Online Exclusive

How can golf clubs make the game more inclusive? Part one

When we think of golf, it’s hard for some to discard the stereotype of mature upper class elites, particularly men, playing golf in an immaculately well-groomed golf course. This is despite the fact that in recent years, golf has started to become more accessible to everyone by promoting several student deals and offers to entice beginner golfers and seniors.

GolfSupport.com reviewed 244 golf clubs from 15 different towns and cities across the UK, looking specifically at membership structure to see if they had any membership discounts or incentives for senior citizens. Research found that just 45 of the total 244 reviewed golf clubs had a reduced membership price and/or incentives available to seniors, suggesting they are trying to tempt in and attract others to the sport and suppress the stereotype that it’s just for elder middle class males.

We spoke to Daniel, a 26-year old beginner golfer who suggested that golf is a, “Sport that just those in their 60s and 70s play,” due to the slow-paced nature of the game. He adds: “Membership costs also put young people off, who assume it’s just for the wealthy. My local course charges around £800 a year, plus travel, clubs – it all adds up.”

Young people and women

Golf is a sport that inherently struggled to lure in young people and women. In a 2013 study published by KPMG, only 14 per cent of the 1.2 million golf club members of the golfing population are female, and youth participation even lower at 6 per cent, which is staggeringly far less than the majority of countries throughout European countries such as Germany where 35 per cent of the country’s 660,000 recorded members are female. Steve Mona, chief executive of the World Golf Foundation, suggests that over the next coming years there will be hundreds of courses closing each year. “Today there are about 15,200, and I expect it to fall by another 1,000.”

Will golf remain a sport for a select minority?

In a survey by Syngenta, evidence suggests that 42 per cent of junior golfers would be motivated to try golf if the rules were more lenient. A further 39 per cent said they would be more likely to play if there was Wi-Fi accessible on the course, and 57 per cent would be tempted if their friends took part in the sport too. A large quantity of young people are inspired by others their own age – schools can play a large part by helping to encourage students to take up the sport and raise popularity of the game.

Steve Mona believes social media plays a large part in young people being uninterested, saying: “Someone like me wouldn’t think of engaging in social media on the course, I’d only be thinking of the next shot. But young people want to be on Facebook and Instagram between shots”, which is prohibited.

Golf and status

In this day and age, society is ruled by class and the socio-economic background of individuals, which had led to people feeling alienated from golf due to its middle-class status and stereotypical male image. Data from the DMCS Taking Part Survey in 2010 found that the class gap in golf is getting worse, rather than becoming more inclusive. Professional and managerial classes are taking up golf more, but on the other hand the number of working-class golfers has decreased significantly.

Perhaps this is to do with the fact that a high majority of golf courses across the country are found in the most affluent areas of the UK, with the South East and East of England being home to one third of golfers, in comparison to northern town, Yorkshire, having the lowest number of golf courses per square mile, and henceforth the lowest membership rates in the country. In order for the sport to become more inclusive, this barrier needs to be addressed.

Etiquette and rules

Golfing etiquette can be highly meticulous, regarding dress, behaviour and conforming to the course’s rules and regulations. When stepping foot on a golf course, there is an air of privilege, but exclusivity that can leave newcomers uneasy and uncomfortable. Golf has several unwritten rules which can be difficult to decipher if you are a beginner and unsure of how to conduct yourself on a golf course.

Here are some examples of golf etiquette as laid out in a rules book:

  • Caps must not be worn the wrong way around at any time on the grounds, and that shirts must remain tucked
  • There is to be no talking loudly or music played out loud on the fairway
  • T-shirts are not to be taken off

Some ‘unwritten’ rules that new golfers are expected to know:

  • Keep up the pace and turn up on time
  • No throwing clubs
  • KNOW all the rules
  • Repair pitch marks
  • Do not stand behind your opponent
  • Knock the sand off your shoes
  • Remove your hat before shaking hands (hand shake, not hug)
  • Do not let the flags flap and tend to them for your partner

The second part of this exclusive online article will be published soon.