Flexibility is key to growth at EGCOA Conference 2014

This year’s European Golf Course Owners Association (EGCOA) Conference was held near the Le Prat Golf Course in Barcelona. Miles Bossom reports for GOLF RETAILING.

The theme for the event was called Vision 2020 and this was built around four key elements; friendship, flexibility, family and fun. The view across the world of golf is that to reverse the trend in dwindling participation it is necessary to introduce more youth players and more women to the game. There is also a view that getting people into golf in whatever form that takes will lead to an increase in the number of participants at green grass level.

Businesses such as Top Golf offer a family friendly environment providing a similar experience to a bowling alley where you can book a bay for a period of time and play a number of different target related games whilst enjoying a meal and a drink. The company is growing at a rate of knots and is opening golf up to people who have never previously walked onto a golf course.

Simon HughesFootgolf is becoming increasingly popular and a number of delegates have introduced it at their facility. The impact on the course is minimal but the increase in revenue can be significant.

Colin Mayes of Burhill Golf told delegates that he had introduced footgolf at four of his seven facilities and that it has transformed revenue. He also joked that footgolfers also purchase twice as much beer!

Participation

Participation in Europe varies significantly from country to country but Portugal has the lowest percentage of participants as a percentage of population with just 0.5 percent whilst Sweden has the highest at around five percent. In Sweden whole families participate in the sport and unsurprisingly Sweden offers golf at possibly the most affordable level in Europe.

Across the continent the only age group that is seeing an increased number of participants is the sixty plus category whilst overall the number of registered players is forecast to drop by four percent in the next ten years!

According to Simon Elsworth of Syngenta the number of junior participants in golf in the UK and Ireland dropped by seven and a half thousand in 2013. Syngenta’s Youth Report 2014 cited a number of barriers to youth players coming into the game. These included the game being for the old, stuffy venues, complicated rules and the game being at odds with youth culture.

A change in attitudes at golf clubs was cited as being a critical factor in growing the game across all age groups. A more relaxed dress code, affordable lessons, Wi-Fi on the course and new game formats were some of the key elements listed.

Whilst there are many golf committees that would cough at the suggestion of allowing untucked shirts or the use of a mobile device out on the course the reality is that these are real barriers to kids and the industry needs to adapt to the modern world.

Mike Hughes, CEO of The National Golf Course Owners Association (NGCOA) in the USA addressed the conference on how they are changing the perceptions of golf across the pond. He said that they are focussing on the fact that golf is not expensive with 80 percent of rounds being played on public courses and with an average green fee of just $24.

COLIN MAYESThe NGCOA are also appealing to the environmental crowd with news that the water coming off the golf courses is actually cleaner than that going into them so golf is in actual fact environmentally friendly.

Hughes also talked of ‘Quick Golf’, a six-hole format where a player takes three tee shots and chooses to play the best one. You score a point for hitting a fairway, another for hitting a green and two for holing out. Bonus points are also available. Apparently a two ball can complete a game in one hour and twenty minutes and this is becoming increasingly popular.
Steve Mona of The World Golf Foundation shared the findings of their 20:20 Study 2013. This study interviewed twelve hundred non golfers with 70 percent having never played golf and 30 percent being previous players.

In summary the survey showed that attitudes were positive to golfers but negative to the game of golf.

Mona stated that to grow the game the industry needs to emphasise the positives of being outdoors, providing a social environment and offering exercise whilst mitigating against the negatives which are the cost, the time taken and elitism.

According to Mona women, youth and minority races are poorly represented in the golf community and yet their percentage of the population is growing at a rapid pace and so the image of the game has to change.

Lauren Spray recently joined England Golf where she is tasked with developing the women’s and girls’ game. A scratch player herself, Lauren has experienced discrimination first hand having to write to a committee requesting permission to play from a yellow tee box. As the lowest handicapper in the club this seems a little silly and raises the question that tees should be ability and not gender specific.

Chinese whispers

There is no doubt that China is going to be a significant player in all business sectors in the future. China now boasts 300 million middle class workers and that number is forecast to double by 2020.

With approximately three million golfers now in China the nation has the fastest growing golfing community anywhere in the world and is likely to become a dominant force in the game in the coming decades. According to Peter Dawson of the R&A, China’s Mission Hills resort is doing more for junior golf than any other facility.

Mike HughesThe F word -flexibility

Let’s face it, the way we all live has changed massively over the past thirty or forty years. We are now a high tech community where work-life balance is important and yet we live with mobile devices stuck to our hands well after working hours. Flexibility is key to getting the balance right.

Modern families recognise that health and wellness are important and as a result the health and leisure industry is booming. It costs more to burn calories than it does to consume them!

So what did we take from the EGCOA conference? Well, we operate in a market that is aware of the problems that it faces and there is no shortage of ideas on how the sport of golf and the golf business can succeed in the future.

There has to be flexibility: flexibility in the format that the game is played; flexibility in the way participants are expected to dress on and around the golf course; and flexibility in the way that people pay to play the game.

Throughout 2015 GOLF RETAILING’s main theme will be ‘Growing the Game’. We will be supporting National Golf Month and featuring success stories across the UK and Europe. We will continue our Thought Leadership event series with more involvement from PGA pros.

If you would like to be involved let us know by emailing: editorial@golfretailing.com