GOLF: Measures needed to accommodate the casual approach.
On the day before the last day of last year, I turned up for a round at a Midlands course for which I have a mild affection.
It's a decent test of golf as is evident from the number of good players who have honed their games there but, with the best will in the world, I have to say that its best views are a goose pond, the railway line and the houses. And on the day I was there, all 18 greens were temporaries and there was definitely no acknowledgement of this fact when it came to paying my green fee.
There was no concession whatsoever and, to make matters worse, I couldn't start at the first because, as is the case at so many clubs these days who have divided themselves into tee-clogging gangs and factions, there was a queue.
Is there such a pleasure as a casual round of golf any more? After starting at the tenth and then, later, being harassed - no, frightened - by what looked like a rottweiler that had made its way from a public footpath on to one of the fairways, I called it a day.
Then on the last day of last year I turned up for a round at my home-town course at Aberystwyth, on the midWales coast. All 18 greens were in use but it was winter and they were operating a rate that recognised that fact. Signed in by a member, as I was, it came to pounds 7.50.
The first three holes are a bit of a climb but at the top of the course you could look behind you and take in the Plynlimon range, to your left is the ancient fortification of Pen Dinas, to the right, on a bright day such as this, you can make out Snowdonia and in front of you is Cardigan Bay in all its shimmering beauty. It was, simply, staggering. And there was the golf. For pounds 7.50!
Now there aren't any shimmering bays in the Midlands and you can't see Snowdonia from Birmingham so, obviously, I am overplaying the nature bit; I can name a dozen Midland courses that are better than Aberystwyth without trying very hard.
It's value for money that I am pursuing here. The annual subscription at Aberystwyth, fine course and magnificent setting, is pounds 350 a year. And no joining fee.
I shall broaden my subject at this point. I was recently sent The Official Guide to Golf in Aberdeen and the Grampian Highlands. There are 75 courses in this blessed sector and, after putting my limited arithmetic to the test, I noticed that the average green fee is around pounds 22.
The Guide is tenderly written and let me tell you what it says about Stonehaven GC: 'One amazing view follows another . . . this place would win the Scottish Golf Course beauty contest hands down.'
The weekday green fee at Stonehaven is pounds 18. Now I don't know what the club's annual subscription amounts to but I have found in my travels around such practical places as Scotland that sensible, sympathetic economics prevail. And this is where golf slashes itself in two.
There are clubs who pitch their subscriptions at a level attainable by their - let us say - less affluent sections, and there are those, I suspect, who not only don't give a fig for their less affluent sections but would probably wish that they didn't have them. And they set their subscription rates accordingly.
The English Golf Union and their ladies equalivalent have just announced the results of a free coaching campaign that they instigated. They introduced 5,000 people to the game last year and well done them.
Their research has told them that ten per cent of the converts have actually joined golf clubs, which doesn't sound a huge figure to me, and a longer-term tracking programme indicates that from a three-month drive last year 22 per cent of the participants joined a club. Or, 78 per cent didn't. Probably couldn't.
Now I think that bodies like the EGU, ELGA, the Golf Foundation etc. do great work on behalf of the future of the game. They are justifiably proud of what they are doing for golfers and for golf clubs. But is there some sort of measure that can be applied that will indicate what the clubs are doing in return?
There are, I know, junior rates in operation at quite a number of clubs but what about the 20-year-olds and above? That's where the biggest influx would come from. If the prospective members had a couple of thousand pounds each to spare.
Incidentally: There's a member of Aberystwyth GC called Dai who hasn't played for a few weeks because he's had an eye operation. But he'll be in action again soon and, to celebrate, he's just bought himself a new set of clubs. Not too many golfers make investments like that at the age of 91.