Reviving a Dinosaur

Look at this image. I don’t know when it was taken, what event it was at. But it tells a story which a lot of runners can identify with. Achievement, health and friendship across ages and genders. People doing their very best as individuals but very much part of a community.

Now look at these charts.

They tell the story of the deterioration of interest in golf, a sport played by many but not so many as before. Since its peak in 2008 half a million people have put their clubs in the loft (including me). Participation rates amongst women are awful (14% of golf club members). Make no mistake. This is a pastime that is struggling to remain relevant in a changing world. A dinosaur.

The comparisons are stark. Swimming, running and cycling dominate participative sports in Britain (though the figures below are for England only). Despite wall to wall coverage of football, all three beat participation in ‘our national game’. And golf? A distant fifth following years of decline with an ageing profile which suggests that if nothing changes there will be more trouble ahead.

So what, if anything do the three top sports have in common? Why are they growing? And what can other sports like golf learn from this?

My own experience is all that I can offer. Running and cycling are ‘grab and go’ sports. No booking ahead, aligning diaries to find a spare five hours, jackets in the clubhouse, waiting lists for a locker, reserved car parking spaces for the club captain. Less redolent of a bygone and more deferential age. I was a golf club member for five years and admit to feeling mildly irritated by this every time I stood on the first tee. It was just so er, arsey.

But there’s more. I think running and cycling have a much more pronounced and positive impact on the body and the mind. Train well and you feel and function better. I never saw that correlation with golf although it always seemed like a pleasant enough walk.

So can runners, cyclists or swimmers also find a way to enjoy golf? Of course they can and several of my good friends do. I’m not sure though, that those who want to really excel at their sport, would prioritise playing 18 holes on a Sunday.

Co-existence and co-operation might be possible and beneficial though. Away on business I often stay at a country club hotel with a golf course. And I see more runners on the Tarmac buggy paths than golfers on the course. As a runner I can do 7 or 8k in this way. And it’s interesting to watch the golf while I run.

So could golf clubs open their courses to runners and cyclists and convert themselves to serve a number of different sports at the same time? Absolutely! And by doing this they could integrate with the wider sporting community and generate new interest in the game with those they need to convert.

Will they? No chance. Unless you wear a jacket.


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