GCMA chief Tom Brooke says clubs cannot sit back and expect the upturn in golf's popularity to continue unaided

Clubs risk losing their pandemic gains if they sit back and expect the participation boom is going to continue, the head of the UK’s golf club managers has warned.

Tom Brooke, chief executive of the Golf Club Managers’ Association, argues if the sport doesn’t capitalise on its surge in popularity “we are at risk of achieving nothing in the longer term”.

Speaking after figures released by Sports Marketing Surveys and the R&A revealed a UK increase of 2.3 million golfers during an exceptional 2020 as golf became the socially distanced sport, Brooke said the report did not “suggest that these levels of participation are here to stay”.

“If we simply sit back and expect it to continue, we are at risk of achieving nothing in the longer term,” he said. “While usage remains higher than pre-pandemic levels, I am already hearing that, since reopening in March and April, overall take up has been noticeably lower.

“Last summer, we were incredibly fortunate to be one of the only leisure pursuits permitted and, of course, a large proportion of the workforce were on furlough. 

“Here we are 12 months later with gyms, swimming pools and team sports available again and family attractions reopen, so we are once again competing for valuable leisure time and, inevitably, many ‘casual’ golfers opting for family leisure or team sports instead of golf, or just don’t have the time due to work commitments. 

“So we really must tune in on golf’s unique selling points if we’re going to achieve any level of sustainable success from the 2.3 million new golfers that visited courses in 2020.”

Brooke added the popularity of driving ranges and adventure golf, along with the opportunity to boost nine-hole play – particularly during the week – must be embraced.

“If you think about the game – the way it’s played and the number of different formats available, golf is truly accessible to a very broad market – yet it is still viewed as exactly the opposite!” he explained.

“With driving ranges and Adventure Golf growing hugely as leisure attractions for families and non-golfers in recent years, we really must embrace those sorts of facilities as forms of golf and really look to adapt some of the more traditional aspects of the game to become more enjoyable and more sociable.

“I also believe there is a huge opportunity to grow participation and uptake of 9-hole golf, particularly during the week, which really lends itself to the recent changes in lifestyle created by the increase in working from home and more flexible work patterns.”

What do you think? What does golf need to do to make the most of the surge in interest? Let me know in the comments, or tweet me.

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