Do More Clubs Need To Close To Allow Others To Thrive?

Who do you agree with in this pre-Covid debate? Have things changed?

Do More Clubs Need To Close To Allow Others To Thrive
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In this pre Covid-19 debate, GM regulars Fergus Bisset and Jeremy Ellwood discussed the question. Have things now changed? Who do you agree with?

Do More Clubs Need To Close To Allow Others To Thrive?

No says Fergus Bisset

When speaking to golfers from other countries, I’m always proud to talk about the incredible selection and sheer number of brilliant, characterful golf courses and clubs in the UK and Ireland.

We don’t want to see any of these great venues shut their doors.

Yes, the closure of a club provides a quick and easy injection of golfers to others nearby, but that goes little way to countering the depressing prospect of fallow fairways and abandoned clubhouses left after the cull.

Closure is, of course, the last resort, and there is still a great deal that can be done to save our golf clubs before it comes to that.

If clubs work hard to improve their offering to current and prospective members and visitors, they can continue to thrive.

Gone are the days of waiting lists across the country and players champing at the bit to simply be allowed to hand over their cash.

In today’s world of heightened expectations, clubs must deliver more than just a golf course and a beer tap.

A club must provide good food in an elegant dining room, a comfortable lounge, social events, a family-friendly atmosphere, many and varied playing options and off-course activities.

Clubs can also consider working together to succeed.

If two clubs within a locality are struggling then, rather than competing, they should join forces.

They could look at the options for splitting costs, like dual memberships and reciprocal arrangements.

Waiting it out to see who will survive longest is a defeatist strategy and one that is harmful for the game.

Clubs don’t need to close for others to thrive; they need to adapt and collaborate.

Do More Clubs Need To Close To Allow Others To Thrive?

Yes says Jeremy Ellwood

My learned colleague is, of course, right. Nobody who loves golf wants to see any course close.

Every club is someone’s ‘second home’, someone’s place of work, someone’s pride and joy. But sadly, the harsh laws of economics pay no heed to such sentiment.

If the current situation of over-supply had only just arisen, then yes, we should be exploring every avenue possible to keep all our clubs alive.

But this has been coming for 20 years, ever since a wave of course building in the 1980s and early 1990s created more courses to soak up a new wave of golfers that has never materialised.

Many clubs have held out admirably, but the number of closures and imminent closures seems to be gathering pace.

In one instance, a course not too far from me became a vineyard almost overnight, with much of its senior section relocating to another course nearby where I once worked.

In other words, one club’s very sad demise has meant good news for another club, and when pondering this whole issue, we have to focus on the big picture rather than the individual sadnesses.

If we have the right number of clubs and courses for the number of people playing, or likely to be playing in the foreseeable future, then golf as a whole will be in a better place.

I did a bit of research a few years ago on lost courses, and this isn’t the first time a significant number of courses have closed.

Many have closed over the years for various reasons, often simply insufficient demand for them to survive.

We seem to be going through another phase right now, and yes, each individual closure is very sad. But golf as a whole may end up stronger as a result.

Fergus Bisset
Contributing Editor

Fergus is Golf Monthly's resident expert on the history of the game and has written extensively on that subject. He is a golf obsessive and 1-handicapper. Growing up in the North East of Scotland, golf runs through his veins and his passion for the sport was bolstered during his time at St Andrews university studying history. He went on to earn a post graduate diploma from the London School of Journalism. Fergus has worked for Golf Monthly since 2004 and has written two books on the game; "Great Golf Debates" together with Jezz Ellwood of Golf Monthly and the history section of "The Ultimate Golf Book" together with Neil Tappin , also of Golf Monthly. 

Fergus once shanked a ball from just over Granny Clark's Wynd on the 18th of the Old Course that struck the St Andrews Golf Club and rebounded into the Valley of Sin, from where he saved par. Who says there's no golfing god?