fbpx
Golf It!

‘There are no barriers’: How Golf It! could reshape how we play the sport

It has been labelled a ’new vision for golf’. But how did Golf It! happen and will it become the framework to follow? We spoke to those who delivered the Glasgow project

 

The first thing you notice are the colours. Bright yellow, and orange, red, purple, and pink. It looks like no golf club you’ve ever seen. 

The furniture is simple and unbreakable. Street food dining lines the entrance to the building. 

There isn’t a clubhouse. There is a hub, and it looks like something you might see at a music festival. 

The vast pizza oven in the centre of that room is chucking out culinary delights at a rate of knots. 

And, yes, there is golf. The driving range is massive, a 52-bay monster, with Toptracer screens in each. 

A nine-hole course works its way round the building, but don’t think about labelling it ‘academy’. There is plenty to test the serious player, as well as welcome the beginner. 

This is Golf It! It’s The R&A’s vision for the sport: a community-based golf and family fun centre that has revitalised the former Lethamhill golf course in Glasgow, and which opened its doors to the public at the start of last month.  

It’s designed to revolutionise the way people access golf. No barriers. No rules. Nothing standing in your way. 

So whether it be starting the journey on one of three Adventure Golf courses on the site, taking those first steps with some free hire clubs and half an hour on the range, or ignoring golf completely and walking a nature trail around the site, the governing body’s aim is to welcome you on your terms and show you golf isn’t the game it’s sometimes stereotyped to be. 

Golf It!

“This all started with Martin Slumbers [The R&A chief executive], who really wanted to make sure that golf was inclusive and accessible and appealing,” explained Phil Anderton, The R&A’s chief development officer. 

“He’s stated many times that this is a sport that came from the community. It was a sport for everyone. He wants to try and really drive that reality and that perception that anyone can play golf. 

“You don’t need to be of a particular status, or money orientated, and so this is the living, breathing, manifestation of everything that Martin had as part of his vision.” 

It was back in the early part of 2021, that The R&A submitted a planning application to construct a new community golf facility in Scotland’s biggest city. 

With a reported investment of £10 million, it rescued a municipal course in danger of closure and was designed to provide a pathway for people into the sport from their first shot to the golf course.  

Sustainability was also a key motivator, with all the building’s energy coming from renewable sources, nearly 200 species of animal and plants on site, more than 11,000 square metres of wildflower meadows, and none of the waste going to landfill. 

Anderton added: “All this work started with the individual at the heart of it. When a lot of the research was done, it was the people in the local area who said, ’this is what we want’. The name Golf It!, for example, came from the research. A group was set up with young children and, when it came to designing things on the course, it was they who designed it.  

“You can see that with the colour. It’s vibrant. It’s exciting and, most important for me, it is not intimidating at all.” 

The project was led by Jenny Brown, The R&A’s director of business development, who says the complex was designed to be a complete end-to-end pathway. If a user wanted to try park golf for the first time, and work through to the full course, “there’s a real progression line there.” 

Golf It!

But that’s not all.

“We’ve started in schools,” she added. “In a five-year period, we will deliver 42,000 children in curriculum golf, who will then come in and do a festival of golf at Golf It! at the end of the six-week block. 

“We’ve got a volunteer pathway. There are 32 different volunteers each week – new volunteers who will come and work at the facility and try it out. 

“We’ve got the same with an apprenticeship greenkeeping programme that’s sponsored by Toro. We’ve got two apprentices, who will work for two years on the course, a year in St Andrews, and then a year in Ohio. 

“We’re not just worried about participation in the game, we’re worried about the perception of golf and the way you change that is to try and show people that it’s not just about playing it. Maybe you might want to work in it, or try working in golf operations, or just be part of the community that we’re building. 

“So that end-to-end pathway is not just the playing side, it’s actually building people’s futures.” 

Alongside the bright colours, and the huge open feel of the venue, what you’ll notice next is the lack of a ‘club’ feel around the place. No dress codes. No silly sock rules.

That’s a very deliberate policy, added Brown. “There are no barriers. One of the points in our manifesto clearly says, ‘more golf, less barriers’. That’s what we are trying to do,” she explained.  

“We know that this game – whether you’re three or 93 – has got something that can appeal to everybody and it’s about making this as inclusive as we can. 

“One of my first experiences of a members’ club in Glasgow was being told my shorts were too short as a 14-year-old girl. 

“Now, that is a complete barrier to me playing. I then left the club, felt really ostracised, and just horrible. And you think, ‘why is that even in existence?’ 

“We just want people to feel really comfortable here. There’s something for everybody and for everyone to be free to be themselves.” 

But if you think that golf has been in anyway overlooked in providing a family environment then you would also be mistaken. 

The R&A brought in Scott Macpherson, the architect behind the Colt course at Close House among many others, to redesign the Lethamhill layout. 

That involved taking an 18-hole course and turning it into nine, reshaping tees and greens, providing new star tees – barely 50 yards away from greens – to make sure any level of player could get out quickly on the course. But it also need to ensure it would ask questions of regular golfers who wanted to tee it up.

“I think that time will show that Golf It! Is the most important new golf facility to be opened in many years,” he said.  

“The golf course itself needed to say, ‘yes’. We needed to look at ways that would effectively allow a greater range of people to play.  

“The contouring, and the greens, and the tees – everything is fairly soft, so entry level golfers could almost putt from tee to green. 

Golf It!

“I can’t think of any forced carries on the course, so the brief was about saying, ‘yes’ to golf. That started with the masterplan. If you look at the building and main facilities, they’re close to public transport links. They are right next to Hogganfield Loch.  

“The moment you come onto the property, the building is very welcoming.

“If you’re a non-golfer and you’re trying to get into golf, where do you start? If you go to a driving range, that gives you some skills and you can learn how to hit a golf ball. But it doesn’t really allow you to take that next step. 

“This whole facility is about a pathway. You could come and the first thing you might see is the Adventure Golf. Everybody loves it – it doesn’t matter if you’re a golfer or a non-golfer. You can turn up, play with two people or 10, and have a great time. 

“You see Adventure Golf and, immediately, you know you’re in a different place. You’re not at a traditional golf course. There are not 100 old men behind the gates about to shout at you.  

“You get to the building, which is brightly coloured with big open spaces and then it faces out onto Hogganfield Loch. It doesn’t face the first tee. That’s a different feeling for a non-golfer and puts them at ease.” 

Macpherson added: “I think what the facility does really is well is it’s welcoming, open, and accessible. But also, it’s got a really soft touch to it. There is nothing forced about what you need to do or how you need to behave. 

“You can come with a group of golfers and non-golfers and feel equally at ease. That’s a sea change.” 

In charge of Golf It! on a day-to-day basis is general manager Russell Smith. Having spent time at Scottish Rugby and Hibernian FC, and a former general manager at Newcastle Racecourse, and executive director at Bath and Doncaster Racecourse, he came into the role from The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo, where he was head of commercial. 

That’s a portfolio of roles which have given him extensive experience in sport, and a different mindset for a very different job. 

“The responsibility that we’ve got from our new perspective was that we wanted to create an amazing venue that can really inject fun, interest, and vibrancy to ensure that we’ve got mass participation in the game,” Smith explained. 

“Everything that we’ve been developing here, and over the past two years – the business, the building, the products, the website – is about trying to make it a fun and vibrant and welcome place and to make sure it is absolutely inclusive and affordable.” 

The proof will be in the pudding. Everything that has at any point hindered anyone from getting into golf has been removed at Golf It! It’s now up to the public to utilise it and make it work. The signs are they’re responding in numbers. 

Smith added: “When we turned the booking system on, a month out, we’d been doing a lot of work to generate interest in Golf it! – because it’s a brand new thing and a brand new brand as well. 

“But when people started to book in, the joy that came from the team was absolutely fantastic. We want not only our team to have smiles on their faces but, ultimately, to have lots of smiles on lots of people’s faces. The way that we’re presenting ourselves and all the partners that we’ve been working with, I think we’ll be able to achieve that.” 

If they do, will there be more? Could Golf It! Glasgow become a model, or a franchise, to be rolled out across the UK and even the world? 

Anderton said: “Job number one is to make this a success, which we’re very confident it will be with all the work that’s been put in by the teams involved. 

“Number two: A big part of this is to demonstrate that the R&A is walking the walk but also to try and inspire other people. 

“So when you’ve got entrepreneurs, or federations who look at this and say, ‘You know what? We should do something like this because it works, or we could do part of this’, that will be a big success. 

“And then the third part is, if it’s successful, can we take the concept and roll that out and try and have the thinking behind it in more places around the world and the answer to that is definitely yes. 

“How exactly that will work? That will come out in time.” 

  • This piece also appears in the GCMA’s new monthly Insights newsletter that is packed with expert opinion on matters relating to golf club management. Sign up to Insights for FREE here.

Have you been to Golf It Glasgow? What did you think? Let me know by sending me a comment on X, formerly known as twitter.

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.

Latest Posts

US Open

Rory McIlroy: ‘I’d love if we played more golf courses like Pinehurst’

By

Read full article about Rory McIlroy: ‘I’d love if we played more golf courses like Pinehurst’
deal of the week

This week’s hottest golf equipment deals

By

Read full article about This week’s hottest golf equipment deals
US Open test

US Open

Formidable but fair: This is exactly what we want from a US Open test

By

Read full article about Formidable but fair: This is exactly what we want from a US Open test

US Open

It can’t go on like this – Tiger Woods needs to find a new way

By

Read full article about It can’t go on like this – Tiger Woods needs to find a new way
Pinehurst No. 2

US Open

How many? You won’t believe the shots you’d get at Pinehurst No. 2

By

Read full article about How many? You won’t believe the shots you’d get at Pinehurst No. 2

Bags

Callaway Org 14 cart bag review

By

Read full article about Callaway Org 14 cart bag review

Buying Guides

Golfers are 2.4 times more likely to get skin cancer – what can you do to minimise the risk?

By

Read full article about Golfers are 2.4 times more likely to get skin cancer – what can you do to minimise the risk?
us open golf prize money

US Open

‘You guys can decide if that’s right or wrong’: USGA announces monster prize fund for US Open

By

Read full article about ‘You guys can decide if that’s right or wrong’: USGA announces monster prize fund for US Open
tiger woods us open

US Open

What has changed since Tiger Woods last played the US Open at Pinehurst?

By

Read full article about What has changed since Tiger Woods last played the US Open at Pinehurst?