Getting golf in the Pink

There’s a new man at the helm of England Golf, Nick Pink. He took time out of his schedule to speak to GOLF RETAILING about his plans for the organisation, the need for golf to become more streamlined and why he wants to support the golf pro more.

Pink is only eight weeks into his new role when he answers our phone call and for a man with a lot to juggle seems to be coping well, speaking candidly about the issues that golf and England Golf face as well as his priorities for the year and beyond. It helps, of course, that Pink has a strong sporting background and that he has been playing golf from a young age. “I have loved the sport of golf since I can remember and my Dad played, so I was out on the course with him with a cut down seven iron and from the age of five I would hit balls whenever I could,” he recalls. “My grandfather also played, so that’s where a lot of my golfing education came from and at that stage we were living in Sussex, so I was a member of a municipal course on the south coast and got out as much as I could in my teenage years.”

The new CEO got down to a low single handicap and has recently joined Woodhall Spa (the home of England Golf) after four years without a membership, so will surely soon once again be in impressive nick on the golf course. Pink has worked in sports since 2003 and amassed good experience but, whichever way you look at it, being in charge of England Golf, the governing body for all amateur golf in England, is a big job. The organisation is involved in lots of aspects of golf – as well as providing a pathway for amateur players through club, county and national involvement, organising events, evaluating facilities, maintaining a uniform system for handicapping and it is also involved in a host of initiatives looking to boost participation such as Get into golf. With such a wide array of responsibilities there is a danger that the average golfer and even some pros might not be aware exactly what it is that England Golf does, an issue which could be exacerbated by the amount of different organisations and bodies within the sport.

This is something that Pink acknowledges as a potential issue, but is keen to stress the good work which is taking place. “One of the things I’ve noticed coming into golf is that there are a lot of organisations and we need to position ourselves in the right place to support them and work better with them. In terms of being more joined up, this is a conversation that is happening,” he confirms. “It’s important to help the golfers and the clubs understand the landscape and what different organisations actually do. There are a myriad of organisations, but there is some really good work going on, we just need to create a better cohesion to make it less confusing for the average golfer.”

Screen Shot 2016-06-10 at 09.45.28While acknowledging that the number of bodies can be confusing, Pink believes that most sports would love to have the structures that exists within golf and that the pathways for elite players is working, as evidenced by having five Englishmen in the top ten at the Masters. While this is an important facet of what England Golf do – and having successful home-grown players does lead to a trickle-down effect in terms of participation – arguably a bigger issue at the moment is boosting participation levels for the general population.

“In terms of growth and participation, there are some smart initiatives going on and we are running pilots in three counties to try and encourage a different way of thinking, such as the Golf Express in Staffordshire which is about promoting nine hole golf,” he says. “We had nine hole courses which were promoting 18 holes, so doing a loop, rather than focusing on what they actually had which can get more people playing on a weekday night. The correlation to cricket, where I’ve just come from is T20 – a shorter format of the game. Nine holes of golf can be played in an hour and a half so can be easily done in an evening after work whereas 18 holes can be restrictive.”

Screen Shot 2016-06-10 at 09.45.42Of course, it’s one thing to say that different formats of the game should be pushed, but it can come down to facilities – in many parts of the country there simply aren’t enough nine hole, par three or driving ranges available. “We are carrying out a facilities strategy at the moment to support clubs, it is about what facilities exist in a local community and whether we are missing a trick or not – are there enough driving ranges, par three, nine hole and 18 hole courses in an area to service the demand? What price point are those facilities at? Maximising the use of all our facilities is important and for some clubs that may be about diversifying to service the needs of the local community,” says Pink.

One of the big things that Pink believes golf has going for it are the PGA pros, and he mentions that cricket, the previous sport he worked in, would love to have so many qualified and knowledgeable coaches in all their clubs. “The PGA pro is crucial to the clubs and to grow the game,” he states. “Often the first contact point that someone has at a club is with the pro. I’ve seen and heard some terrific work that pros are doing across the country and we need to get better at building a closer relationship with them and also do anything that we can to support the PGA. Some of the best engagement we see is because of the PGA Pro, whether that is working with youngsters, running sessions for women and girls or special lessons for more elite players. I can’t state how important their role is to the game of golf.”

Screen Shot 2016-06-10 at 09.45.20While it is great to hear Pink speak so positively about the PGA pro and the importance of their role there is – among some pros – an ambivalence regarding England Golf. So what should golf pros do if they are not sure exactly what England Golf can do to help them at their club and assist them grow the game? “The first thing is to go and speak to your county development officer or county secretary and try and build a relationship, as if there isn’t an understanding it may be because of a lack of relationship,” says Pink. “I would revert it back and say, what support do pros think they need and therefore how can we position our support in a better way? We need to make sure we are sharing best practice and connecting clubs together and enabling pros to support each other. There is a responsibility to the game of golf to share that knowledge; we know there is a challenge around club membership so clubs need to work together.”

The new CEO says that he wants to get out and about as much as he can to speak to people at all levels of the game to understand, from their point of view, what the challenges and the opportunities are rather than sitting in an ‘ivory tower’ and telling people what they should be doing. This though is a two-way street – Pink says the organisation needs feedback. “What England Golf will try and do is communicate as much as we can but we need people to communicate with us. I’d really welcome the GOLF RETAILING readership to feed back to us to make sure that we don’t rest on our laurels and we become the best we can be for the game of golf.”

Photography supplied by Leaderboard Photograpghy