Clubs and golfers are real victims of Scottish Golf's civil war

Scottish Golf Flag

October 1, 2015, was supposed to signal a fresh start for golf in Scotland.

On that day, to great fanfare, the Scottish Golf Union and Scottish Ladies Golfing Association officially became one single, unified body.

It was meant to bring to an end years of self-inflicted black eyes for the domestic game here in golf’s birthplace. The message was defiant and determined: united, we stand.  

And yet divided, we have fallen.

Just two-and-a-half years since balloons were happily released into the sky above St Andrews to signal this bold new age, the mood has shifted, the disposition is grim and as for the future? Don’t ask.

Bluntly, Scottish Golf – and, by extension, Scottish golf – is in absolute disarray, with civil war raging between the Board and the organisation’s 16 constituent Areas.

A clash of perspectives over the best way forward has created a conflict of truly toxic proportions. Chaired by Eleanor Cannon, the Board has pursued an agenda of persistent change. Trouble is, they spectacularly misjudged the best way to do so. They have moved with the feather-touch of a wrecking ball and, in the process, alienated the awkward Areas they are so perversely dependent on.

Cue belligerent obstinance and our swift arrival at an impasse. A very public, very embarrassing and entirely avoidable impasse.

The Board insists the Areas are to blame. The Areas say the Board is to blame. It’s like watching two drivers fight over a parking space, both adamant they “saw it first” and completely oblivious to the fact they’re holding up traffic.

Consequently, and appallingly, jobs are now at stake. No stalemate at executive level should ever result in job losses in the engine room.

There are lots of good people at Scottish Golf; ordinary, hard-working people like you and I. They’ve got families to provide for and bills to pay. But because of pig-headed intransigence further up the ladder, they’re the ones who stand to suffer most. That’s unforgivable.

In a more general sense, clubs and club golfers will feel the consequences, too. With memberships continuing to contract, the support Scottish Golf proclaims to offer is needed now more than ever. But how can they hope to offer it when they’re fighting fires that should never have been lit? It’s a shambolic, shameful state of affairs. I genuinely don’t have the words to express how angry it makes me.

Worse still, there doesn’t appear to be a clear and obvious solution, short of major constitutional reform and/or the unseating of those responsible for this mess. Given the vice-like grip with which they cling on to the modicum of power they possess, there’s little to no chance of that happening.

As a result, this noxious, poisonous mess is destined to repeat itself in the most ‘Catch-22’ of fashions.

I feel sorry for Andrew McKinlay, the incoming chief exec. From what I gather, he is a good guy and a virtuous operator (who crucially doesn’t chair the board of any other sport). He must wonder what he has let himself in for. I wish him all the luck in the world. I suspect he’s going to need it.

• This piece first appeared in issue 162 of bunkered (March 2018)

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