Ivan Morris Column - Nomadic golfers to the fore

Limerick Leader golf columnist Ivan Morris
LEAVING the game of golf aside for a moment, nobody can doubt that in the world of today the pressure remains firmly fixed on any form of luxury living. Anything that is overpriced, or considered to be of doubtful value is in peril.

LEAVING the game of golf aside for a moment, nobody can doubt that in the world of today the pressure remains firmly fixed on any form of luxury living. Anything that is overpriced, or considered to be of doubtful value is in peril.

Golf club memberships in their totality are continuing to fall and not only in Ireland. High-end club memberships are coming under severe stress. The number of unattached, nomadic golfers without a club membership is increasing steadily. A stable flow of golfers continues to decide against paying high, annual, membership fees and is instead purchasing daily green fees when, and only when, they want to play.

There are advantages in being a member of a ‘good’ Golf Club but there is a price limit. Nevertheless, long-standing, club members feeling the pinch should be wary about leaving - if they really do love playing the game. Anybody who resigns from a Golf Club to become a ‘free-spirited nomad’ will, more often than not, quickly learn to hate the reality of the experience and will soon drift away from the game altogether.

One of the biggest problems in golf nowadays is that a game of 18-holes often takes as much as five hours to complete. Young married couples with children can only afford the time to play once or twice a month. Playing golf as a Club Member a maximum of 15 times a year at any facility that charges a hefty annual subscription in excess of €1000 translates into ‘bad value’ - bringing the situation to the forefront of every family’s budgetary planning.

It is understandable for the GUI to reflect the views of their members, who have always belonged to a well-established status quo but it is precisely this situation that prompted Marcel Welling, President of the European Golf Course Owners Association, to express the opinion that the current structure of national federations is actually preventing the growth in golf. The implication is that the GUI and others, charged with the role of nurturing and developing the game must change their attitude to nomads and begin to embrace them and regulate them. Otherwise these ‘Limbo Golfers’ will be lost to the game altogether. The aim should be to transfer them from limbo to heaven as soon as possible. But, here’s a dilemma. If you are not a golfer how do you go about taking up the game? How do you go about it? Where do you go? What sort of a welcome will you receive from existing GC members?

Golf Clubs must more ‘friendly’ ways to accept and ‘embrace’ unattached golfers. Regularising them in a scheme similar to the ‘white card’ employed in the Netherlands where there are 393,000 active golfers in a population of 15 million and 192 courses would help. Or, similar to the green card in France where a population of 60-million has 700,000 golfers. We do not have that many more golfers per capita in Ireland and we have around about the same number of courses to play on, relatively speaking.

Because of the exploding popularity of the nomadic game in Holland, the Netherlands Golf Federation encourages nomads to apply for a ‘playing ability certificate’ and an official handicap. The so-called, ‘white card’ is obtained by successfully passing a theory (rules and etiquette) exam and playing 9-holes under official supervision (usually a contracted professional.) Holders of the Dutch white card, which is not tied to a club membership, may play almost anywhere on the continent by paying their green fee. Without the white card you cannot play but the payoff is once you have it you are quickly accepted into club life.

Irish golfers are spoiled for choice and with the prices of green fees tumbling lower and lower, the Irish appear to be less interested in club membership and more interested in shopping around.  However, this trend away from club membership towards nomadic golf must be reversed or eventually there will be hardly any golf at all.

If a club charges €1,000 a year for membership, and then charges a €25 green fee for a round of golf, soon golfers figure out that they would only get value if they play more than 40-times a year. A mass exodus of club members hardly bears thinking about. Higher daily green fees and lower annual subscriptions is the only solution.

I thought I had heard all of the excuses for bad golf until Peter Lawrie ‘confessed’ his addiction to Coca Cola to be the chief reason why he lost his European Tour Card recently. Because he is a popular and long-standing representative of the players on the European Tour’s Committee, Lawrie has been picking up regular invitations and his form is beginning to recover. 2-years ago, Lawrie was ranked 161st in the world. Today, he is in the mid-300s but was as low as the mid-900s. The decline coincided with a realization that he was addicted to Coca-Cola and he embarked on a fitness regimen that excluded the drink. “I went from such a sugar high to a dramatic low, that I lost all confidence in myself. It was very difficult to deal with.” From my perspective, I’m sceptical. The often-disastrous pursuit of more distance and looking for new solutions from a new coach may have been the reason for Lawrie’s downfall. Nevertheless, it’s good to see him playing better and the best of luck to him.