30 Aug 2021 | Clubs and Facilities |

Golf's groundbreaking moment

by Martin Blake

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Australian golf is about to enter a new era. Photo: Getty

Following an historic gathering of more than 250 people across the Australian golf industry, the key bodies –the PGA of Australia, the WPGA Tour and Golf Australia – have committed to publishing a new Australian golf strategy by the end of the year.

This follows an exhaustive consultation process and a two-day conference held online last week. Speakers included US Open champion Geoff Ogilvy and a range of industry figures, club managers and broader sports consultants along with former AFL Commissioner Colin Carter.

The chief executives of the three main bodies – Karen Lunn (WPGA), Gavin Kirkman (PGA) and James Sutherland (Golf Australia) also made impassioned speeches.

The strategy will be an all-of-golf document and a blueprint for the future.

Kirkman noted the significance of the timing. “With a career spanning more than 35 years across all areas of golf I believe this is the most critical time as we experience a resurgence due to Covid, an industry-wide appetite for cooperation and collaboration, and leadership that is intent on driving change and growth”, he said.

The PGA head said the alignment was “overdue” but exciting. He said golf needed to change and modernise while respecting the history and traditions of our sport. “We need to create great experiences at all facilities - golf courses, driving ranges, golf shops, mini golf and indoor simulator golf.

“Whether the experience is social, competition, retail, coaching, food and beverage, or events, many experiences start from the digital connection prior to getting to the facility and then it starts again at the facility entrance. We need everyone to feel welcome, that anyone can play, that there is no fixed format. Our sport needs to be ‘cool and fun’ – whatever that means to the individual.”

Sutherland told the virtual conference that it was imperative that the game grew to survive. As such, he said golf needed to find ways to talk to the disengaged, rather than living in an echo chamber.

Sutherland quoted research from the Nature consultancy group which showed that the core constituency of the game in Australia – the 380,000 club members – represented less than five percent of Australians who are positively disposed to golf.

“Our sport’s potential is bigger than most realise - and a large chunk of our golf market has historically been somewhat neglected,’’ said Sutherland.

Lunn said the sport was only now beginning to acknowledge its problem with female engagement.

“The reality is that not enough Australian women and girls play golf,” she said. “We need to understand why, and make sure that our sport caters for them.

“You can’t be what you can’t see, and we don’t have enough female coaches, administrators and leaders within our industry – nowhere near enough.”

Lunn said the game was already changing, as it needed to do.

“I like so many of you, have at times been incredibly frustrated and often angry, as both a golfer and an administrator, especially when it came to the lack of opportunities and consideration afforded to women and girls.

“Fortunately, and thankfully, these times are changing and there is a beacon of light now at the end of what has at times has been a very dark tunnel.”

Kirkman said the way ahead was clear, and would require courage. “We are all here to grow participation and grow the business of golf. Change is imperative. We need to do things differently and we need to have a stronger voice; and to build this strategy we need to work together.”

Sutherland said the game needed to move quickly to address it’s issues noting an approximate one percent per annum decline in member numbers over the past 20 years, at a time when Australia’s population had grown by 35 percent .

“While the global pandemic has seen a recent uptick in golf participation – we need to make sure this is maintained when we return to some sort of normality. Recognising that the mental health benefits, the socially distant and the social connection golf offers in it’s many formats have become evident through the pandemic, there’s no time for complacency.”

The governing bodies will gather feedback via forums across Australia over the coming months with the aim of launching the new strategy for golf by year’s end.

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