26 Feb 2021 | Clubs and Facilities |

Golf soars amid Covid mayhem

by Contributor

Moore Park women playing image
Moore Park is one of the busiest golf facilities in the country. Photo: Moore Park Golf

First published in Australian Financial Review

By Richard Allen

While new Golf Australia chief executive James Sutherland had to endure months of lockdown in Melbourne like everyone else in that city, he is thrilled golf in this country appears to have benefited from the pandemic.

Round numbers are considerably up, memberships of golf clubs are on the rise, and retailers cannot keep up with the demand.

‘‘Rounds of golf have been pretty stable in Australia for a decade but rounds played were up 15 per cent in 2020, despite the fact that Melbourne, a huge market, was effectively out of action for four months [during the long lockdown],’’ he says.

‘‘Young men are taking the game up in droves, and we are seeing pleasing increases in young women taking up the game.’’

Overall golf participation rates rose to 995,000 in 2019-2020, after falling to 917,000 in the year to June 2019 from 1.02 million in 2016-2017, according to an AusPlay survey released last October.

That puts golf ahead of tennis, surfing and netball among Australia’s 15 top activities, but behind yoga (1.36 million) and soccer (1.1 million). The top activity among adults in the year to June 2020 was walking (9.54 million).

Golf Australia has worked hard to introduce women and children to the game in recent years via its Get Into Golf programs, and Sutherland is pleased that they are having an effect. Nearly 100,000 children in Australia have taken up the game through My Golf in the past seven years.

The game, he says, is in a ‘‘really good position’’.

‘‘COVID-19 has reminded people about the value of being outdoors and having fun,’’ he says. ‘‘It’s up to us now to make sure that golf remains a game for people of all ages, not necessarily just at golf courses, but at driving ranges, mini golf and golf simulators. They are all forms of the game.’’

Not that everyone thinks golf is worth the space it traditionally takes up, however, with non-golfers eyeing empty courses and questioning why such large parcels of land are not available for other pursuits.

In Sydney, golfers are resisting a city council plan to unlock more parkland for inner-city residents by halving the size of the Moore Park Golf Course, one of the city’s busiest public courses. Lord Mayor Clover Moore said last year it was ‘‘scandalous’’ large parts of the public course were off limits to non-golfers despite the land having been bequeathed for public use.

In Melbourne, meanwhile, a hole was cut in the fence of the Northcote Golf Course in August and people began walking their dogs on the fairways, practising yoga and having picnics.

Darebin City Council, which runs the nine-hole course 15 minutes’ drive north of Melbourne city, allowed this during lockdown, but repaired the fence and returned the course to golfers when it ended.

It has promised to consult with the community before making any long-term decision about the course’s future. In the meantime, anyone can pay the $21 green fee and play golf there.

The club has tried to embrace different forms of the game, including ‘‘footgolf’’, a form of golf/ soccer where players kick a soccer ball around the course, aiming for large holes cut next to each green.

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