England Golf unveils seven-point strategic plan

News & Tour

As England Golf outlines a new three-year strategy to help grow the game across the country, development manager Richard Flint tells James Tompkinson about their seven-point plan

Can you give us an overview of the new strategy and why England Golf have launched it?

England Golf have launched our strategic framework for 2014 to 17 and we’re pretty excited about it. 

It’s been the culmination of almost a year’s worth of consultation with national partners, county stakeholders and local deliverers, and the key drivers within the strategy are England Golf being at the heart of a network of partners. 

We recognise that England Golf can’t deliver everything it wants to by itself so we’re working with partners like the PGA, the Golf Foundation, the Golf Club Managers’ Association. 

The strategy is based around getting more people playing, increasing club members, creating stronger clubs and supporting those clubs that want held driving their business and participation. 

As an organisation we will continue to run high-quality championships and events for people of all ages and we will continue to support talented players and our elite players. 

Underpinning this strategic framework is how we communicate and how we market England Golf, how we market and communicate the game, and looking at how we improve the governance of the sport.

What are the issues surrounding participation?

We have 1,900 affiliated golf clubs and there are currently 712,000 golf club members. 
We’re a big participation sport, but membership has been declining for the last 10 years and therefore we can’t do what we’ve always been doing otherwise membership will continue to fall. 

What we have to do is think differently with our partners and provide support to our golf clubs. 

That means we need to understand our customers and what our potential customers want in terms of pricing, in terms of value for money and in terms of offers, then we need to work with the golf clubs to make sure they are supporting the customers’ needs. That’s absolutely crucial. 

At the same time, golf clubs needs to understand their place in the market and what their USP is. 

We have traditional clubs, we have elite clubs, we have entry-level clubs, community clubs – there is a place for all those facilities within the game. 

The key is getting them to understand their place in the market and which customers they should be targeting. 

Why is golf club membership declining in England?

There is no one answer. Some of the research that we have done suggests that time, cost and perception are three barriers that are stopping people from joining golf clubs and therefore we need to address that. 

There has been an economic decline since 2008 and that has had an impact on people’s disposable income. 

Also, it is pretty cheap to play on courses without becoming a member, so that’s another challenge. 
What we are trying to do is turn around participation and turn round trends in membership British cycling has seen a big increase in participation and membership but, likewise, there are other pursuits that people do and golf is competing against them. 

If you look at the time side of things, if you play 18 holes it could take up to four hours and even five hours. We’re all pretty busy and people have busy lifestyles, so can golf accommodate that? 

We should be looking at trying to work out shorter formats of the game, promoting nine holes, six holes, going to the range, having coaching. Golf can be played in an hour, an hour and a half, to suit people’s lifestyles. 

There are thousands of golfers out there who do want to play 18 holes and that’s fine, but we’re looking to introduce new people into the game and therefore maybe we’ve got to start thinking slightly differently. 

Do you think there is already a captive market out there or do you need to actively go out and find golfers?

We’re a big participation sport in terms of people playing regularly and also number of members, so that’s a good starting point.

We know we’re doing something right and the industry is offering a lot to a lot of people. 

We also know from research that there is a significant amount of people interested in playing golf and would like the opportunity. 

The key for us is to make sure that we are offering them what they want, which might be something different. 

So all the research out there is telling us that there are a lot of people who want to play golf, and what we have to do is communicate with them. From that point of view, there is huge potential to grow the game. 

Can you make golf cheaper, and if so, how?

It depends on who you speak to but there is a perception out there that golf is quite expensive. 

But if you look at the facts, golf is on a par with other sports and there are opportunities to try the game for free or at low cost in terms of buying equipment, going to taster sessions, or structured sessions that are offered by PGA professionals, so it’s not as expensive necessarily as people perceive. 

When you then progress on to memberships, a lot of golf clubs are now offering flexible memberships, so you haven’t just got that business model where you are asked to pay £1,000 in January for full membership. 

There are different pricing strategies that golf clubs are putting into place which appeal to different customers and different markets. 

So again there are great value-for-money opportunities that golf clubs are offering. 

Why did you set the strategy out across three years, and where would you like to see England Golf in three years?

Initially the strategic plan is three years but there are things that we have to get right to lay the foundations. 

Clearly we have ambitions and visions beyond 2017, but there is something called the Whole Sport Plan, which is a partnership between England Golf, the PGA and the Golf Foundation, and that brings in significant money from Sport England. Their time scales are up to March 2017, so we’ve aligned ourselves with that current plan. 

What we are trying to do is turn around participation and turn round trends in membership. 
In terms of the first two or three years we are looking to stabilise membership. 

It has been falling since 2004 so we’re not naive to think that we can turn around those trends straight away and see a big increase, but if we can start to stabilise the market, stabilise membership, then from 2017 we can look to increase it.

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