When opportunity knocks

While COVID-19 has brought a lot of pain, suffering, chaos and confusion to the world, it has also (believe it or not) brought a potential shining light to the golf industry.

There is a massive…and I mean MASSIVE…opportunity in golf at the moment. One of those “once in a hundred years” type of situations.

Unfortunately, many clubs are choosing to ignore it. Or eschew it.

As I’ve mentioned in a few previous columns this year, golf in Australia is booming. As one of the few sports allowed (in many places) during lockdown, it has enjoyed a resurgence. Almost a renaissance. Australians from all walks of life have discovered (or rediscovered) the beauty, challenge and fun that golf provides. Not to mention the physical, mental and emotional benefits as well.

As a result, tee sheets have been packed, both at public and private courses.

Yes, people are flocking to golf. It’s as if Christmas has come early to the golf industry. And we need to capitalise (as my kids would say on Christmas day: “Rip and Tear!”)

However, despite this “gift” arriving at our door, there are still many clubs out there who are refusing to open it. On the contrary, they are choosing to return the parcel back to Santa, unopened. “Thanks, but no thanks,” is the common message.

Indeed, despite every attempt by the golf industry to drive people to our fairways, there are still plenty of clubs out there that are actively discouraging visiting/social golfers from teeing it up at their facilities.

Social golfers have long been a topic of debate over the years (both in clubhouses as well as in this column). Many “traditional” club golfers (primarily from the “old guard” cohort) often show disdain for social golfing visitors who dare tread the fairways of their hallowed private grounds. Even a few club GMs or Boards have gone so far as to ban social golfers and groups from playing on the course (or at least in the comps). As a member of both a private club and an active social golf club, I have seen this from both sides.

Unfortunately, these short-sided “No social golf” viewpoints are really being put to the test, and these clubs are missing out on HEAPS of extra revenue.

Indeed, the courses and clubs that are proactively opening their doors to social groups are reaping huge financial benefits. (You can see examples of these forward-thinking clubs and courses in this month’s Social Golf feature.). The membership waiting lists and bank balances of these clubs will be healthier for it in the long run.

Now, I can (almost) hear many of you out there screaming at the page “But Social golfers haven’t paid their dues!”…or…“They are all beer-guzzling, singlet-wearing bogans!”…or… “They are all hackers with no etiquette on the course.”  

These statements couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, one could argue that there are social golfers out there with better knowledge of etiquette, better skills and a longer history in the game than many club members.

This became blatantly evident when golf returned here in Victoria. After months of empty fairways (and ground crews working hard to make everything pristine), many golfers eagerly returned to their various clubs on a “Members only” basis (i.e. no guests allowed).

And what some of us saw was eye-opening. Despite there being no corporates/visitors or guests allowed on our courses, after just a couple of rounds back we began to see freshly-made divots (unrepaired), fresh pitch marks, cigarette butts in the sandboxes, etc.

Remember, only members were allowed to play. So the old chestnut of blaming guests/socials for poor course etiquette has now been completely thrown out the door. Meanwhile, while playing in a pair of Social Golf days at two public courses, I saw throngs of guests/players attending to every divot, and carefully fixing EVERY pitchmark. They dressed appropriately, were highly-skilled golfers and were extremely polite and attentive to the rules and etiquette of the game.

I would be more than happy to welcome any of them to play at our course. Or to eventually become a member.

It’s important to realise that social club members (like yours truly) are all potential/future members, and by welcoming them with open arms, you are also helping ensure your club’s future. It’s just common sense.

As Paul McCartney once wrote: “Someone’s knocking at the door…”. I think it is now time to “…Open the door, and let ’em in…” (Ooh yeah.)

In the meantime, I wish you all (and your families) a safe and happy holiday season. And here’s hoping that 2021 is far less chaotic than 2020!

See you on the fairways (socially)

Richard Fellner

(Story originally appeared in Inside Golf)

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