Scottish Golf Limited have called upon the services of a headhunter to find a leader to take the place of Eleanor Cannon, who leaves her post as chair of the Board of Directors in March, 12 months ahead of time. All across Scotland, golf club members are crying out for someone who is “embroiled in golf,” with that phrase coming up often enough to suggest that the sorry state of Scottish golf is getting a regular airing. Let’s hope that the headhunter is aware of all of this.
Plenty of people had a healthy respect for Cannon, the businesswoman, and, in fairness, she oversaw a first-class initiative involving winter tee-time offers during the pandemic. These were made available for golfers who, as members of Scottish clubs, qualified for an appropriate Scottish Golf card. As famous a club as Castle Stuart was involved from the start but, as of last week, all of Muirfield, Prestwick and Royal Troon came on board, with the Renaissance following on. (Due to likely demand, a ballot arrangement is to apply.)
On the downside, there were those who felt that Cannon did not begin to be blessed with the golfing know-how of many of the club members and regional officials she was there to serve.
“It’s one thing to play golf,” said the administrator at one top Scottish golf club, “quite another to have been immersed in the game in an assortment of different areas. The latter did not apply with Cannon, and it’s the same with too many of the board members.”
You ask what’s needed to put things to rights and three of the 10 clubs to whom GGP spoke said that Scotland could do with mirroring the situation in England.
Three chief executive officers have come and gone in Cannon’s time. Hamish Grey gave way to Blane Dodds, who came from the world of tennis and returned to it in the space of a year. Dodds was followed by Andrew McKinlay, for whom plenty of people had plenty of time. But McKinlay’s first love was football and back to football he went after two years with golf’s national body.
All of which has left Karin Sharp, a former bank official who was working as Scottish Golf’s chief operating officer, holding the reins. Here, you would assume that that is only until there is enough money in the kitty to appoint another CEO.
By way of attracting a new chair, Sharp’s opening gambit was to issue a statement suggesting that the replacement would be “overseeing an organisation that is in a strong position.”
Sharp advised Martin Dempster of The Scotsman how Scottish Golf had conducted a recent survey which confirmed that the organisation was in a good place: “Members stated that Scottish Golf is well-established, with high levels of awareness from golfers, strong golfer engagement through Scottish Golf communications, and an understanding of how affiliation fees are used to benefit the sport.”
When GGP asked a key figure at one of Scotland’s top-end coastal clubs if he recognised this description, he replied, “Absolutely not. Scottish Golf do nothing for the clubs. They have been dictating what we should do for years when we – that’s the club members and regional officials – are their customers. They should be listening to us, and not least when it comes to looking after our amateurs. There’s meant to be a ladder provided by Scottish Golf from which youngsters can move seamlessly from club to county golf, and from there to the international amateur arena, but all that’s gone. Scottish Golf have lost touch with what they’re meant to be about.”
In keeping with which, Stephen Docherty, who used to work for Aberdeen Standard Investments and had a stint as a Scottish Golf non-executive until 2018, said that golf seldom got a mention at the meetings he attended. (For an update, Scottish Golf’s regional development officers – originally they were appointed to support their national junior golfing performance team – were furloughed or made redundant this year, thereby leaving behind a somewhat skeletal staff.)
Money has long been a problem for the national body. As recently as 2017, the organisation likened themselves to the Titanic. “We have 5,000 club members fewer than we had 10 years ago, ” said Stewart Darling, the non-executive director whose brief it was to turn the ailing business round. “There’s no time to lose.”
But lose time they did, as they called for an increase in the annual sum paid by Scottish golf club members to the national organization. The initial request was for the £11.25 they were paying per capita at that time to be more than doubled to £24. The members would not hear of it and two years later the present amount of £14.50 was agreed.
For another understandable golf club gripe, many clubs have been exasperated at Scottish Golf’s proud boast about their new software system. The governing body say it already has been established in 40 clubs and that it is due to be adopted by another 130 (out of a total of 580) in the spring. Many suspect that that is ridiculously optimistic, just as they sense that Scottish Golf might not be as well placed as they have been making out for long. Once those who took up reduced club membership offers during the pandemic find themselves precariously placed work-wise, they are hardly going to keep those memberships on the go, while the affiliation fees they will have contributed to Scottish Golf will similarly come to a halt.
You ask what’s needed to put things to rights and three of the 10 clubs to whom GGP spoke said that Scotland could do with mirroring the situation in England. There they have a chairman in Nic Coward who has a multi-sports background, coupled with a chief executive officer in Jeremy Tomlinson who is a scratch handicap man who has played for Wiltshire and England and worked across four decades in the golf industry.
Now there’s a man who knows what it is to be “embroiled in golf.”