Golf clubs must act now or face tough future, warns England Golf’s Owen James

Owen James, Sustainability Manager at England Golf, fears for the future of mid-range golf clubs as growing costs threaten their viability.

The future of golf hangs in the balance as clubs face growing cost pressures that could force many to make significant changes to stave off closure.

That is the warning from England Golf’s Sustainability Manager Owen James, who believes the sport is facing a crunch point and the need for a focus on sustainable measures is more than vital than ever.

He suggested facilities will need to consider fundamentally changing their offering if they are to remain viable, with a real threat that £1,000 rounds will become the norm and push golf back into the realms of being an “ultra-exclusive” sport.

“Golf will always exist in England,” he told Booth Golf & Leisure.

“I do not like to be negative, but my long-term worry is that [if no action is taken] the mid-range golf club will disappear and your municipal golf clubs will not be able to exist anymore either because they won’t be financially viable.

“I think the cost of seed, fertiliser – the cost of everything – has gone up to the point where, when land developers come to golf clubs with offers, they will be much more positively received than in the past.

“Some clubs won’t be able to react quickly enough…and will ultimately find themselves at the wrong end of the balance sheet.”

Owen James, Sustainability Manager at England Golf

“I think what might happen is your top-level golf clubs could all of a sudden be forced to charge £1,000 or more per round and golf becomes ultra-exclusive again. Maintenance costs alone could cause that.

“It might be doom and gloom, but it is my ultimate fear – regardless of whether or not mains water gets restricted within the next five years. Though that potential restriction poses a massive problem to a lot of golf clubs.

“A lot of chemicals will be removed from the market and some clubs won’t be able to react quickly enough to those changes and will ultimately find themselves at the wrong end of the balance sheet.”

James stressed that he was forecasting a worst-case scenario, but he sees warning signs in the current climate that indicate a tough future for golf clubs, particularly those who fail to heed those warnings now.

“It is awful to say, but the market is only going one way at the moment,” he added.

“I think a lot of courses would end up going back down to nine holes and selling off some land or diversifying into a nine-hole course with a booming driving range.

“Golf will always exist in some capacity and golf should always exist in some capacity, but if I had my really negative hat on I’d say it’s going to become based purely on cost.”

England Golf’s five reasons for golf facilities to embrace sustainability:

1) Long-term protection: taking action now in the face of changing weather patterns and changing legislation will save you time and money in the future, meaning that the club will be resilient and thrive.

2) Ecological benefits: golf courses are often the only greenspace in largely concrete landscapes. Encouraging good environmental stewardship can help a golf course to increase biodiversity, promote cleaner air and act as a watershed for urban areas.

3) Pride and reputation: naturalising the golf course and boosting biodiversity can help transform image and generate pride and positivity among golf club members and members of the local community.

4) Greenkeepers can prioritise: Efficiently managing the course means that greenkeepers can focus more on the areas that matter the most – tee beds, fairways, greens and bunkers.

5) Monitor and celebrate success: reducing resource consumption, buying more locally produced goods, reducing the clubs carbon footprint, and engaging more with community are all positive effects that golf clubs can point to as success stories and potential participation drivers

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By GCMA Content Team

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