A survey conducted by an accountancy firm called Hillier Hopkins was published last month. It revealed that last year, 68% of the members of UK golf clubs were aged over 50. The equivalent figure for 2019 was 63%. The various lockdowns occasioned by the Covid-19 crisis may have encouraged more people to join or rejoin golf clubs, but it seems that the majority of people so doing could not be classed as the future of the game.
Robert Maxfield, chief executive of the Professional Golfers Association, told the Sunday Times: “Many children take their phones wherever they go. The first thing they want to know when they arrive is the wi-fi code. However, lots of golf clubs would not allow a mobile phone in the clubhouse. If you’re trying to attract younger people to the club and you stop them using a mobile phone, you’re going to realise quickly that the kids aren’t going to want to go. Golf has to move with the times.”
Tyrrell Hatton caused consternation in the more conservative golfing quarters when he won the BMW PGA Championship – the European Tour’s flagship event, no less! – at Wentworth last October while wearing a hoodie on both days of the weekend. In a variation on this theme, Emma Ballard, editor of Women & Golf, pointed out: “Golf can be seen as an elitist sport but there are places where you can definitely wear jeans and a T-shirt and no one really cares.” Alternatively, there are places where some people would mind very much indeed. Re mobile phones, Ballard added: “If young people are not allowed their phones [on the course], I can imagine that is definitely a barrier. But things are changing.”
She is surely right. Times have changed, not least as regards the treatment of women golfers. And thank goodness. A notorious anecdote from the 1965 Ladies’ British Open Amateur Championship at St Andrews stands testimony to this. A group of competitors were huddled in front of the (then) men-only R&A clubhouse, umbrellas in abundance as they sought shelter from a ferocious storm. A club official approached them. Was he going to offer them shelter in the clubhouse? No! He had been dispatched to ask them to lower their brollies because they were spoiling the view of the members enjoying the warmth and whisky to be found inside.
But change does come slowly. Sometimes very slowly. Across the Atlantic, the storied Pine Valley Golf Club in New Jersey has just voted to admit women members. In his article reporting this in the Sunday Telegraph, James Corrigan’s final paragraph noted that there remained several male-only golf clubs in the United States, “including Burning Tree in Maryland; women are not permitted inside the club at all, apart from into the professional shop in December to shop for Christmas presents for their husbands”.
How does that conversation go? “No, I got him kummel last time. You don’t stock strychnine, do you?”
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