The second National Golf Month, staged this May, will see some 800 facilities hosting activities designed to boost golf participation. Project director Doug Poole explains why 2015’s activities will feature a special focus on attracting women to the game
Against the news that golf club membership has dropped 20% and 14% in England and Scotland between 2004 and 2013 comes a rather more positive stat – that there are apparently some 8.3 million people in the UK interested in taking up the sport.
The figure comes from a report commissioned by plant science and sustainability specialists Syngenta, one of 10 new bodies supporting this May’s National Golf Month. And it is understandably welcomed by the initiative’s project director Doug Poole past chairman of the British Golf Industry Association.
“National Golf Month is targeted at increasing golf participation, whether that be introducing new people to the game or bringing back lapsed players,” he says. “That figure shows the potential for growing the game is there; a coordinated effort can help turn that into reality.”
And a coordinated effort is what the 2015 campaign is all about. Just two years old, National Golf Month is the only event that brings together the game’s professional tours, national unions, media outlets, celebrities, biggest brands, club professionals and golf clubs in one concerted thrust to drive the game forwards. This year Poole has been able to build on the impressive cast of brands and bodies that supported 2014’s pilot event, with the likes of Syngenta bringing the total partners from 25 to 35.
The goal for 2015 is the same as 2014’s – to get 100,000 people playing, who weren’t previously. “Based on the response from golf clubs, we estimate we got between 28-40,000 people trialling and playing the game last May,” Poole informs. “Okay, we didn’t hit our target; but we intentionally set one that was very ambitious. I believe you need to do that to get the support you need in creating a project.”
2015’s event broadly runs along the same lines as 2014, though with some improvements. A bespoke website has been created at www.nationalgolfmonth.com; publicity for the event has been cranked up through social and print media, plus a radio advert that will reach some 28 million listeners, thanks to the initiative’s media partner Bauer Media; ways of getting involved have been rebranded to improve clarity, and are more focused.
The best example of this – taster sessions specifically for women and families – sums up the event’s biggest change from 2014 – a courting of the female golfer. “Currently we have something like 11-16% ladies’ membership at UK golf clubs,” Poole explains. “In continental Europe this figure is never less than 24% and in some cases 35-38%. If we could get our figure up to 20% in the next five years we’d have a game that’s growing, without question.”
The briefest look at the new website confirms this new direction. Ladies European Tour star Charley Hull features prominently alongside 9-handicapper and BBC presenter Naga Munchetty and LET rookie Annabel Dimmock, all of whom are supporting the month. LET players are being encouraged to keep in touch through the month via social media, and that radio ad features a woman talking to a man about taking the game up. Solheim Cup captain Carin Koch heads up a special ladies’ launch for the month.
Poole believes encouraging female participation is not just a question of targeting a growth area, but that it could also help address the question of time needed to play, generally considered Public Enemy Number One when it comes to growing the game.
“We are not going to be able to change the way the game is fundamentally played through events like National Golf Month, but we do believe that if we get more ladies and families playing, time becomes less of a problem. When golf is a family game, being out of the house for five or six hours is less of an issue.
“If we can improve female numbers, it will bring more men and families into the game too.”
The time is surely right for this. The R&A’s decision to admit female members, plus the increasing impact of anti-sexism legislation, is helping ensure the marginalising effects of limited tee times and membership categories are becoming things of the past. “Many of those restrictions have now gone,” Poole adds, “but it will take five-to-10 years for their effects to be felt. I do believe though that sexism is no longer the main stigma that golf has to shift, and that National Golf Month needs to address.”
For this, Poole offers elitism. “Golf clubs can be daunting places. They are typically seen as exclusive, not welcoming. People tend to think they aren’t going to be allowed into the car park. National Golf Month can change this perception.”
Consequently golf club open days – where clubs open their doors to the public – will form an important part of the month’s activities, as they did in 2014. “These were probably our biggest success stories of last year,” Poole suggests. “Many clubs gave some free coaching to juniors and ladies, and of the 70 clubs that did this, quite a few generated long-term members.
“It is important though that the club’s representatives are on hand to welcome people and ensure they have a good experience.”
Funds from the BGIA’s Grow Golf initiative, which now boasts 11 members, will help support the month – and with the likes of 2014 Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinley also giving his time to National Golf Month for free, Poole is again delighted by the way the industry has come together to support the game’s growth.
“Golf is in a process of change,” he argues. “Events like this can help shape that change to the benefit of everyone in the game. The way the entire industry has got behind National Golf Month shows how committed we are to achieving that.”
National Golf month: How to get involved
Go to www.nationalgolfmonth.com and click on the Sign Up tab.
Driving Ranges sign up through www.mipins.com/national-golf-month/drivingrange-signup
Five ways National Golf Month aims to get people playing golf
1 Taster sessions: free one-hour sessions introducing newcomers to the game, with tailored programs for men, women and families.
2 Club open days; giving the public the chance to come into the club and meet the members and pro.
3 30ft putt challenge – inviting everyone to create a 30ft challenge and share the experience on social media.
4 Cheaper golf – through encouraging clubs to offer a free game or discounted green fee through May.
5 Cheaper lessons – though deals given by the PGA pro.