan, the Assistant Editor of bunkered, Scotland’s No 1 golf magazine. Michael, pictured top with former Masters winner Ian Woosnam, looks at the current club scene…

Read on for the Guest Blog, sponsored by SSE Scottish Hydro, official partners of the new Scottish Golf Membership Card

At times so far in 2015, I’ve felt a little bit like the grim reaper’s personal press liaison, having to report news of three different Scottish golf club closures in the first six weeks of the year.

SSE_Scottish-Hydro_340x250Believe me, it’s not the sort of news I’d like to be breaking. It’s much more rewarding to tell people about exciting new places opening up than unfortunate ones closing down.

Still, the reality is that these continue to be tough times for golf clubs and, if you think it’s bad in Scotland, you should look at the closure and membership attrition rates elsewhere around the world.

Since 2006, for example, more courses have closed in the USA than have opened, with people abandoning the game, not in their thousands, not in their tens of thousands, but in their hundreds of thousands.

So let’s be glad that things are nowhere near that bad here in the Home of Golf. Sure, falling membership rates are a concern but we should all be encouraged by the fact that participation is holding relatively steady, which demonstrates that people still want to participate in golf, albeit in different ways.

To my mind, that is the single most important fact that golf clubs need to take stock of. People want to play the game, but they want more options to do so.

Traditional membership structures just don’t work anymore. I should know. I left my last club because they didn’t accommodate for my needs. They wanted me to pay a huge annual sum for a course that I’d be lucky if I played a dozen times a year. Their idea of value for money was poles apart from mine – so I left. They lost a member. Me? Well, it’s not like I’ve stopped playing, so they’re the only ones who’ve suffered.

The chief executive of the Scottish Golf Union, Hamish Grey, told me just over a year ago that clubs ‘need to adapt to match consumer behaviour’. He’s totally right.

The sport and the people who play it are not as easily definable as they once were. A shrinking middle class and a range of participation initiatives have changed the profile of ‘The Golfer’. Consequently, ‘one size fits all’ membership categories are, in broad terms, both out-dated and irrelevant.

Clubs, particularly struggling clubs, need to take stock of what they are asking their members to give them relative to what they are prepared to give their members.

For what it’s worth, I think more membership options, with a greater degree of flexibility, is not just a solution – it’s the only solution. Clubs also need to ask themselves whether or not they are making the most of their positions within their communities.

A high proportion of Scotland’s clubs are located within small towns and villages. They ought to be taking advantage of that and making themselves the ‘go to’ place in those communities.

They can’t just be for golfers. They need to be the place people go for dinner, for a coffee, to watch live sport on big screens. They need, in short, to become the hub of life in their neighbourhood. If they don’t, somewhere else will.

Where are you going for Sunday lunch? The golf club. Where should we meet for a cuppa? The golf club. Whereabouts is showing the Champions League this week? The golf club. Before you know it, your tills are full, your books are balanced, and you might even get a few new members.

For decades, country clubs in America have tapped into various ‘non-golfer’ revenue streams and made lots of money from them. But that’s not to say you have to be a country club to do that. It’s a business model that is easily adaptable, no matter how big or small a club you may be. You just need to want to do it.

These simple changes to approaches and attitudes are not things that clubs should be resisting. They’re things they should be embracing, enjoying and profiting from.

If they do, they give themselves a fighting chance of surviving for many decades to come. If they don’t? Well, do they really want me writing about them?

> Scottish Golf Membership Card sponsored by SSE Scottish Hydro – Find out more

The views expressed by Michael McEwan are his own opinions and not necessarily those of the Scottish Golf Union.