Courses must adapt to survive

Having had the opportunity to visit Wentworth GC a couple of weeks ago to see the excellent presentation and set up of this prestigious golf club, I was in awe of the level of greenkeeping skills and attention to detail by the greenkeeping team to ensure this course maintains its status as one of the best golf courses in the world.

The presentation of the course was immaculate. However, this is not surprising considering the sums the owners have invested in the course in recent years. This course, along with a number of other top-ranking facilities, are pivotal for keeping intact our golfing heritage.

Having recently read online some interesting facts about the current state of golf, it is pleasing to read that golf remains one of the more popular sportsacross the UK.

In all of Europe, England has the highest number of registered golf courses as of 2017 by far, with a total of 1,872, followed by Germany with at 731. Scotland hosts 560 courses, Ireland has 405 and Wales has 145 courses.

When it comes to the number of registered golf players, England is also leading Europe, with approximately 656 thousand players, ever so slightly ahead of Germany with roughly 645 thousand registered golfers. Scotland has 188 thousand and Ireland and Wales have 183 thousand and 45 thousand registered golfers respectively.

Golf participation in England holds steady at 946 thousand people who play at least twice a month at any intensity or duration. Participation in Scotland decreased over the past decade, from nine percent of the population, playing golf at least once a month in 2007, to only five percent in 2017. The majority of those five percent seem to be evenly spread across all age groups. In Northern Ireland, playing golf is almost as popular as playing football and most golfers are adult male, at roughly 69 percent.

Approximately two percent of all the land in England is devoted to its nearly 2,000 golf courses, according to new research.

As most of us know who work in the turf grass industry, many golf clubs have struggled to retain optimum levels of playing members in recent years, which in some cases has resulted in the closure of a number of courses or a reduction in the amount of money they can invest in their courses.

Gone are the days when people had six hours to spare to play a round of golf. People are working longer hours and want to better enjoy their free time, coupled with the fact there are so many other attractions now available to occupy them.

Like any business which has to adapt to survive, golf courses are no different. Personally I place a high regard for what golf courses have to offer, not only providing a changing game of golf, but the shear value of the benefits they can bring to wider community and local fauna, flora and wildlife.

First and foremost, golf courses should perhaps look at themselves and see the potential of what they can offer in terms of the golfing experience and make it more attractive to families, women and children. I then believe it needs to look at what other attractions and services it can offer.

Every golf course should prevail to maintain a high standard of playing surfaces, the reputation of the golf course is usually determined by its playing experience. All too often in recent years we have seen a number of golf courses reduce their budgets and resources on the maintenance of the course, which over time sees a decline in course quality.

You cannot put a value on what a golf course can offer to the wider community. There is so much potential for these clubs to further embrace and work more closely with their communities to attract new business opportunities to supplement their main golfing income.

I firmly believe the tide is turning and golf courses now have a brighter future ahead of them especially if they continue in investing and supporting their dedicated greenkeeping teams who work tirelessly to maintain these unique land assets for future generations.

Laurence Gale, TurfPro Editor

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