Of the millions of people who will be enthralled by today’s climax of the Open championship at Royal Lytham and St Annes many would not know a five iron from a croquet mallet.
However, they will all know Tiger Woods, the world’s top golfer, whose huge personal appeal has popularized the game in a way that lemon-and-grey diamond-checked sweaters never could.
In Britain, 3.75 million adults regularly play golf, but only a third are members of clubs affiliated to the golf unions of England, Scotland and Wales, where average annual membership costs £440. There are also joining fees, and sometimes green fees for each round.
According to the Golf Research Group, only a tenth of Britain’s courses are publicly owned, but they accounted for nearly 40 per cent of rounds played last year. However, there are signs that many private clubs are courting new members other than the stereotypical affluent, middle-aged, white male. Researcher Mintel found a growing interest among 15 to 19year olds, but many think private clubs are snobbish and costly.
Clubs are recognizing the need to engage younger players and many have scrapped joining fees and lowered subscriptions for juniors. The result has been a drift away from municipal courses, where rises in green fees have been higher than at private clubs in the past five years.
The result has been a drift away from municipal courses, where rises in green fees have been higher than at private clubs in the past five years.
More than 600 courses have been built since 1990, but only about five per cent of them are municipal. Some private clubs, including the Clubhaus chain, are attracting younger players by adding fitness centres. And as the likes of Nike have entered the golfwear market, image-conscious youngsters need not fear the Pringle sweater.