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Why golf should take a leaf out of Parkrun’s book

The popular weekend fun run is built on community and is inclusive to everyone. There’s plenty our sport can learn from that
 

It’s another two years before I can sign my daughter Amy up at my club but I fear the battle is already lost. She was barely blowing out the candles on her fourth birthday cake when she was officially welcomed into the Parkrun community. Now she can’t get enough of the weekly five-kilometre jog.

Amy’s been a passenger with her mum since the day she could first get into a running buggy and, over the last few months, she’d sneaked in the odd kilometre. But as she approached the finish line on her first proper outing, waiting for her at the line to cheer her home was a welcoming party who made a little girl’s day.

As this tale was told to me, along with an image of Amy with 81-year-old Dorothy – the oldest and youngest together at the end – all I could think of is how far away it seemed from what I’ve experienced over the years visiting some golf clubs.

parkrun

For those that have been welcoming and warm, others have been disinterested. The atmosphere at a minority left me determined never to return.

Even now, I find some clubs to be generally cliquey places – a world removed from the communal spirit that’s made Parkrun such a global phenomenon.

Golfers can be creatures of habit. We largely play with the same people every week and at similar times. Even now, after 13 years at my club, there are people whose names I don’t know.

Perhaps that says more about me than the state of the game, although I like to think of myself as a gregarious sort.

Recently, I was at a conference listening to the Jazzy Golfer talking about her experiences – as someone new to golf – of entering clubs.

It was a daunting prospect, she recounted, where she would sit in her car waiting to see where people congregated so she’d know where to go.

The key, she reckoned, was about making a hospitable environment and ensuring people felt welcome. Golf clubs had to evolve with the times and getting rid of separate men’s and women’s entrances was her killer line. I couldn’t believe we still have them.

Gregg Patterson, who ran the famous Beach Club in Los Angeles for more than three decades, talked about “a community of caring”. For him, everything was about family. He knew all his members, remembered their birthdays and celebrated their weddings. He even went to their funerals.

The club was an expression of life. So it is with Parkrun – a place that welcomes people regardless of age, gender, or ability.

No one cares if you run the 5k in 15 minutes or 50. There’s someone waiting to holler you home at the end.

Can we universally say the same about golf? The introduction of 54 handicaps caused an outcry. We still largely separate competitions by gender. Some women can’t access a weekend event at all.

The routine restrictions on juniors playing in club tournaments are scandalous.

That’s without even getting into the myriad ways some clubs profile prospective customers to ensure they’re the right kind of people.

Does that sound welcoming?

Why do we join a club? Is it just about the course? Or is it because we long to be part of a community that cares – to be with people who are like us and who understand us. This is where Parkrun shines.

If this sounds like your club, great. If not, maybe it could learn from something as simple as people jogging round a field.

Parkrun photo credit: Barrie Stephenson

Steve Carroll

Steve Carroll

A journalist for 25 years, Steve has been immersed in club golf for almost as long. A former club captain, he has passed the Level 3 Rules of Golf exam with distinction having attended the R&A's prestigious Tournament Administrators and Referees Seminar.

Steve has officiated at a host of high-profile tournaments, including Open Regional Qualifying, PGA Fourball Championship, English Men's Senior Amateur, and the North of England Amateur Championship. In 2023, he made his international debut as part of the team that refereed England vs Switzerland U16 girls.

A part of NCG's Top 100s panel, Steve has a particular love of links golf and is frantically trying to restore his single-figure handicap. He currently floats at around 11.

Steve plays at Close House, in Newcastle, and York GC, where he is a member of the club's matches and competitions committee and referees the annual 36-hole scratch York Rose Bowl.

Having studied history at Newcastle University, he became a journalist having passed his NTCJ exams at Darlington College of Technology.

What's in Steve's bag: TaylorMade Stealth 2 driver, 3-wood, and hybrids; TaylorMade Stealth 2 irons; TaylorMade Hi-Toe, Ping ChipR, Sik Putter.

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