This guest post is by David Keating, Head PGA Professional at Killarney Golf and Fishing Club on the subject of making Making Golf a Viable Business in Ireland.

Where do we start? Golf is the second highest participation sport in our Country! We have the Worlds number 1 golfer and our players have won 9 major championships since 2008! We had a record 5 amateur players on the recent victorious Walker Cup team! We have the Worlds number 1 lady amateur golfer! We have some of the best courses on the planet !We have more professional coaches in this sport than in any other sport in this Country! But numbers have fallen dramatically since the start of 2007 with approximately 80k golfers leaving the sport in Ireland. What has gone wrong?

If we had the Worlds number 1 in any other sport it would have grown massively. It is a mind boggling and complex situation and I certainly don't have all of the answers but Rory Mcilroy can help us to accelerate the growth of the game if we get him on board.

Rory promotes headphones on social media and influences millions of potential customers all over the World. Can you imagine how influential he would be if he promoted a "get into golf "programme in Ireland or indeed promoted Ireland as a World class golf destination. There would be an immediate impact.

There are some other positive signs in the golf industry where I can see progress being made and have hope for the future. Golf is similar to many sports in that the vast majority of Golfer's take up the game after being introduced by a family member or close family friend. Up to quite recently school kids who were not lucky enough  to fall into the above category never had the opportunity to play the game. Thankfully that has now changed with PGA Professionals actively participating in get into golf school programmes.

The formation of CGI has also accelerated the process of getting a golf club into more school kids and adults hands and this has been extremely positive.My hope is that CGI will encourage the GUI and ILGU to amalgamate sooner rather than later to form a dynamic modern thinking single governing body. The CGI have made great progress in a short space of time and we no longer rely on parents and family friends to introduce  kids to golf. We now have an opportunity to compete with Gaelic games, rugby, soccer, athletics, basketball, tennis and hockey etc. from the get go.

Joining a golf club can be a complex,tedious and expensive process for adults and kids and this needs to be simplified and made more straight forward, efficient and most importantly a more friendly experience. It is in my opinion a much more difficult proposition than joining a club catering for the sports mentioned above. In general the facilities in a golf club are significantly better than their sporting competitors but the maintenance costs associated with golf courses are much higher than other sports. This makes it an expensive sport to get involved in. Golf however has  a number of advantages over other sporting codes in that it is now common place to see a 70 year old grandad playing golf with his daughter who is 45 and grandson who is 15. It is a multi generational game and allows grandkids to enjoy a great day out and indeed compete with parents and grandparents. In a sporting environment this is practically unique and what other sport could you commence  at 50 and still have a potential 20-30 year career !!

On the island of Ireland we have 2.7 million people involved in sports related activities ( this figure includes walkers) so there is massive potential for growth in numbers. The latest stats from Ireland show that we have 195k registered golfers. Casual golfers not registered probably total 75k which would mean that only 10% of sports people in Ireland play golf. If we could introduce 30%  the remaining 90% we would have a potential 650k extra players. Can you imagine what this could do for the golf business in our Country.If we fail to grow numbers of golfers in Ireland we will be minus a lot of courses in the near future but I honestly believe that we are only scratching the surface at the moment. Sadly some of our movers and shakers are missing out on a tremendous opportunity to drive and reshape the face of the game and let it flourish. Change will have to come and I feel that some of the following policies will have to be addressed.

1- Make Golf Clubs much more welcoming and fun places to be a member of.
2- Promote Golf as an athletic and exercise driven sport. Professional Golf coaches can take a lead role in the implementation of structured warm ups and exercise programmes in our school PE curriculum that will benefit kids in every walk of life.
3- Promote golf as a social sport. Meet new friends etc.
4- Introduce 3 hole, 9 hole and 12 hole competitions and championships. This would help us to retain the 20-35 year old category of membership who have walked away from the game mainly due to time related issues.
5- Revamp the current flawed handicap system which has become the real drug issue in our sport.
6-Relax archaic dress code regulations
7- Make courses easier and shorter for the vast majority of players.
8- Encourage as many ladies as possible to take up the game
9- Encourage as many juniors and over 50's as possible to take up the game.
10- The GUI, ILGU and PGA need to Lobby the government to apply a tax break on sets of clubs and memberships similar to the cycling grant. We need to make the game more affordable at entry level urgently.
11- Clubs should in conjunction with CGI and the PGA organise 6 week affordable winter courses for potential golfers/members to give them an understanding of (a)how golf clubs operate (b) basic rules of golf (c) basic technique (d) basic on course maintenance(e) membership categories.(f) benefits of Club membership to the golfer and the golfers family.
If all of the above cost €75 deduct that from first years subscription and you will ensure a more educated beginner which is a win/win situation for the club and player.
12-Simplify the rules of golf
13- Ask Rory Mcilroy,Shane Lowry and Paul Mcginley to lead/partner a media driven get into golf campaign.
14-Golf Clubs need to actively build strong relationships with other sporting clubs in the area and encourage them to use golf clubhouse facilities on a more regular basis. Get local sports people accustomed to visiting local golf facilities.
15- Organise an annual local sports club free day at the Golf Club. A 4 person scramble with 3 non golfers would be a great idea.
16- Abolish the one player, one golf bag rule for non competitive activities.
17- Reduce the maximum number of clubs in a bag to 8 for anyone above single digit handicap. Increase it to 10 for single digit players, 12 for scratch golfers or better.Manufacturers won't like this initially but it will help the game long term as it encourages players to improve when they are rewarded with more options in their bag as they get better.
18- Reduce value of golf prizes and competition entry fees.Would we see the same level of handicap building if a medal or trophy was the standard prize for every competition including classics. Retailers ( myself included ) will suffer in the short term but it will help everyone in the long term. The pressure on mens and ladies committees who are trying to organise competitions, prizes and presentations etc is now ridiculous and has almost become a full time job. I am sure that sponsors would also get more value for money  if they sponsored a golf hole/range bay for 12 months rather than sponsoring a competition in its current format.
19- Tee boxes for beginners, juniors, senior men and senior ladies are now a necessity for clubs if we want to maintain and grow participation. It will mean that clubs will have to invest in newly constructed mini tee boxes but it will help grow membership numbers and participation.
20-Clubs need to form an alliance with local pitch and Putt clubs. We have ready made golfers on our doorstep who are being overlooked. Dual Junior membership for P&P/Golf should be seriously explored.

In conclusion I feel that a major rethink is required and firmly believe that our game would be in a much stronger situation if a number of the above points were applied.

Visit David Keating's website here and check him out on Facebook here.


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