Golf must compromise or it risks losing a generation

The Scoop

NCG columnist Colin Callander believes the time has come for golf to welcome change, starting with dress codes

Rickie Fowler caused a predictable outcry when he elected to wear a Hawaiian shirt outside his trousers during this month’s Sentry Tournament of Champions at Kapalua.

There were some who took to Twitter to applaud the American for his decision but many more who lambasted him for breaking with tradition and suggested that it in some way or another he was undermining the very fabric of the game. What utter baloney.

A few years ago one of the UK’s national golf magazines conducted a poll which suggested that 71% of prospective players were put off joining their local club because of their insistence in maintaining out-dated dress codes. It is true the cost of membership and the time it took to play were perceived as greater barriers but why add unnecessary clothing restrictions into the equation at a time when literally hundreds of clubs around the British Isles are haemorrhaging members year after year.

I was reminded of this during a recent family visit to TopGolf in Watford when I walked through the door to find all 44 computerised outside bays occupied and literally dozens of other people sitting in the restaurant and bar waiting their turn for a game. Golf might recently have been voted the dullest sport in Britain in a recent YouGov poll but not in this corner of Hertfordshire it would seem.

I should point out at this juncture that my daughter has worked at TopGolf for a couple of years. She has often told me how busy it is right up to closing time at 1.00 am on Fridays and Saturdays but that still did not prepare me for the mass of people we encountered when we walked through the door.

It was the sheer volume of customers which struck me first but very soon I started to see this was not the only thing that differentiated it from the traditional golf clubs I tend to frequent. The profile of the participants was also very different. The average age was probably 30 rather than 60. It might even have been lower. There were families. Boyfriends and girlfriends. Men and lots of women. People from a wide range of ethnic backgrounds virtually all of whom were wearing clothes which would be outlawed at most golf clubs.

TopGolf’s marketing is clever in that it stresses the fact it offers something very different to traditional golf. It is not going to appeal to all club golfers but the fact it is recognised as one of the fastest growing companies in America and that last year the PGA of America decided to enter a strategic alliance with the company tells us something about it and suggests that our traditional golf clubs can learn something from it.

What I learned that day at Watford is that golf can appeal to a wider audience if you give them what they want. That is a tactic currently also being trialled with some success by Keith Pelley at the European Tour and it might be something our struggling clubs would be well advised to explore too.

I am not suggesting for a second that clubs should abandon all their traditional practises in order to attract new members but some compromises are undoubtedly necessary and I cannot help but think that a thorough review of dress code rules would be a good place to start.

There will be those who tell you dropping dress codes will inevitably lead to a deterioration in behaviour but there is very little evidence that is the case. Indeed we all know individuals who seem to model themselves on Worsel Gummidge but whose etiquette is exemplary just a we have all come across others who dress immaculately but whose behaviour leaves much to be desired.

You will never catch me on a golf course dressed as Rickie Fowler was in Hawaii. I would never play in jeans and a T-shirt either. But that is my personal choice and I genuinely believe that to foist such restrictions on others is detrimental to the health of our game.

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