Scottish Golf: A never-ending disaster that must end now

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In times of crisis, leaders are expected to lead.

That’s what makes Scottish Golf’s quite incredible statement announcing the resignation of chief executive Andrew McKinlay hard to fathom.

The reason for his departure? Coronavirus, apparently.

“To this end, our chief executive… has decided that he should step aside in order to help the organisation come through this situation.”

Of course he has. Honestly, it’s almost like they think we zip up the back.

McKinlay came to Scottish Golf with a fine CV. Just as well because he faced a mammoth task. This is an organisation that saw its long-time boss, Hamish Grey, resign in early 2016, months after the protracted amalgamation of the Scottish Golf Union and Scottish Ladies Golfing Association was finalised. 

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Grey's successor, Blane Dodds, was appointed in June that year, although don't worry if you didn't notice. According to those who worked with him, he was rarely seen. There is a long list of area association officials who will tell you they never met him.

Dodds lasted just over a year before throwing in the towel.

In stepped McKinlay, who had spent six years at the Scottish Football Association, including two years as chief operating officer, and four months as the interim chief executive. To those in the know, working for the SFA is rough. Everybody questions your every move. Every decision is scrutinised. You are rarely right. If you have a backbone, it better be a strong one. All of which made his move to Scottish Golf - an organisation in disarray following Dodds' departure - a positive one for every stakeholder in the home of golf. 

Here was a guy who could handle himself.

Now he’s gone, and we’re back to square one. 

When Hamish Grey walked in March 2016, it was the right time to go. But the fact that Blane Dodds stuck it out for little more than a year was telling. He resigned just six weeks before a contentious vote at a Special General Meeting in Stirling. He achieved, effectively, nothing during his time.

McKinlay was different. McKinlay ordered sweeping change. He wanted to remove the middle man in Scottish golf, the software developers who help clubs run their online systems, and introduce a nationwide system that would mean every single golf club - and golfer - in the country worked off the same system. There would be no pilfering of booking fees from outside agencies. The extra money generated by the new system would stay in Scotland. Better than that, it would be free.

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More than sixteen months on from its grand unveiling, the system has still not been integrated into the fabric of golf in Scotland. 

There have been rumours of pending litigation from software agencies who feel that Scottish Golf’s moves on their market are illegal. One developer has told me that Scottish Golf’s actions are “a disgrace”. Many clubs have said the move smacks of Scottish Golf’s greed to get their hands on every club’s prized ‘data’. Some have questioned whether the affiliation fee will increase in a few years in order to pay for the system. What was a good idea in theory has turned into, well, nothing yet.

In recent months, other senior members of staff have left the organisation. McKinlay has now followed suit. 

But one key person remains, and their name is on the bottom of the statement.

That speaks volumes.  

Eleanor Cannon is the chair of Scottish Golf, and is said to be an interfering figure. When the next-in-line comes in, they will be the fourth chief executive to work under her in less than five years. A former member of staff at Scottish Golf told me she was “hard to work with”. She’s also, shall we say, not popular with various Area officials.

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When Cannon launched the new unified body of Scottish Golf in 2015, she called it the start of “an exciting new era”.

Within three years of that new era starting, Cannon had fielded resignations from two chief executives, two performance directors, and lost a key vote to raise the affiliation fee. The organisation was forced to cut its workforce from 48 to 32. Cannon has consistently wanted change but has never been able to deliver it.

She’s seen three chief executives resign under her tenure. And yet somehow, she's still there, with two more years of her second successive spell in the chair's seat still to run.

For the good of the game in this country, it’s time for wholesale change so we can all move forward with a new era, whether it’s ‘exciting on not’, because what we have now isn’t acceptable. 

Not for the stakeholders, who pay for the upkeep of this never-ending disaster.

Not for anybody. 

And most certainly, not for the game itself.

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