Getting new members is a challenge to golf clubs at any time but things took a turn for the worse a few years ago when two events occurred in a short space of time that may well have long lasting consequences for the game of golf.
The first was when Tiger Woods was caught playing around away from the course, the second was the disappearing act from free to view television when watching golf suddenly became expensive.
Sadly, it would appear neither of these occurrences are likely to be reversed (although Tiger is beginning to play some decent golf again, few of us are likely to witness it according to television viewing figures). As we all know the 2016 Open Championship at Royal Troon was the first time in living memory that it was not shown live (and free) on the BBC and apparently only 1.1 million people watched the epic battle between Henrik Stenson and Phil Mickelson on satellite TV compared to the 5.5 million that watched Rory McIlroy winning The Open in 2014 on free to view TV. It is difficult to believe that the game of golf at amateur club level can withstand a 75-80% reduction in television exposure.
We cannot blame the R&A for the loss of The Open – the decision to switch to satellite TV was mainly due to the rampant apathy of the BBC and follows a string of sports deserted by terrestrial television. We all know the average age of the golf member is now over 60 and rising. I do not know but suspect that the majority of satellite subscribers are already golfers and if this is true we have lost our shop window and primary exposure of our sport to new players.
I must confess I do not subscribe to satellite TV. If I, as a seasoned golfer and someone connected to the industry for over 25 years, am not willing to subscribe and enjoy our greatest championship, what hope is there that non-golfers will seek it out?
Having said that, from what little satellite coverage of golf I have seen in hotels this year visiting the regions, I have to say the coverage is excellent, but those I still fear that the risk to participation levels is huge.
With The Open being held at Royal Birkdale this year, which is one the most accessible venues on the rota, hopefully the decrease in TV exposure will at least be offset by strong attendance numbers.
The R&A’s efforts to reach new audiences through digital channels should also be applauded, but there remains a generation to whom sitting down on a Saturday afternoon to enjoy moving day with the soothing tones of the BBC’s legendary commentary team is a lifetime habit.
Love him or loathe him, Peter Alliss has become synonymous with The Open, and no one can argue with the majesty of Ken on the Course. The BBC’s coverage will be missed by millions – hopefully those people also miss the sport, and will seek out a golfing fix in other ways.