So it comes as no great surprise that I have not been selected as the new chief executive of England Golf. Without wishing to influence anyone unduly, I think the following is relevant to the process of turning around England Golf ,and I wish him or her all possible success. It is a vitally important time, if England Golf is to survive.
CEO of England Golf - 3 Points to Address
I greatly appreciated the opportunity to be considered for the job of CEO of England Golf. I had my interview recently with top head hunters Odgers & Berdsten and found that Simon Cummins and Rob Marks were right on the money in knowing the situation and also my slightly antagonistic stance on the organisation over the last decade. It was good to be invited and I appreciated that whilst I may have been invited to the initial stages of the interview process, I was a long way from being the ideal candidate, despite not troubling the payroll for the next two years.
I agreed with them that England Golf would have to be willing to let the fox into the hen house, if they had appointed me, as I see wholesale change as vital to give EG a fighting chance for the future. To some extent, EG would be mad to engage me, but my ideas and opinions do need to be considered. I am genuine about helping the organisation in this regard.
At present the situation, as I see it, is as follows:
England Golf is losing affiliated members on an industrial scale, now down to under 620,000. Just ten years ago, this was over 940,000; 30,000 down per annum is dreadful. This must be addressed.
Sport England is also in a muddle and is unlikely to give England Golf another £8.4m in the next funding round in 2021. They may give nothing. They may not even be in existence themselves.
England Golf has three main activities:
1. Running events and championships.
2. Dispensing handicaps.
3. Trying to develop golf and grow the game.
Running Events and Championships
England Golf is very good at running events. Up and down the country you organise, via the exceptional county network, championships and competitions regarded as important and worthwhile by all involved, especially the competitors. England Golf has, as far as I can see, a relatively small staff and budget for this work, yet it is what they are best at and what is the most fun for all of their volunteers and supporters.
Current performance: 9/10 - already truly outstanding.
Recommendations: double the budget, the staff and the publicity. Fly a little higher.
In the past all golfers have had to be a member of a club to hold a handicap. This has changed massively over the last few decades, as in the seventies, golf only had clubs and huge queues were seen at the few public courses. Now we have plenty of courses, there is less appetite for golfers wanting to play just at one course every week. This only largely suits many retired people, so golf is re-enforcing it’s ‘old persons’ image, as the only people who can hold a handicap are those who can justify annual membership - namely those with money and time to spare. With its exceptional social benefits, club membership suits retired golfers very well.
Current performance 5/10 - handicaps are currently only dispensed via clubs, because some think that this drives membership - completely wrong conclusion - flat-earthers!
Recommendations: Continue with handicapping for clubs in exactly the same way as at present, but give all golfers the option of getting their handicap directly for a slightly higher fee, so clubs have a volume advantage. This price should be in the region of £30-£35 per annum per player per annum and include insurance for third party claims only. These individual golfers will then have exactly the same rights as other handicapped golfers, except they will have no playing rights at their home club and no access to county matches. Golf clubs, courses, centres and ranges that wish to administer these handicaps must register with England Golf for £200-300 per annum. (It is not worth more to them.)
There is a complete misunderstanding of why golfers join golf clubs and it is at the heart of the madness currently consuming England Golf. Some influential county golf officials think that having a handicap is a major reason to join a golf club. Dead wrong. Golfers join golf for social and golfing reasons. Some may also want a handicap, but it is NOT the reason to join.
By allowing all golfers to get a handicap without joining a club, more golfers will be involved in the sport and golf club membership will grow. How many more years of drastically falling affiliation fees will these knuckle brained dinosaurs need before they realise this?
Affiliated golfers will soar and soon will be back over a million. England Golf will be relevant again, speaking to a huge number of growing golfers.
This is an area where proprietary golf clubs, courses, ranges and centres are much better than private, member owned golf clubs. The simple reason is the people that are seeking profit want more people to play golf. Those concerned with joining in at a club do not necessarily want other players of poorer standards to join in, unless they know them personally already.
Despite there being a lot of goodwill and hard work, golf development has been appalling over the last 10 years for England Golf. The only way that people start to play golf is when they are personally encouraged in a setting that is suitable for their ability, and is sensitive to their stage of development. In skiing, the nursery slopes and green runs are populated by new and young skiers - these are a vitally important part of any ski resort. In golfing terms, similar golfing nursery slopes are to be found largely at proprietary facilities and far less frequently at member owned facilities. There is also a culture of helping individual golfers to cope with the new sport of golf, which is found at well run golf centres.
A well-known golf course owner was told to attend three courses before his facility would be considered suitable to join the ‘Girls Golf Rocks’ programme. If successful, then there is no income from these lessons for the golf centre. This is overly controlling and against the instincts of encouraging new golfers of any gender. These programmes could be brilliant - if lightly regulated, without any interference from England Golf.
Current performance 1/10. You need to completely review the whole department, which has a record that nobody should be proud of. You must consider whether to shut down the existing development wing altogether, as it is not generating golfers.
Recommendations: To succeed, this needs serious input from the proprietary sector and not more of the same. At present, golf centres are creating golfers in spite of England Golf, rather than with their help. By asking those people who own golf centres what they require to help develop the sport, rather than listening to the same old sources, it is possible that a new golf development wing could even help generate new golfers.
In addition to these three key issues, the new Chief Executive must also address the appalling relationship with the proprietary sector. Currently, those who are creating golfers are being often accused of fiddling their affiliation fees and are being threatened with de-affiliation. The proprietary sector is the solution to the sport’s falling numbers and the treatment of many of my colleagues has been shameful. This must change.
Quite a few problems await the new Chief Executive - they must be addressed or England Golf will collapse in disarray with no relevance and no funding within a few years.
My fear is that the county stakeholders who are behind England Golf at present will not permit the required shakeup that the organisation needs. If they really care about the future of golf, they will allow new, logical thought to flow through the dusty cobwebs of this outdated structure. Their best traditions will endure, and the lunacy can be quietly dropped.