Weight lifters and a room of people bent double from yoga are probably the last things you would expect to see from the corridors of a traditional private members’ club.
But this is the way golf needs to go if it is to bring new people into the sport, according to one of the game’s most influential leaders.
R&A chief executive Martin Slumbers is advocating clubs change the product they offer to customers – and he believes using some of their space as a fitness area, or a gym, is a sure fire way to bring different groups of people through the doors.
Recent figures from England Golf have suggested that the overall slump in golf club membership has come to an end but, speaking at the first International congress on Golf and Health in London, Slumbers believes changing the “one-dimensional product” generally offered by clubs would lead to bigger numbers.
“We have openly said that golf clubs would benefit from being able to use some of their facilities for a fitness area,” he explained. “It doesn’t need to have lots of machines. In fact it doesn’t need to have any machines.
“But things like yoga and pilates – and golf clubs being able to offer that to their members and outside people – will attract a different group of people into the clubs and change the product that clubs are offering.
“I do think this is really important to our future. Our clubs generally offer a one-dimensional product. If we want to grow the game and bring in new people, we have to change that product offer.
“There are some great clubs out there that are absolutely doing that and are providing more variability than just playing golf. They are providing more fitness areas and I’ll hazard a guess that their membership is going up.”
Slumbers stressed “every club has to make their own decisions” but added “if a club feels it isn’t getting anywhere, and its membership isn’t growing, or it’s getting too old, this is the way to go. This is absolutely the way to go.”
While repeating the much stressed mantra that clubs could make the course easier for shorter forms of the game, and make it more open, he also considered ways of making golf more accessible for people who are time poor.
And one of his solutions is for clubs to think about the needs of those who need to get away quickly – for family reasons or whatever – and block off early weekend tee-times for their use.
“If you think about a Saturday morning at a golf club, and especially in the summer with the prime tee times at 7 and 7.30am, how often are they being taken up by people who are going to be there all day?
“Why don’t the club understand who their time poor members are and say, ‘Actually, those first 45 minutes? They are only for people who have got to be home by 11am.’
“It’s turning that thinking on its head. I am sure that will give opportunities to play for people who would say, ‘I can’t get on the golf course because I need to be home by 11 to take my child to football, rugby, or whatever.’
“I don’t think it has much of an impact on those who are going to be there all day anyway – because if they go off an hour later they have another cup of coffee.”
He continued: “If clubs can make themselves more a part of the community again, a place where people go not just to play golf but to go to see their friends, to have a proper cup of coffee, go to the gym, then I think our game could really kick on.”