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The release of a KPMG report into
golf participation last year painted a bleak picture of Scottish golf
with a loss of more than 6,000 members. However, in issue 155 of
bunkered, we investigated a sector of the Scottish
golfing landscape that is thriving…

– – –

As membership numbers continue to decline and governing bodies
acknowledge the many challenges they’re facing in the times ahead, the
mainstream media would have you believe that the future is bleak for
golf, with headlines painting the game we love as ‘in crisis’ or, worse
yet, ‘dying’.

But a visit to your local municipal course will tell you a completely
different story. Golf on these courses is thriving – and few places are
enjoying the benefits more than Scotland’s two main cities.

In 2015, Edinburgh’s six municipal courses averaged 27,014 rounds
played – 26% higher than the UK-wide figure – while last year, Glasgow
saw an average of 30,088 rounds played across its six courses, an
increase of 21% on the national average.

Always open to public scrutiny, municipal courses tend to get a bad
rap, highlighted recently in South Lanarkshire when there was uproar on
social media at the council’s 7% rise in annual fees for residents and
20% for non-residents.

But over the period of a few weeks, we investigated just how
important they are to their local communities and to Scottish golf.


As the population ages, loneliness among the elderly is fast becoming an epidemic.

According to recent research, the UK is a country where two-fifths
of older people say that their main source of company is their television and more than half of those aged over 75 live alone.

At Edinburgh Leisure, through various membership schemes and discount
cards, they’re doing their utmost to ensure that, through golf and
other sports, the elderly are remaining healthy both physically and

“We consider our golf courses as a pillar of local communities,”
Mathew Harper, golf operations supervisor at Edinburgh Leisure, told
bunkered. “They’re hugely important, especially for the elderly, and
it’s clear that they see the benefits of being able to play regularly at
affordable prices because, well, you just have to look at how healthy
most of them are. I often get a surprise when I’m renewing a membership
and take somebody’s date of birth down.

“Although some may have their usual group they go out in, it’s great to see friendships being formed even at such a
late age.

“We had a guy at Silverknowes who was still playing nine holes at 95
and even now, despite not being able to manage that anymore, he still
comes down to the course to hit a few balls and meet his mate for a
coffee. That just typifies how important they are.”


One of the regulars at Carrick Knowe is Thomas Waldall (above),
82, who plays five times a week and pays an annual fee of £340. What’s
more, this membership gives him access to all six Edinburgh Leisure
courses – Carrick Knowe, Braid Hills, Wee Braids, Portobello,
Silverknowes and Craigentinny – while he pays an extra £60 subsidy to be
a member of the affiliated Carrick Knowe Golf Club, giving him
clubhouse access and the ability to play in weekly medals and get a

“I would die without playing golf,” he says matter-of-factly. “I give
myself just Sundays and Tuesdays off. It’s what keeps me going – I’ve
got my golf and my garden.

“I’ve been playing here for nearly 50 years now as I took up golf
here when I was 34. I’d never even thought about taking it up before
then. My brother-in-law took me out one day and it was incredible. I’ve
never had a lesson but I could do with one now!”

It’s 10.30am on a Thursday morning and the small reception area is
bustling with golfers meeting up for a coffee ahead of their rounds,
before laughter breaks out and Thomas is being grappled jokingly by
starter Alan Pettigrew, himself just in from a quick few holes before
starting work at 11am.


What is evident in a short time observing is the bond Alan and his colleague Caroline Black (above)
have built up with their regular customers, and he explains that he
sees the building of those relationships as a key part of his job.

“It makes it much easier for the golfers to come in if you’ve got a good rapport with them,” he said.

“Some of the guys, when they first came in here, were really quite
timid and didn’t say much but once you get to know them, you see a
completely different and good side.

“And you don’t half hear some stories. The stories they have, you’re
just sitting there giggling and most of the time you go home with sore
ribs because you’ve giggled that much.

“But you can tell golf is hugely important for them. Obviously if you just sit in your house, your body shuts down.

“I’ve seen it many times in my working life with guys that retire and then, six months later, they’re sadly no longer with

With both Edinburgh Leisure and Glasgow Life keen to stress the
importance of living an active and healthy lifestyle, other affordable
golf membership options have been created that includes links with other
council-owned facilities.

“Because we’re tied in with leisure centres, we can offer a huge
range of products from free memberships for U12s, cheaper rates for
young adults, significant discounts for seniors and discount cards that
allow people to use our gyms, swimming pools and golf courses for a
reduced fee,” adds Mathew Harper.

“For example, a great product we have is an over-75s discount card,
which allows people to play golf at effectively half price and also free

“We have a lot of tie-ins and although we want as many people playing
golf, it’s important that we’re helping the people of Edinburgh stay as
active as possible.”

Similar schemes are in place in Glasgow. With a Glasgow Club card,
which is available at no monthly cost, users can get 10% off green fees
and season ticket costs, while those over the age of 60 can get almost
50% off an annual subscription, which covers its six courses of
Littlehill, Lethamhill, Linn Park, Alexandra Park, Knightswood and


Edinburgh Leisure even recently set-up its own golf club due to
demand from users who didn’t want to join an affiliated club but wanted
an official handicap.

For an extra £25, golfers can join the Edinburgh Leisure Golf Club
and play in bi-monthly medals at any of the six affiliated courses and
get just that.

And that’s something which was of great interest to recently retired couple Paul and Fiona Barber (above),
who were so satisfied with what Edinburgh Leisure had to offer that
they didn’t hesitate to make both of their temporary winter memberships

“We joined the Edinburgh Leisure Golf Club over the winter because it
gave us the chance to get a handicap and also the ability to play all
six Edinburgh courses, which really impressed me,” explained Fiona, 59.
“We initially expected to be members just over winter but the people
have made us feel so welcome that we’ve decided to keep going.

“We’re effectively getting six memberships for the price of one and
we’ve played so much golf over the winter compared to normal that we’re
feeling fitter than ever for this time of year.”

A generalisation often made about publically-owned courses is that
they lack the same quality of a private course and
are frequently targets of anti-social behaviour.

And while councils will be the first to admit they must work around
constant cost-cutting and to stringent budgets, the view from workers
and users alike are that this stereotype is misconceived.

Carrick Knowe Graffiti

“I would dispute that completely,” adds Fiona, who was keen to stress
her pleasant surprise at the condition of the courses. “We’ve played a
couple of courses recently – one in West Lothian and one in Fife – and
I’d say these match up to them.”

Move west to Glasgow and the opinion remains the same.

“I wouldn’t say it’s snobbery but people tend to have a negative view
of what a municipal course is like,” said Gerard McGovern (above),
starter at Knightswood Golf Course. “But I’ve had guys come here who
are members of private clubs and they say that the condition at
Knightswood can be better than what it’s like at their club.

“It’s pretty flat here but at the 18-hole courses like Littlehill and
Lethamhill, where I’ve also worked, I think people are surprised by how
tricky they are.”

For 48-year-old Bobby Martin, who works on a cruise ship off
Australia for eight months of the year, Lethamhill is the perfect
retreat and where he spends a large chunk of his time when he’s home and
while his wife is at work.

“I’ve got absolutely no interest in paying for membership at a
private club because it costs far too much money and I can’t justify it
when I’m only here for a limited time,” he said. “So that means I play
here at Lethamhill and I’ve got to say, it’s fantastic.

“To me, it has everything you could ask for. It’s got its challenges,
its long holes and it’s in a nice environment. It’s not noisy, not
overcrowded and it’s well maintained.

“Improvements are always being made, too, and you can’t ask for much more than that.”


That’s a view shared at Lethamhill by friends Liam Doherty, Ryan Houston and Grant Wilson (above),
all of whom are 17. Currently, thanks to owning a Glasgow Young Scot
Card (eligible for 12-18-year-olds), they can all play golf for free at
any of the city’s six municipal courses.

The card encouraged both Ryan and Grant to take up the game just a
few months ago and, without it, they doubt they would have been keen to
play in the first place.

“At a lot of clubs, you’re looking at annual fees of around £500 when
you turn 18 and you just can’t afford it,” says Grant. “Unless you can
play every Saturday, I’d say it’s not worth it.

“That’s why you might as well play here, while it’s free, get better
and maybe at some point in the future we’ll enjoy golf enough and be
able to afford to join a private club where it’s going to be worth the

Knightswood Gerard

But with less than two years until they turn 19, when they will no
longer be eligible for free golf, are they concerned that they could be
lost to the game so soon after taking it up?

“I wouldn’t say we’ll be lost to golf but the reality is we probably
won’t end up playing as much,” adds Ryan. “I’d probably just pay for
single rounds rather than a membership so I’d imagine it’ll be around
once a month.

“But until then, we’re quite happy playing here because, with the
Young Scot Card, it’s free and the course tends to always be in good

The notion that municipal courses are ideal facilities for those new
to golf was further epitomised down the ninth fairway at Knightswood,
where ten-year-old Ruairidh Coltart – dressed casually in trainers,
jeans and a hoodie – was enjoying a round with his dad, Bill, 59 (below).

It was Ruairidh’s first trip to the golf course having pestered his
dad for a while to take him along and, bounding excitedly up and down
the fairway hitting shots with his orange ball, it was clear to see that
he was enjoying himself.

“I started here when I was ten-years-old as well,” recalls Bill, who
himself was enjoying his first round in years. In what has become an all
too familiar scenario, he had been forced to end his £800 annual
membership at one club in the Glasgow area after only managing two
rounds in his final year due to work and family commitments.


“Here is fantastic because it’s right on our doorstep and, to be
honest, it’s perfect in terms of value for money – it’s ridiculous
relative to what you pay at some places.

“He’s [Ruairidh] just been getting lessons from me at the moment but
the next stage is for him to get some proper lessons. But he’s got good
natural ability and this is a great course for him to get started and
enjoy the game.

“Hopefully, in a few years’ time, he’ll still be interested and be able to come along here with his friends and play.”

For those getting into golf like Ruairidh and teenagers Ryan and
Grant, to members of almost 50 years like Thomas and his friends, it’s
evident that municipal courses are providing an important service to
golfers of all ages and abilities across Scotland.

And, with the various discounts and card schemes offered by Edinburgh
Leisure and Glasgow Life that include links with other sports
facilities making golf more affordable and accessible, it’s arguably
never been easier to pick up the clubs.

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