Recent stats suggested the number of youngsters affiliated to golf clubs in England was in sharp decline. But, in this month's From the Clubhouse, our club golfer explains why the figures aren’t quite what they seem

If you were looking for evidence that junior golf was in terminal decline, it seemed you’d hit the jackpot when KPMG’s recent Golf Participation Report for Europe 2019 was released.

Inside the bonnet of the research, which revealed the numbers of registered golfers in all of the home unions had once again declined, were some alarming figures that leapt off the page.

It reported the number of junior golfers in England, those who are members of a club or association, had more than halved in just three years – from 46,000 in 2016 to 19,535 in 2018.

Of that decline, the most precipitous drop had occurred between 2016 and 2017 when 26,000 young golfers seemed to have just disappeared.

But England Golf’s own plan for junior golf, Growing the Game for the Future, indicated that 1.65 million young people had engaged in golf in 2017 and some 7%, or 45,610, of club members were juniors.

So what’s going on? It appears this may be a case where the statistics don’t tell the whole story.

It’s my understanding the numbers reported by KPMG come from England Golf’s affiliation figures but that there can be issues around juniors because of the way clubs and counties report those sums.

Not all counties break down the adult male and boys figures and that skews the overall picture – making the junior affiliation numbers, and particularly those of boys, appear significantly lower than they should be.

That makes sense when you look at the huge amount of juniors the charity Golf Foundation engaged with between 2018 and 2019.

Close on 150,000 young people received coaching from a PGA professional in their school over that period, 51,884 visited a golf club with a 48% increase in the numbers of girls going. More than half a million youngsters tried the sport.

Nearly 3,500 became affiliated members, and 23% of those were girls. There was a 34% rise in junior membership at GolfSixes League Clubs and a 58% increase in the number of girls joining an academy.

Are there enough junior members at our clubs? No, and organisations like England Golf and Golf Foundation are working hard to increase that 7% membership figure. Just look at the impact of Girls’ Golf Rocks.

More free membership schemes for juveniles, along with cut-price lesson plans and a change in club structures that don’t discriminate against players based simply on their age, would also be welcomed.

But while there is always more we can do, any claims of a crisis suddenly enveloping junior golf over the last three years look wide of the mark.

Steve Carroll

A journalist for 23 years, Steve has been immersed in club golf for almost as long. A former captain and committee member, he has passed the Level 3 Rules of Golf exam with distinction having attended the national Tournament Administrators and Referee's Seminar. He has officiated at a host of high-profile tournaments, including Open Regional Qualifying and the PGA Fourball Championship. A member of NCG's Top 100s panel, Steve has a particular love of links golf and is frantically trying to restore his single-figure handicap.

Handicap: 10.9

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