Over half of primary schools in Scotland are turning their back on golf, a study reveals.
A poll conducted by bunkered.co.uk has uncovered that over 50% of schools across numerous council areas did not have any links with a local golf club, while a source suggested that the actual percentage is likely to be even greater. Several schools even revealed they had recently stopped working with clubs or delivering golf at all over the last few years.
These findings are compounded by participation reports conducted by KPGM since 2017 that discovered Scotland continues to hemorrhage golfers, with an average 5,000 registered golfers quitting the game year-on-year. At a national conference in 2018, Scottish Golf revealed that in ten years’ time they predicted only 4,500, a meager 3%, of Scottish golf club members will be aged under 17.
The ClubGolf initiative launched in 2003 was the proposed solution to the decreasing members and ageing demographic. However, feedback from that same event implied ClubGolf hasn’t maintained its early momentum, noting several Scottish junior leagues had folded and others were contracting as a result of a desperate lack of participation from kids.
With swathes of schools now slamming the door shut on golf, clubs are in a survival fight for their future.
“Schools aren’t as pro golf as they used to be. You now have to get out there and get your voice heard rather than waiting for the junior members to come to you,” John Boyd, the junior convenor at Westhill Golf Club, told bunkered.co.uk.
The club has bucked the trend, owning a burgeoning junior section with over 100 youngsters, with 20 of them being girls.
“We try to get the word out in schools. Clubs have to make sure they are reaching out to the people who are interested in golf.”
In their bid to appeal to youngsters, the club currently run a junior friendly ‘hot doggers’ session which is paying dividends.
“We do an hour of coaching and then we all come back to the clubhouse and then our catering chefs put together a meal of hot dogs and chips for the kids. When they are all sitting there with their meal after a good day playing golf it paints the sport in a great light and it makes them want to come back.
“They might not be perfect golfers but they certainly enjoy it. There’s a lesson to be learned there.”
Boyd also promotes a junior friendly approach, with the kids.
“If kids are turning up in their Adidas hoodies and stuff then it’s not an issue,” he said.
Alongside the northeast club, there is encouragement from elsewhere, with Balfron Golf Club on the outskirts of Glasgow putting in the groundwork to involve kids.
“The first thing I have done is to establish as close a link as I can with the local primary school and secondary high school,” said Ewan Currie, the junior convenor at Balfron Golf Club.
“The intention is to try and establish a sustainable pipeline of initiatives to give as many children exposure to golf and Balfron Golf Club.”
The determination the club is showing to engage and expose kids in the community to the game lays a blueprint for clubs across Scotland to follow.
“With the secondary school we surveyed every form class at each year to get opinions on golf. The after school club was the first development introduced in April. “In June we will provide coaching sessions for circa 20 children at the golf course across six sessions and go to the high school and provide taster sessions with pupils transitioning to S2.”
Balfron’s proactive approach is paying dividends. A Balfron High School Golf Championship will be held for the first time ever in September, with the school golf team now adopting Balfron GC as their home course.
Curry is currently in dialogue with six schools in the area as he plans to extend Balfron’s sphere of influence.
Also proving that working with schools yields results and aiding the fight-back against decreasing junior numbers is Golphin, a junior focused equipment company.
“We have been working with a number of schools across the UK, especially in Scotland, and the results have always been massively beneficial to the schools and the clubs,” Golphin’s founder, Calum McPherson, said.
"We believe one of the secrets to getting more children to enjoy the game and get a taste of the sport is to take golf directly to the schools. One of our long-terms aims is to get golf on the school curriculum and we're hoping the home of golf can lead the way."
Scottish Golf, the national governing body for golf in Scotland, is aware of the hurdles in place for junior participation. In a statement to bunkered.co.uk, Scottish Golf chief executive Andrew McKinlay said:
“Scottish Golf has recently undertaken a series of junior forums across the country, looking at growing interest and ultimately participation among young people.
“At school level specifically, resources and equipment have been identified as barriers to introduction and we are committed to working more effectively with our clubs, education establishments and partners to open up access to the game at local level.”