0 Now it's a pay and play world

PHIL MICKELSON pocketed a cool £880,000 for winning the Masters, which just goes to prove Augusta National is recession-proof.

Phil.jpgBut, sadly, the real golf world is not. Greenkeepers' job losses and membership cuts have followed the economic downturn.

But, while painful, the recession has concentrated minds and led to some surprising side-effects in golf, which may ultimately be to the sport's benefit.

It has accelerated a seismic change in the way golf in this country is enjoyed, which should assist its transformation from exclusive to inclusive.

England's golf clubs lost 20,000 members in the year up to March, falling to 690,000, but figures from the UK Sports Marketing Survey show that the number of people playing the game actually rose.

Redundancy and shorter working hours give golfers more free time, if less money to spend on the game.

The way golfers are choosing to play is altering, too, in the light of the changing economic circumstances. They are now abandoning the traditional club membership in favour of a more itinerant sporting existence, a trend the English Golf Union believes will represent the future.

"People are still playing golf regularly, they are just changing the way they are paying for it," said EGU chief executive John Petrie.

"The essence of club life is changing. Five years ago the majority of clubs had waiting lists. Now the number with a list to join is minimal and they tend to be the well-known ones. Some 72 per cent of regular golfers aren't members of a club now.

"After the recession there will be some return to membership, but it will never be the same again.

"The days have gone when it was viewed as a privilege for someone to join a golf club - now it is a privilege for the golf club to get people to join them.

"Historically, golf clubs didn't really want people to play golf. Not any more.

"It is a leisure activity and except at a handful of clubs, the customer is driving what the vast majority of clubs are doing." Necessity has been the mother of invention with clubs prompted to come up with innovative ideas to attract, and keep, golfers.

De Vere and Crown have both introduced memberships which allow golfers to use other courses in their stable, while the Minchinhampton club in Gloucestershire is one of a number allowing members who are made redundant to play on for free until they are back in work.

"We don't operate a hard and fast rule, we operate each case on its merits, but we try to be understanding whether because of health, family or employment reasons," said Minchinhampton manager Rob East.

"In the circumstances, it makes sense for clubs to freeze membership, ask people to pay a lower sub or say to someone 'just carry on playing and when you are back on your feet come and talk to us again'." For squeezed clubs, filling tee times is the trick and Rudding Park, in North Yorkshire, has introduced a novel credit scheme to ensure theirs are full.

Members pay £175 to join, then buy a bundle of credits - the more they take, the cheaper they are - which are used up at different rates in peak or low play periods. It has proved a recession-buster.

"We have had 175 brand new members in a year," said Rudding Park managing director Peter Banks. "A lot of them have come from more established golf clubs who cannot justify shelling out £800 or £1,000, especially after a winter where courses have been closed for four months. The rules have changed. There are clubs around here selling a green fee for a fiver. There are going to be more.

"Those places that don't sell their tee times are going to struggle." Only two of England's 1,955 golf clubs closed in the past 12 months, both council-owned municipals.

With local government income cuts inevitably on the way, they may not be the last, but private clubs are poised to move into their territory.

"Pay and play shouldn't be rude words," added Banks. "Apart from a few places where the world could end and people would still rock up for a pink gin, everyone is pay and play now."

See the original article here - Daily Express
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