UK Golf Federation

Richard Haygarth

Golf Features: How has the Federation grown so quickly over the last few years?

RH: We always had a vision to grow the UKGF and a couple of board members worked on how we may do this. We decided that to grow we needed to talk to our prospective members and were lucky enough that Doug’s son, Greg, was in between jobs. Greg is a fantastic salesman and worked on turning the board’s vision to reality.

Golf Features: What has the reaction been to the new role that the Federation has mapped out from existing members?

RH: We have had a fantastic response to our new role, particularly during the pandemic when we have been able to keep our members up to date with the latest government policies, funding and best practice to keep golfers safe. We regularlly have a large mailbag from our members on issues raised in our newsletter, giving us great insight into what is happening around the country.

Golf Features:  Has the Federation been universally welcomed to the golf industry by the other associations and organisations who have historically run the sport in the past?

RH: Overall the UKGF has been very well received. All the governing bodies understand that our members are at the sharp end of the golf business and are practical people engaged on a daily basis with providing golf facilities that welcome everyone. If any of the governing bodies need practical insight into how the business of golf works, the insight of our members is second to none.

Golf Features:  The stated aim of the Federation is to continue to ensure open access to golf for all. Please could you tell us what that involves, both for golf facilities and also for golfers wishing to play?

RH: One of the main aims of the Federation is to grow the game of golf. To be a member of our tribe you have to embrace that philosophy and ensure that you welcome all players. Growing the game is vital if we value the benefits that we know golf brings, from physical exercise, mental well being and forging lasting friendships. Our board are proud of the work we do in growing the game and many of our members have very successful schemes that engage new players.  

Golf Features:  Do you think that there will come a time when the golf unions will try and charge a levy or tax on an individual green fee player?

RH: A tax on green fees would be counter productive. Commercial clubs have to charge VAT on green fees and so already pay a tax, not levied on private member clubs. As the majority of Pay & Play golf takes place at commercial facilities this would effectively be a double whammy and increase the cost of a round unnecessarily.  

Golf Features:  How will the Federation prevent such a green fee tax form being implemented?

RH: The Federation would lobby the governing bodies to ensure that such a tax was never implemented.

Golf Features:  Is there any chance in the future, especially now that we are no longer within the European union, that VAT may be applied differently to golf or the whole of sport?

RH: A change in taxation policy, particularly VAT is always a possibility, especially as the Exchequer will need to raise money to fund the deficit created by Covid-19. VAT is a particularly efficient tax and a relatively small increase would raise significant sums. The chances of the government reducing the scope of VAT, for instance to exempt sport, are slim.

Golf Features:  You already have well over 1000 golf clubs, courses and golf ranges signed up to the Federation. How much further do you think that you can increase the number of facilities wishing to join?

DP: Membership is about being relevant to our members’ businesses and the benefits and value of membership we bring to membership. Over the last 2 plus years we have worked to represent our special sector of the industry with all the key stakeholders in the industry, and built a free benefits package of over 13 free services that are available to all members. This is a real value-added when joining the UKGF and is a major reason why we have seen membership grow. These benefits will enable us to grow and represent even more golf facilities in the future and to put target on growth: to have a membership of over 1,400 within a couple of years is a reasonable target.

Golf Features:  There are already several thousand individual members of the UK Golf Federation, how are you going to develop the relationship with individual golfers over the next few years?

DP: The initial focus was to grow membership from the golf facility operators and represent them within the golf industry.  However, always at the back of our minds was to bring business to all of our members through our reach into the golfing community. We already have many thousands of independent or club member golfers registered on our website and with our new developments in 2021 we will be communicating with the independent golfer, building our relationship with them by offering them new and exciting ways to play and enjoy their golf.

Golf Features: It has long been thought by many within the industry that a truly independent handicap system would benefit independent golfers. Do you agree with this and can you confirm or deny reports that the Federation may indeed be considering starting such a project?

DP: The independent golfer is a much-used term that really does not categorise them correctly, as they are mostly golfers who do not see the benefit of membership due to lots of reasons relative to their situation. That said, having a handicap that is “official” is very important as it keeps them tied and involved in playing golf and enables them to enjoy many of the social/competitive aspects of the game. Yes, the UK Golf Federation have and continue to look, at offering their own “Official Handicap” and will continue to do so as it is important to our members’ businesses. 

Golf Features:  Where do you see the Federation in 10 years time. What role will it have and how will it help develop the sport of golf?

DP: The UKGF has just started on its journey, and based on its current positioning within the stakeholder side of the industry, see the Federation being at the top table with all the major investors in golf: that means the R&A, PGA and other important associations across the UK. Golf currently has too many channels and representative sectors trying to manage the game; the Federation just represents the interest of all golf facility owners and its management and will always continue to do that. Growing and developing the sport should be easier as we develop and as we assume to work with stakeholders, simplifying the whole variety of messages the game puts out, working with relevant thoughtful opportunities to grow golf participation across the UK.

Golf Features:  What are the biggest threats to the game of golf that you can see on the horizon and how will you help golf facilities to overcome them?

Doug Poole.

DP: Generally the threats to golf have come from other sports developing their appeal, such as cycling has done over the last few years. Cycling and other sports challenge golf as many can be done individually and take relatively little time to play or do. Golf still does also have an image of being stuffy and traditionalist and needs to change this through better media stories and more relevant offerings of playing the game, such as 9 hole rounds and more relaxed dress codes for members clubs. The Federation’s members offer friendly access to play and we will work towards getting this story out through the media and into the golfing community.

Golf Features:  Do you think that the game of golf is being well governed at the moment, or could you see some useful improvements being made to help golf find a smooth the path in the future?

Golf has a disproportionate number of governing and professional bodies, so a reduction in the overall number would be a good thing. However, there has been more unity shown by these bodies since the start of the Covid-19 crisis last year. This has been achieved through the All Party Parliamentary Golf Group, ably lead by Craig Tracey MP.  If this unified approach can continue then golf can really start to thrive.

Golf Features:  Golf ranges are a vital part of growing the sport, would you like to see more golf ranges join the Federation, and how will you help them in the future?

DP: Golf ranges are nearly always the first port of call when people want to try golf, therefore play a major part in growing golf participation, so growing our range membership is a great fit for the UKGF. All our benefits of membership fit their profile and will be included, and we will of course represent them with all other industry stakeholders, as it is really important that their business is represented.

Golf Features:  Covid-19 has created an increase in the demand for golf. How much of this interest will be retained as the pandemic recedes?

RH: Golf, by its nature, is a difficult game to master, consequently it will never appeal to everyone. The pandemic has drawn more people to golf as at times it was one of few accessible sports. As an industry we are striving to keep this renewed interest and if we retain 10% of the uptick, then we should consider that a success. 

Golf Features:  Obviously our annual event GolfBIC had to be cancelled last year due to the coronavirus and will not be held in its normal format for some time to come. How do you think the new virtual GolfBIC will prosper?

DP: We have moved GolfBIC online for this year, which is a new and unique concept for GolfBIC and obviously caused by Covid-19 and based on the unknown situation with the pandemic in March 2021. 

The new event platform is again partnering with OGRO, and new for 2021 is media company Golf Business News.  It puts a new vision on key industry stakeholders working together for the betterment of all our businesses with some amazing industry speakers and will given everyone the chance to learn new and valuable ways to grow their businesses and also understand how other major parts of the industry fit together and the issues they face in 2021. 

We are expecting around 20 exhibitors and 1,000 plus delegates to join us at GolfBIC - this will represent success! 

Golf Features: Do you think it would be appropriate for the Federation to be represented at the top table of golf’s governance when important decisions, such as limiting the distance that the ball flies and pace of play are discussed by the R&A and other bodies?

DP: It is clear that the Federation should be at the top table when major issues on how the game is managed and developed are discussed, as our members work at the coal face of the industry. This means they are responsible for everything that happens, from golf course condition, membership, tee sheet bookings, how the bacon in the bacon rolls is cooked, and how these relate to the financial bottom line. Therefore they should be there with key stakeholders when issues that affect them are being discussed. 

How far the ball flies, etc., is another issue and whilst I understand some of the concerns the elite and tour organisers have on how far golf ball flies, the basic love for the game driven by the golfing community is the excitement of, and in, hitting a long drive; hence Bryson Decambeau will be one of the most watched players at live tournaments. Pace of play is another issue and really 4 hours is enough for a 4 ball to play around most golf courses - maybe better marshalling and management by golf courses can help speed up play.