Golf Clubs feel the pinch

ALTHOUGH blessed with some of the most stunning links and parkland courses in the country, golf clubs in Wigtownshire are struggling to survive financially.

The Galloway Gazette contacted local courses to ask what exactly the problem was.

James Erskine, the professional at Portpatrick Dunskey, said it was down to a combination of factors, but it wasn’t all doom and gloom.

He said: “The members of golf clubs tend to be ageing now and then there is a generation gap. There is a lack of members aged between 25 and 40. And due to the state of the economy people are reluctant to pay the membership fees. The weather also has a massive effect. Why pay £300 or £400 every year and only get out for a round of golf three of four times?

“Golf courses in the central belt are advertising really low green fees at the moment to attract visitors and that’s hitting Wigtownshire courses too.

“But, on the plus side, we have more junior members than ever just now. I think it’s marvellous that we have nine boys going to the Scottish Boys Championships. The junior section is more successful than ever but there is a generation of golfers missing.

“The quality and selection of courses in this area are outstanding. It’s cheap to get involved, there are payment plans available, so there is no reason why golf clubs shouldn’t be booming. It’s not the quality that’s lacking.”

Jim Burns, the secretary of Stranraer Golf Club, said: “This is a problem throughout golf.

“That is why the Scottish Government introduced the ‘Club Golf’ initiative to support their Ryder Cup bid. This was to develop club golf from the bottom up and help future development.

“Golf clubs are also losing members because of economic cutbacks. There were nomadic golfers who joined more than one club but they’re not about so much now.

“It’s a case of getting more out of existing members.

“The membership of Scottish golf clubs is falling off and the Stranraer club had to look at where and why we were spending money. That has been reviewed and now we are a much more well-oiled machine. We now look at the golf club from a business footing.

“At the other end, the youngsters coming up through the junior ranks will move onto pastures new and many of them will not come back. Employment levels in Galloway have dropped and that’s a factor as well as fuel costs. Not so many visitors are coming to the area and no club can survive without visitors.

“But there is recognition from the sport’s governing body and the local authority of the challenges that are facing golf clubs in this area.”

Over at Newton Stewart Golf Club, treasurer John Sawyer was also bemoaning the lack of visitors to the area affecting the viability of the course.

He said: “The downturn in the economy in 2008 has affected us like everywhere else. South-west Scotland was always a cheap area to golf and many of the visitors came here from England but with the price of petrol these days it’s just too expensive.

“We are the cheapest club around for juniors and we have always tried to encourage them but they move away because there are no jobs for them in this area. We also have concession schemes for people with young families so we are doing what we can to attract members to the club. But the main problem is the visitors. It’s not easy to sustain an 18-hole golf course with a population of 3000.”

Greenkeeper at Wigtown and Bladnoch Golf Club David Crichton said: “Financially, the outlook for golf clubs generally is very poor. The membership is getting older and no-one is coming up to replace them. The youngsters tend to move away.”

But one of the smaller clubs in Wigtownshire seems to be bucking the trend. St Medan’s Golf Course near Monreith is working within its budget and secretary Bill McKeand puts this healthy situation down to prudence and the big-hearted membership there.

Mr McKeand said: “We will be one of the few clubs to come out of the year in credit and we are now set for the coming season. We have pulled our horns in a little bit and people have also volunteered to help with various tasks on the course, including repairs to one of our signature holes. Members just got hold of the machinery needed and got together to do it.

“We have not spent money that we normally would have. We are also involved in the ‘Club Golf’ initiative and our juniors have regular fixtures throughout the season.”