By Martin Dempster
Paul Lawrie has described Scottish Golf’s trail-blazing new app as “phenomenal” and believes it can help turn the golf centre he owns on the outskirts of Aberdeen into a profit-making facility.
The 1999 Open champion delivered his glowing endorsement for the digital platform, which is being offered free to golf clubs around the country at a time when just 21 per cent of the total golfing population in the sport’s birthplace is made up of club members, as he attended the second Scottish Golf national conference in Edinburgh.
Lawrie, who is actively involved in running his golf centre on the south side of the River Dee along with his wife Marian, also gave a thumbs-up to the governing body encouraging clubs to allow so-called nomadic golfers to gain handicaps by playing in open competitions.
“It is hugely challenging, no matter who you are,” said Lawrie during a chat on stage with Iain Forsyth, Scottish Golf’s commercial director, in front of 450 fellow delegates, when asked about his facility. “The golf industry has not gone through the best of times and hasn’t done for a long, long time. Our facility currently runs at a slight loss every year and has done for a wee while, but we are trying to change that.
“We’ve got a lot of talented people who work very hard for us and we have recently become a Scottish Golf-affiliated club so people can get a handicap with us now. We’ve put in a couple of new tees to give us two par-4s and seven par-3s. You can play a medal now and that has helped us a little bit, but, having said that, we only gained 28 or 29 new members through that, so it is still a little bit of a struggle.
“But if people who are not members of a club are able to have a handicap, if that meant a club like us was able to lay on a competition that would see 40 or 50 new golfers paying a green fee every week, that could be the difference. That would be a lot of money for a golf club like our one that loses money.”
Lawrie was speaking before the new app, which has been developed by leading tech company OCS for Scottish Golf to allow clubs to fully exploit income from pay-and-play golfers, was rolled out to delegates, the majority of whom were golf club administrators and committee members.
“I just had a wee look at the app and it is just phenomenal,” added Lawrie. “For a golf centre like us, it will be great to have this free app. Who’s not wanting that as a golf club? I think people will be blown away when they see it. We will certainly be using it and we will be embracing it to try and turn a corner for us and I think it will.”
A more positive event than the inaugural one 12 months ago, when the focus was on the fact that 5,000 club members in Scotland had been lost each year for a decade, this conference started with chair Eleanor Cannon saying she felt confident Scottish Golf’s stakeholders had now “united” after a “turbulent time over ten years”.
In his address, chief executive Andrew McKinlay said that the governing body had a “firm financial footing” thanks to its stakeholders agreeing to an increase in the affiliation fee earlier in the year while Ross Duncan, the development director, updated delegates on a staff re-shuffle – seven regional development managers will be backed up by six central support managers – that is aimed at helping clubs in the ongoing fight with declining memberships. “Everyone has to be at the heart of change. Live it and breathe it!” he said. One of the main changes being sought is getting more women into the game at a time when females make up only 13 per cent of the total membership in Scotland. The governing body is also keen to change a culture that currently sees 83.5 per cent of clubs holding their main competitions on a Saturday reserved for men.
“Last year was a line in the sand,” said McKinlay, who attended that event as a member when he still worked for the Scottish Football Association, as he summed up this conference. “Since I came in I’ve felt nothing but goodwill. Everyone wants to go in the right direction. We have given them some specific things. Maybe they are not used to that. Maybe they are just used to talk. But I think people feel quite upbeat about what we are trying to do.”