By looking at what other counties around the globe are doing to boost golf participation pros in the UK could help their own businesses. Andy Brown spoke to Ian Randell, Chief Executive of the PGAs of Europe, to find out more about the organisation and hear some golfing success stories.
We often moan about the state of the game in the UK, but it is easy to forget what fantastic education and facilities golf has. In more developing golfing countries across Europe – and the wider world – there are real struggles with things that are taken for granted on our fair shores. Ian Randell sees these first-hand, having been Chief Executive of the PGAs of Europe for almost ten years, and he’s also well placed to comment on the various golfing success stories occurring around the world.
Randell confirms that the challenges for many PGAs comes down to a simple matter of not having enough people and facilities. “In the vast majority of cases it literally comes down to a lack of resources – human and financial. Enabling some of the PGAs to be part of a bigger network like ours does give them added credibility when they are talking to their golf federations and politicians in their country,” he says. “We try and help them and it is a case of the organisations and their pros making the federations aware of how they add value to golf in their country – they are providing a skilled workforce so the federation can meet its objectives.”
When it comes to developing golfing countries Randell highlights the Czech Republic and Poland as having experienced significant progress over his time in office and says that a real focus for the organisation is ensuring that the progress made in different countries is sustainable and, as an example, mentions Bulgaria. “In Bulgaria they have had lots of British pros go over there and help them, but in most cases it is short-term, so when they leave there is a skills gap,” he says. “We have been able to help the British pros educate the local pros while they are there – this means when they leave something more permanent and sustainable is left behind and ensures that the game continues to develop. In some of the smaller countries there isn’t a foundation and structure so that can make a real difference.”
Education is a vital part of the D.N.A of the PGAs of Europe and is a subject area that is clearly close to Randell’s heart – he becomes more animated when discussing the ways they have helped to raise the standards across their member countries. Several years ago a minimum standard for education was set which 17 out of their members were adhering to – meaning that half were not. The simple fact was that due to a lack of resources some countries were not able to hit the same standards as larger PGAs like France or Germany. Something needed to be done.
“We introduced a levels system so we now have a European Education Level System – this means that countries like Bulgaria can enter into an Initial Professional Education, which is a three month course. People in those countries now have a qualification and education which means they can introduce more people into the game,” confirms Randell. “This wouldn’t work with more developed countries as it wouldn’t be recognised as a PGA qualification, but having the levels system has enabled us to ensure that everyone coming into the profession has some level of education. Ultimately the PGA brand is only as strong as its membership and the only way they can compete is through the quality of their service and this comes down to education.”
Although different PGAs have issues specifically related to their country – Randell mentions that in Eastern European countires such as Croatia the game has a real image problem and is seen as elitist – the wider issues remain the same: a changing society, people have less time on their hands and less disposable income. An initiative that France’s governing bodies are rolling out looks to address some of these issues – as part of their bid to host the Ryder Cup in 2018 they committed to building over a 100 short courses, providing more affordable and less time-consuming golf to the French population. Randell also believes that rumours of the death of golf have been greatly exaggerated.
“Golf, maybe more than other sports, is guilty of talking about the problems we face, rather than the opportunities. Golf has flourished for centuries and, on the whole, it is pretty healthy,” he says. “Society is changing and golf needs to adapt a little bit to ensure that it is relevant to today’s society, but some of the things that are happening with society actually give golf a fairly unique place among sports as you can play it from four to 104; in a way the ageing population can provide an opportunity for golf. We need to create a form of golf – and this goes back to the French project – that people can play when they don’t have four or five hours to spare while also realising that, with the pace of modern life, golf can be a refreshing way to switch off.”
Randell says that there are pros and clubs across Europe – and their four international members – which are thriving by thinking outside of the box and working hard to provide their members with new experiences and flexible membership options. One of the ways that these examples of best practice are shared is through the annual congress, which has now been running for 26 years and is a vital part of the organisation. Randell says that they have worked hard in tweaking the format so it provides maximum benefit and in ensuring that the ethos is firmly a “real working environment.”
This event – and others – are also an opportunity for the board members of larger PGAs to mentor those from more developing golfing nations and invaluable relationships are built up. Randell says that one of the things he is most proud of is the spirit of everyone working together for the benefit of golf: “The willingness to share across our PGAs has benefited each of them significantly and they aren’t in competition with each other – they are all trying to improve each other. Gone are the days when the PGA of Germany would argue with the PGA of Sweden; I’ve not seen that once since I’ve been here.”
Randell’s role requires him to clock up the air miles and means he comes into contract with a large number of pros from countries all over the world. What advice would he give to PGA pros to help them become more successful? “You have to establish how you add value to your facility and to your clients – gone are the days when every club automatically has a PGA pro. Pros need to make sure that they are actively involved within the club.
“They also need to establish how they differentiate themselves – be that through education, finding a niche or opportunity that makes them stand out from the crowd,” he says. “It is also vital to think commercially; all of our pros are very good at knowing the technique of a golf swing but sometimes they also need to look at how they can generate more revenue and sales form themselves and for their facility.” The UK is one of the largest golf markets in the world, but sometimes it can pay to take a broader view and see what can be learned from other established and developing golfing nations.