What is your background and how did you become involved with England Golf?
I moved from teaching to become the junior development officer for England Volleyball in 1985. My first management challenge came as director of Team Sport Scotland, helping to reverse declining participation in team sport by young people. My other roles have included director of operations at Sports Coach UK, CEO of Scottish Athletics, head of policy and planning at Sport England (West Midlands) and director of Derbyshire Sport. I was delighted to take up this position in April 2013.
How much has golf changed in your lifetime?
I started when I was 21, in the late 1970s. My friends and I would arrive in the car park at Keele Municipal Club in Newcastle Under Lyme at 6am, to join the queue to book one of the tee times they released that morning. Those days have certainly gone. Although there was less golf on TV, the impact of the European Tour in England felt significant. Nick Faldo and Seve really did inspire a generation of golfers.
Golf feels more accessible now, but we all understand the challenges around declining membership and participation and this sets the agenda for our work over the next few years.
How do you think people perceive England Golf?
Most members don’t really understand what we do. I hear this message all the time and we are working hard to address it. Most people recognise we have a role in handicapping, championships and England teams but may struggle to identify much beyond that. I think many clubs see a little bit more of our work and may talk about GolfMark and our work with county golf partnerships to increase participation. Our national partners are now becoming much clearer about our work, and the time invested in developing the new strategic plan for England Golf has really helped in this regard.
What are the common misconceptions about England Golf?
Most people are unaware that we don’t have a member database and that their contact data stays with the club. We employ around 50 staff, which may sound a lot, but big golf clubs employ more than that and British Cycling has 246 staff, so we are a pretty lean organisation.
What are the key roles that England Golf perform?
Our core business includes running championships and developing talent at county, regional and national levels. We provide a strong spine in the sport with our work around governance, policies and procedures, handicapping, course rating, support systems to clubs, member services and communications. Increasingly England Golf provides a leadership role, helping to create the clear vision and ambitions which can then be driven at club, county and national levels. Given the declining participation and the even more alarming declining membership, this is a now a crucial role.
What three things would you like to see England Golf do in the next year?
Deliver our core functions exceptionally well, find out much more about what club members want from their clubs and what the 2m independent golfers want from golf clubs and from England Golf, and significantly improve communication with clubs and golfers.
What does the future hold for golf in England?
Golf is big business. The value of golf to the economy is around £3.4 billion a year and it is estimated that around 2.8 million people play the game at least once a year. But this is no time for complacency. The number of people playing golf is flat lining compared to cycling where the numbers are spiralling. Club membership numbers continue to fall as golfers choose to play independently and pay a green fee. We need to better understand what people want from their golf to achieve growth. This is likely to involve changes, such as more six and nine-hole opportunities, new membership categories, and more direct communication with golfers.
What do you use affiliation fee money for?
Our affiliation fee of £7.25 is the lowest of all the golf federations in Europe. In France, for example, it’s €49. England Golf’s income from membership is around £4.9m this year. This year we will provide grants to clubs to encourage people to play more golf, support greenkeeper training, support the Golf Foundation to promote golf in schools, and subsidise HR services to clubs. It also covers costs for our core staffing, office rent and services, websites, committee meetings as well as squads, teams and championships. Around 10% of the income this year will be used on specific projects to tackle the decline in club membership.
What can England Golf do to help struggling clubs?
We know that around 25 per cent of clubs have tackled the membership issue and made real progress. Our role is to help share good ideas and support clubs to develop plans to retain and attract members.
We have just launched ClubHouse, which is a one-stop shop for clubs to access all the information, support and advice available from England Golf. It also allows them to share successes and exchange information. We will increasingly help clubs with their marketing and business planning.
The county golf partnerships are becoming totally focussed around encouraging people into structured coaching sessions and into membership.
We will continue to work with HMRC and the proprietary sector to bring about a fairer tax system for proprietary clubs. Perhaps the biggest difference we will make in the coming years will be direct communication with independent golfers, to let them know about new offers from clubs and encouraging them into membership.
How are England Golf trying to encourage more women and children to play golf?
There are now less than 100,000 women and 5000 girls in membership of a golf club and so the time is right to tackle the problem. We have just appointed a women and girls’ participation officer to take on this work and she will ensure that good practice is shared more widely.
It is also important that we understand what women want from golf and match this at golf clubs. I can see our grant programmes being more heavily focussed on women and girls’ participation during the next couple of years and there will be commercial partners who will want to associate with this work.