Global Edition

A Business of Golf Discussion: ‘A Game For All Seasons’

12.00pm 21st June 2019 - Opinion - This story was updated on Wednesday, July 10th, 2019

Our panel

John Cockayne, business consultant and a Founder and life member of the PGA of South Africa, has brought together three highly respected golf industry professionals on three separate continents – Ian Randell, CEO of the PGAs of Europe; Grant Hepburn, CEO of Golf RSA, the umbrella body for golf in South Africa; and Michael Braidwood, the GM of Education City Golf Club in Qatar, who will be offering his insights into how to develop an interest in golf from the ground up

Introduction: John Cockayne.

John Cockayne

Any sport is faced with three fundamental challenges; the need to expand or spread its footprint, the parallel need to sustain participant numbers and, ideally, the need to generate growth for the same.

Golf is no exception.

Commonly used synonyms for the term ‘development’ are: evolution, growth, expansion, spread, and progress.

The devil is still in the details, so if we examine what golf has achieved over the last twenty years or so in terms of development by referring to the synonyms, the results are pretty mixed and I am as confused as most as to what the phrase really means.

As growth in player numbers and frequency of play are a key issue, we shall be discussing this and specific regional challenges in ‘A Game for All Seasons’ with three highly respected golf industry professionals on three separate continents.

Ian Randell heads up the PGAs of Europe as its CEO and will give us a European perspective on a market which presents a mixed challenge, as the area has both established golf playing markets and those which are much newer to the golfing family.

Grant Hepburn is the CEO of Golf RSA which is the umbrella body for all of golf in South Africa. This region’s challenges are to sustain the game’s original player numbers and make it more accessible and relevant to non-white South Africans to enable sustainable future growth.

Michael Braidwood as the GM of Education City Golf Club in Qatar will be offering his insights into how to develop an interest in golf from the ground up (the only real golf community in Qatar currently being among Qatar’s expats) and the specific challenges within this kind of environment.

I intend to set some of the scene for our co-hosts so as to get the ball off the tee and into play.

To do this let’s use the synonyms as our initial signposts.

Has the game evolved?

Well the rules certainly have and despite a supposed ‘rationalisation’ of them, most non-golfers (and indeed many golfers) find them daunting (as well as the associated terminology) and their interpretation best left to a supercomputer.

If evolution in this sense is not about golf balls that go a gazillion miles, or golf shoes with no laces, then looking at the recent shenanigans between the R&A and the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers at Muirfield over female members – perhaps not!

Has the game expanded?

In terms of player numbers perhaps not as much as was hoped from the projections during the boom period of the 80’s and 90’s. This explains the number of stalled new course projects and courses being forced to close.

However, we certainly seem to have passed the crisis of the first decade of this century, so perhaps we should be cautiously hopeful in this area.

Has it spread?

A number of new countries have come on board (the Czech Republic and Kazakhstan to mention two), there is a significant golf presence on all the continents (according to the R&A’s ‘Golf Around The World Report 2017’) and according to the same report, expansion in terms of golf course developments in Asia accounts for over 30% of the global total – so I think it would be fair to say that we can tick this box.

Has it progressed?

Progress, rather like evolution, cannot be characterised as a smooth continuously upwards curve. History shows us that progress is a stuttering process, littered with errors and largely achieved in incremental steps and that progress as defined by a single element, product, invention or eureka moment is a mirage as it is often the result of a series of failed experiments.

So perhaps the right question we need to ask ourselves is whether golf has been willing to experiment enough?

Like many club professionals I have, during my time in the game, spent a large number of very happy hours teaching young golfers either at no charge, or for a nominal amount to cover the cost of the caddies employed to collect the golf balls on the range.

These efforts have been most rewarding, especially when I still meet up with, or hear of former junior pupils who are either scratch golfers, or who have gone ‘all the way’ and turned professional.

The ‘secret’ with any initiative has to be its sustainability – certainly this is a key element in Africa where average incomes are much lower and whereas golf might be seen as a middle income pursuit in Europe, the same levels of expenditure make golf a truly elite sport in many other parts of the World.

Juniors are, or should be, only one part of golf’s development mix and I am inclined to believe that whether a player is 8 or 80 they will, with the right on-ramps and encouragement, have the ability to become an essential part of the golf community.

Of course, golf is not a street game like soccer and the social benefits of building one USGA spec golf hole, or 10 football pitches for about the same price are fairly obvious and explain the respective numbers of participants (on a global level) for these sports.

This does not mean that there is no place for the ‘underprivileged’ or those with lower incomes in the game.

There are many individuals and associations that are making great efforts to introduce golf to the youth of South Africa and inner-city USA for example.

Their efforts should be lauded and supported and will no doubt make a great impact on the limited number of individuals, who are fortunate enough to be involved in these initiatives and come out of the process as golfers.

The key has to be continual innovation to ensure that the game is made appealing enough to kindle an initial interest and then offer varying points of entry and formats.

This will encourage potentially new converts to try out the game and stay in it, especially as its low impact nature and the generally accepted health benefits of walking in the fresh air make it, in every sense, a game that you can play through all the seasons in a person’s a lifetime.

To be continued on Friday 28th June…….

John Cockayne:

John Cockayne, the host of our Business of Golf Discussion Series, is the originator of the series’ content and has had an eclectic career in golf.

He is a Founder and Life member of the PGA of South Africa and is no stranger to working inside the ropes having held operational roles as a head professional, director of golf, club manager, coaching director and as a tournament official on the Sunshine Circuit.

John is also a very experienced event manager, has had extensive marketing experience, worked as a project consultant on three continents and has developed and run a travel agency and two tour operator businesses.

This background has resulted in his being the first point of contact for ARC’s (Association of Residential Communities) 50 plus member golf estates in the Southern Africa region.

John’s business experience in tandem with his writing skills – he has written for numerous publications and is currently the golf editor with or a contributor to Destination Golf Travel, GolfVistaSA, Estate Living magazine and – makes him perfectly placed to identify the right story and host the appropriate industry professional to help to cover the topic.

John Cockayne, CEO: The Business of Golf


 /  /  / 

In related news... (GBN) is for the many thousands of people who work in the golf business all around the world.

We cover the full range of topics both on and off the course. We aim to supply essential information both quickly and accurately in a format which is easy to use. We are independent of all special interest groups.


Click here to sign up for our free twice weekly golf industry news summary

View the latest newsletter here