The year 2020. The strangest of years. The strangest of sporting years. The strangest of Scottish Golf years.
We have witnessed courses and clubhouses initially on lockdown. No golf allowed but available for our daily ration of exercise. This was followed by a carefully monitored booking system for all club members, no visitors, one way systems, changing shoes in car parks, wearing of masks in pro shops, marking your own card in medals and absolutely no touching flagsticks.
On the disappointing side of the report, an almost complete absence of international visitors, open competitions heavily restricted, limited access to clubhouses and postponement of many tournaments including the 2020 Open Championship at Royal St George’s.
On the positive mental attitude, very encouraging side are all the reports indicating significant increases in membership at numerous clubs throughout Scotland, the loyalty and support shown by the vast majority of members during the most challenging of seasons and to cap it off and the main focus of this article, the fairly staggering news earlier this month that our game’s governing body The R&A is in serious discussions with Glasgow Life, the sport and culture division of Glasgow City Council to secure the purchase of Lethamhill Golf Course; an 18 hole municipal course located north east of the city next to Hogganfield Loch which had been threatened with closure, together with four other courses, following release of the latest Scottish government budget.
The simple fact that The R&A has put this breakthrough proposal on the table should be loudly applauded by anyone with even a passing interest in seeing a healthy future for the game of golf, particularly in our country which we proudly defend as the birthplace of this wonderful worldwide sport.
In very basic terms it appears like an ideal solution for both parties. Glasgow Life ( Council ) receives a not insignificant sum for ( hopefully ) investing in alternative sport/ recreation in the city and is relieved of an underperforming asset, heavy on upkeep costs and probably not a “ good fit “ in the council’s overall service strategy.
The R&A, under the direction of its energetic and clearly very forward thinking Chief Executive Martin Slumbers, takes ownership of a fairly decent chunk of golf based real estate set in Scotland’s largest city with the potential to deliver the first phase in delivering a radical new approach to the game’s development for future generations all within the organisation’s “ Grow The Game “ programme.
If this ambitious and radical new approach is to succeed then there will need to be genuine buy-in from various interested parties. Simply taking over ownership and the operation of the course with some investment in greenkeeping and upgrading of the facilities would be doomed to failure. Fortunately all indications are that the team at The R&A are committed to a complete transformation in the approach which will be adopted to attract, develop and retain golfers of all ages and experience and to create a new community golf blueprint that can be repeated throughout Scotland and the wider golf world.
To date there have been no details of the plan made public. However that doesn’t stop us all from speculating on what this exciting new concept might look like. The following are my own thoughts so far ( subject to revision )
Create a Centre of Sporting Excellence, working with local clubs, schools and univ/colleges and provide the community with a first class facility which they will want to be involved with and want to support.
Split the original 18 holes into two courses. 1) 6 hole course reserved for beginners/ coaching 2) main 12 hole course for advanced players
The two courses can be combined for limited number of competitions. Condition of course needs to be very good to establish credibility with club golfers
Coaching academy with outdoor/indoor facilities; area for juniors/ beginners
Golf courses will open April – September only for first five years to allow course development and training ( green keepers ) October – March ; Coaching academy and practice areas open all year.
Incorporate a network of trails through courses and around perimeter to allow use for walking,running,cycling, roller skating ?
Combine facility with Univ of Strathclyde & Hogganfield Loch to run Triathlon Competitions.
Local schools programme introducing game at young age; create inter school league; provide work experience opportunities with greenkeepers, machinery maintenance, catering, Pro shop, admin& finance
Memberships, Green Fees, Coaching Fees, Pro Shop
Commercial sponsorship, Corporate Days
Catering: all-day coffee shop, lunches, dinners, family parties/ celebrations
Fundamentally whatever is created has to be attractive enough to bring people of all ages, their friends and families to the greatest of all sports and to keep them interested. The whole experience has to be engaging and fun. It must allow and encourage whole families to play together, practise together and have fun together.
It will be a tough challenge, especially in an area not normally associated with the game of golf but clearly the R&A recognises this is now a critical time for the future of the game. Participation figures have been dropping over a number of seasons. Club memberships ( until this year ) have been dropping. Change has been well overdue. This venture would certainly send the clearest signal of intent to revitalise the “ product “ and to take the game back to the people. As we all know “ People make Glasgow “.