Latest research from Mintel, a leading UK analyst of consumer markets, shows how golf, as a participant sport, ranks above all other competitive sport in both Northern Ireland and The Republic of Ireland. While one in ten play golf in the Republic, just over 7% play in the North. Further, excluding walking, golf rates as Ireland’s most popular outdoor sport.
Despite the status of Ireland’s number one participant sport, research reveals a far greater tendency to follow golf passively than actually participate. In general, there tends to be a greater interest in golf in the Republic compared to the North, with some 21% of those in the Republic watching golf on the TV or reading about it in the papers, compared to just over 18% in the North.
Reasons for not playing golf could include incapacity of some sort, the cost or perhaps the inconvenience of playing (for people raising young families, or living far from any golf courses, or working awkward hours).
However, there is also a ‘couch potato’ element involved. “Many people are simply content to watch sports such as golf on television or read the sports pages of newspapers, without considering it desirable to take up an activity,“ comments Garrett Harty, Mintel’s consumer goods consultant.
Despite the predominant couch potato element, looking towards the future the report finds that golf will largely be immune to the changes in fashion. Undoubtedly golf still has kudos in terms of social achievement. There were over 390,000 adult active golf players in 2000 – exceeding the number of club members by more than 157,000.
“It is not surprising that membership is forecast to increase in the period to 2005. Even with a 16% increase in membership, the level of members will still fall short of the number of active players, even without taking into account the added stimulus of events such as the Ryder Cup in 2005.
“Growth in the number of clubs will not keep place with members. Prime sites are gradually being used up but the relentless demand means that new sites are always being sought.” continues Garrett Harty. “It follows that if membership is increasing faster than the numbers of clubs, the number of members per club will also rise. Average members per club will increase by 7% over the next 5 years to reach 640 in 2005.”
The report says that increase in members per club will be achieved by a number of ways. First newer clubs, which are more likely to be run along commercial lines, tend to have larger memberships than the mutually owned traditional clubs. There is also the upgrading of existing clubs by, for example, building additional holes to accommodate more players. Finally, the sheer excess of demand over supply puts pressure on clubs to let in new members. With growing affluence, fewer would-be members will be put off by the costs of membership.
Golf is traditionally associated with the middle-aged, middle-class man. The research shows there is certainly no evidence of any shift towards more ladies, juniors or family members. Although more ladies have joined clubs every year, they have done so at a slower rate than men or juniors. Overall, membership increased by an average of 21% between 1996 and 2000, while ladies membership increased by 16% and family membership increased by a lesser 9%.
The passing of the Government’s Equal Status Act in October 2000 means that all women now have the right to convert to full membership of golf clubs. In consequence, all clubs affiliated to the Golfing Union of Ireland are in the process of amending their constitutions to reflect the provisions of the Act.
“It remains to be proven that many women are keen on playing golf, even given the opportunity. There is a strong suggestion that modern working women in developed countries are turning their back on what they see as ‘games’ in order to leave time for keep fit in a health club” comments Garrett Harty.
‘Golf In Ireland’ is available from Mintel, price £545
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