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coronavirus

‘Golf has had a bad image for years – let people on our courses’

The CEO of a Scottish golf trust believes those using closed courses for public exercise are all potential customers
 

It’s wound up many golfers and clubs during the coronavirus crisis – the sight of the public walking across courses shut to members.

Some have posted photos on social media of families sitting on greens having picnics, while a petition to open up courses as additional green space has caused fierce debate.

But one golf club chief executive reckons some of those receiving the ire of committees, members, and greenkeepers could be potential customers.

Speaking during the first of series of webinars provided by Scottish Golf, Alistair MacGregor, the CEO of Fife Golf Trust, said while there had been examples of “irresponsible access”, there was also a chance to benefit from people who would be looking to take up local leisure activities when lockdown restrictions were eased in the future.

“I think there’s an opportunity here,” he said. “There has been a lot of media coverage of the public, and we’ve all seen it on local golf courses, out taking exercise, walking across golf courses.

“I think it is tempting for clubs to engage in a social media dialogue or criticism and there are examples of irresponsible access.

“But these are also potential customers for us. A lot of people have been out walking on golf courses. These people are going to be – and I’ll use the term – ‘home-cation’.

“I don’t think we’re even going to be stay-cation, in terms of up north in the holiday cottage. They’ll be looking for leisure activities in the community.”

Fife Golf Trust manages seven public courses on behalf of the local council, including Glenrothes and Cowdenbeath, and MacGregor added that respect, and restraint from golfers, was also going to be important when the game is allowed to return.

“Golf has suffered from a bad PR image for many years,” he explained. “Allowing people to access, use the perimeter of the facilities, use it responsibly, is going to be key.

“When we restart golf, I think we are going to have an issue here of large numbers of people who have become quite accustomed, people who live in flats, of using golf courses as a means of getting out and getting exercise.

“We need to make sure we manage that properly and that’s going to need restraint from golfers, and respect on both sides.

“But it’s an opportunity as well in terms of possibly encouraging people to join and support a local club.

“There will be issues there for greens staff in terms of their safety, but it’s an issue we need to think about. We need to think about community safety around car parks, people suddenly arriving to play golf.

“The community will be watching us and they have mobile phones and if social distancing on golf courses is not observed at certain courses this will be reflected on social media and will be damaging for the whole industry.

“They are potentially our friends as well, and potentially our customers. It’s about how we manage this whole issue. It’s very fluid and that’s how people are accessing their leisure. They are walking on golf courses just now.”

Earlier, Craig Boath, links superintendent at Carnoustie, said he’d seen lots of people trying to use practice facilities as the complex was shut – and had even stopped a family playing football on the 1st green of the Burnside course.

“We’ve had a lot of people try to use the practice area or feel it’s OK to go out with a club and hit a few balls. We’ve had to tell people off and say ‘look, the whole area is shut’.

“We have had dog walkers. We have a lot of core paths round the course. There are plenty of areas for them to walk round the core paths but a lot of them find, because there are no golfers on the course, that it’s just a chance to go across greens. We’ve had people on bikes go across greens.”

He added: “If people stick to the paths, it will make our lives easier. We don’t want any more maintenance to be doing.”

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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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