As foreshadowed in an Australian Golf Digest article titled “The War on Golf has Begun” (Aug, 2017), the Warringah Golf Club is set to lose half of its 18 holes in a major shake-up of council owned sporting facilities on Sydney’s northern beaches. Sporting bodies in the area have been complaining to council about a shortfall in playing fields, and on Tuesday received the news they sought – that the local Northern Beaches Council would issue the golf club a 20-year lease over its southern nine holes, but only a 5-year lease on the northern nine.
It does seem difficult to escape the conclusion drawn by members and the club’s committee, that its 18-hole days are numbered. Club President Scott Campbell claims the decision was based on a report that, “failed to look at the future needs of golf on the northern beaches, despite that being part of its terms of reference.” He also pointed out that more than half of the submissions received by council called for the retention of the golf course, in spite of what was described as, “council’s unflinching effort to sway public opinion” the other way. The golf course is one of Sydney's most popular, with more than 65,000 rounds of golf played last year. The golf club pays the council $76,000 in lease fees per year.
While Warringah members and golfers on the northern beaches of Sydney are sure to be disappointed by the decision, more worrying is the possible trend outlined in Australian Golf Digest, and the apparent apathy of our game’s governing bodies. As author Rohan Clarke pointed out in his article, it is no good for Golf Australia to be trumpeting “Grow the Game” initiatives, while public golf courses close and participation levels continue to drop.
A Big Australia means more people living in metropolitan areas, and those areas likely carrying fewer and fewer golf courses. Maintaining the percentage of participation in golf seems forlorn now, and no doubt the governing body will soon start focusing on maintaining approximate participation numbers. Remembering, that last year Golf Australia pat itself on the back for slowing membership decline to its lowest level in 17 years. Membership numbers didn’t grow last year, but they didn’t fall as far as expected - or as far as they had the 16 years prior. Such ‘success’ might read well in a media release, but offers little consolation to struggling clubs, or those golfing on leased council land.
Since 2000 Australian golf clubs have lost around 20% of their membership, and over the last ten years the golfing public has seen three of the four Men’s Major Championships disappear from the anti-siphoning list, and off free-to-air television altogether. Nearly three quarters of Australian golfers, and would-be golfers, are unable to watch the game’s most important events.
Despite these facts, criticism of Golf Australia and our various state bodies remains rare. Clarke’s impassioned summation in this month’s Australian Golf Digest was a welcome exception. In concluding his article, Clarke stresses, ”golf needs somebody fighting at the coalface. And it has to come from the stakeholders given the shots already fired by local councils. John Hopkins and the board of Golf Australia need to be up for the fight of their lives. So do the state associations as well as the PGA of Australia. If they’re not, then please go…go for the sake of the sport. Because the game of golf is at war. And this war has just begun.”
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