England Golf CEO Jeremy Tomlinson discusses how golf has handled the pandemic

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We’re 18 months into the Covid-19 pandemic and most golf clubs are in a much more healthy position than they may have feared when lockdowns started in March 2020.

Golf has had somewhat of a boom in England after the sport was one of the first to be allowed post-lockdown thanks to the ease of social distancing.

Lapsed golfers and beginners all started to take the sport more seriously, and the benefit of all of these new players is the very healthy participation and membership numbers we’re seeing.

An initial 20,000 golfers decided to become members of clubs in the early stages of the pandemic, and there were 2.1 million extra golfers last year in Great Britain.

England Golf CEO Jeremy Tomlinson told Golf Monthly that participation was still healthy pre-pandemic but Covid has increased the value of membership, with clubs adding an average of 80+ members over the past 12-18 months and now having waiting lists.

“There are two numbers in golf that are really important, one is participation, the other is is membership,” England Golf CEO Jeremy Tomlinson told Golf Monthly.

“Despite what many reports have suggested, I don’t believe that participation in golf has been under threat that much throughout the past 10 years for example.

“Whereas membership, for whatever reason, had been on the decline.

“What the pandemic has done has not only created a resurgence in participation numbers or certainly an increase in participation numbers, it has increased the value of playing rights, ie becoming a member of a golf club, which is seen by so many golf clubs having waiting lists because they are at capacity.

“An average number would be in excess of 80 new members for a golf club, for the ones that we have surveyed up and down England.

“I don’t believe we are at capacity, I think there are a lot of golf clubs that are full, but we do still have a lot of golf clubs.

“I think we fell into a trap back in the 80s and 90s of just believing that we could build as many golf courses as we want and people will come and fill them and that just didn’t happen.

“So as much as we have many, many clubs that are full, I still believe that there is capacity not only for a few more members but certainly for people to go and play as green fee players.”

Related: England Golf CEO discusses “historic” iGolf non-member handicap scheme

So how do we keep all of these golfers playing the sport?

The answer, Jeremy says, it for clubs to continue to better their services and for the wider game to promote the wonderful mental, physical and social benefits that golf has to offer.

“I think that golf clubs have really learnt,” Tomlinson said.

“There were so many clubs I think that settled for mediocrity when in regards to, perhaps, their value proposition of membership and all the way to perhaps how they presented their golf course or their golf club.

“It really has been wonderful to see so many pick up and go ‘You know what, it’s been fantastic to get these new members, we want to keep them, which means we can’t settle for mediocrity, which means we’re going to have to have the best possible golf course and we have the best possible value proposition for all members.’

“Secondly would be obviously to make sure that we continually promote the health benefits of golf because they really are prevalent, whether that be from mental or physical benefits.

“It really is that opportunity to get out in the fresh air, to take your mind off things and I actually don’t think we talk about those things enough.

“So I think it’s essential that we continue to make sure that that’s front and centre that people of any age, any sex or any ethnicity can come and play our game.

“And very much in line with that, to make sure that golf is as inclusive as it can be, as welcoming as it can be.

“I think golf has a stereotypical image from people that don’t play the game, that it’s this middle aged, white man sport and golf is changing.

“I honestly believe that there are more places than not that people would go and be, I think, very pleasantly surprised at the wonderful welcome that they’d receive.”