The Neglected Grass Roots

The question of how to attract more youngsters into golf is frequently discussed. Ideas range from relaxing dress codes, reducing cost barriers to entry, giving dedicated time on the course, playing a shortened course, making golf fun. It may then come as a surprise that a children’s golf course, one of Glasgow’s oldest, was designed specifically for this purpose and yet in the midst of the 2014 Ryder Cup legacy and investment in growing the game, it’s been left to die a slow lingering death.

Bellahouston Park was laid out in 1895 by Glasgow Corporation as industrialised Victorian Glasgow, the second city of the British Empire, was booming. The burgeoning population needed recreation space and the lands were set aside as the city expanded around it’s fences. Like many Victorian-era parks it contained the necessary devices to aid the leisure hungry population, open spaces, flower gardens, a band stand, bowling greens and a pitch and putt golf course. Indeed, there are three parks in Glasgow alone with these mini golf courses, the other two being Knightswood and Queen’s Park.

IMG_2141Bellahouston Pitch & Putt as seen from the site of the Papal alter

The 18 holes measured between 60-100 yards each, with tiny greens and rudimentary equipment available to hire, it was an excellent place to take youngsters to learn the game fundamentals. Bellahouston Park held the 1938 Empire Exhibition (a kind of British Worlds Fair) however it was all put back together afterwards.

Glasgow_exhibition_1938_3353824The park in 1938 (Wikimedia)

It survived again in 1982 when trees were removed to improve sight lines for the 250,000 attending mass with his Holiness Pope John Paul II, again it was all put in order for the next generation.

Belahouston Park POpe visit1982 Papal visit. The pitch and putt is middle-left, alter towards the top (Wikimedia)

It was the 2010 visit of Pope Benedict XVI that marked the beginning of the downfall for the course. The stage was built in a different position (to save the regrown trees) so the course was literally turned into a huge toilet and power generation site, with portable cabins and heavy lifting equipment churning up the grass to serve the masses. This arrangement has been repeated each summer since with the park hired out as a summer concert venue, making valuable income for Glasgow City Council. There was no attempt to repair the course after the September visit of Benedict XVI, the ground was left fallow until the following year when, the week after the Masters Tournament and with people are starting to take in interest in golf, the bulldozers moved in completely unannounced.

Eight of the holes in the middle of the course were destroyed, the trees defining the fairways chain-sawed and pulped, the area was converted into a cricket pitch with the remaining holes forming a chain around the outside of the boundary. Now don’t get me wrong, this isn’t an anti-cricket blog. Cricket is a growing sport in Scotland and there is a lack of facilities and golf in a public park has to share real estate with other park users. However, with other vacant areas in the park more suitable (and flatter), it was a strange choice of location. Marginalising golf to the outside almost a metaphor.

bellahoustonAerial view of the course today (Google Maps)

Eventually, Glasgow City Council updated their website to explain what they were doing to the pitch and putt, yes some holes have been removed but this was to ensure the long term viability of an underused course. However, this promise has not been delivered.

IMG_2628Fit for purpose?

Since play was able to resume a year later in 2012, there has been a laissez-faire approach to maintaining what has remained. Grass is unevenly cut by tractor, there are no fairways just rough or greens. The thick grass immediately before the green makes chipping impossible for children. The greens themselves no longer have flags and are gradually getting smaller. What used to be the 4th had a decent double sized two-tier green where I taught my boys the principals of putting with a break, that green is now barely 3 metres diameter. The Huxley mats previously used as tees have been reclaimed by the earth, what remains still point towards greens that no longer exist. It’s just an ill-defined mess. The impression given is the council are trying to run down the course to such a state that nobody plays it, then they can justify its formal closure and designation as general grounds.

The first tee 2010 and 2017

Golf in a public park also has to be shared with other park users. During my last visit there was a football team running around the cricket pitch and a lovely Alsatian called Skye who loved chasing after my golf balls. If there is a cricket game on I think it’s best for the safety of both parties that golf isn’t played. I had no problem with this, this is the price of free to access golf.

IMG_2142Warning sign on the now-cricket pitch

I’m not asking for a great deal. The grass in the park has to be cut anyway, I’m just asking for the grass to be cut a little more often, and more consistently. 9 greens should be cut closely, hollow cored and sanded once per year. Put flags in the greens, even if they’re iron poles cast in place. Defined teeing areas should be laid out with Huxley mats. Give the kids a chance to know where the hole starts, and finishes.

I suspect, but cannot prove, this all comes down to funding. Glasgow City Council have spent considerable sums in the park on drainage to make the flatter areas suitable for revenue making concerts. This if anything has had a negative effect on the drainage of the golf course. I suspect Glasgow City Council would only be all too willing to improve the golf course if a sports body were to assist with funding.

While there is an element of ‘build it and they will come’, kids also have to be taken to the golf course and shown where it is. Parents and grandparents are quite often the drivers of this but schools can also play their part. ClubGolf attended my son’s school as part of the 2014 Ryder Cup legacy to introduce every child to golf before age 11. This consisted of a half day indoors in the gym hall.  This is by no means a criticism of ClubGolf, I like what they do and given the Scottish weather and their limited timetable, the golf introduction will have to take place as timetabled and that means indoors. However, there is a disconnect after the introduction, nothing to drive kids to seek out their nearest golf club. Imagine holding a ClubGolf event on a rejuvenated pitch and putt at Bellahouston Park. Imagine bussing in several schools and holding a fun golf event in the park one afternoon.

Imagine cementing the association between spending time at a golf course and fun.

IMG_0050Two-year olds can have fun too

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The Widest Fairway In Golf

If I asked golfers where they’d most like to play, the majority would reply with Pebble Beach, Augusta National or St Andrews. There would be exceptions to this, naturally, but these would be the majority responses. However, Pebble is rather expensive. Augusta is impossible to get on. The Old Course, St Andrews, is a possibility depending on patience and timing.

With a mild, wet (read: muddy) winter affecting my own course, I decided some links golf would be in order, especially as I had reached the minor (significant) milestone of managing to survive 40 years on the Earth.

Tee times on the Old Course can be booked months in advance, reserved for members of the various clubs who have playing rights, while the remaining times are allocated from a daily ballot. Naturally, the ballot can be over-subscribed during the summer months, but in the winter, not so much.

Indeed, on our chosen day there were two full tee times that went unused. Still, it was there on the website. In writing. 10.40am. I will be playing the Old Course for the first time. As soon as the time was confirmed, my mind, like everybody before me, turned to thinking of that tee shot. The first tee shot. In front of the R&A Clubhouse. There isn’t anywhere else like it in the golf world, where the greats young and old have all stood; Old Tom, Braid, Vardon, Jones, Arnold, Jack, Tom, Seve, Tiger, Phil, Rory. And all the greats to come.

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Described as the widest fairway in golf, there’s no demarcation between the 1st and 18th fairways. There’s no rough, just a green velvet strip carved into an arena of buildings. A black tarmac ribbon bisects the fairway at 150 yards, Grannie Clark’s Wynd, a public highway used as a short cut to get from the town to the beach, or by tourists wanting the thrill of driving their car across a golf course with the risk of a ball smashing through their window.

On my arrival at the course that morning, I took the long route, around the R&A Clubhouse, past the starters building where my playing partners had already assembled for a quick practice putt, and leisurely made my way to the nearby Links Clubhouse to get changed with time to spare. Or so I thought, because today, of all days, my car clock was inexplicably running 15 minutes late. There then followed the quickest change of all time followed by catching a lift on a buggy to arrive on the tee in style, but out of breath.

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No putts for me, only time for a quick photo, before the starter, safely indoors on a sunny but chilly January day, called out over the speaker to proceed.

First in our group was Ally, a local pro, and he sailed an iron perfectly down the middle. Josh stood up next, a low handicapper and links ex-caddie, he played two-iron, further left than I would have advised, but it was good nonetheless, leaving an interesting angle into the green!

Thirdly, it was Kieran, a golfer of similar standard to myself who has played the Old Course several times (parred the Road Hole – twice!) If he had pulled off a great drive it would put the pressure on me as last to go. He swung and the south-westerly wind caught the ball, carrying it over the out of bounds fence down the right. I felt guilty but enormously relieved that I wouldn’t be letting the side down.

And then it was my turn. Taking my place on the tee with a small crowd of around 15 watching, consisting of my playing partners, my family who had turned out to walk the first hole, some golfers waiting their moment of infamy, and the random local or dog walker who had stopped by. Possibly the biggest first tee crowd of my life. The first hole isn’t a particularly long, but the Swilken Burn winds its way in front of the green, coming into driving range on the right-hand side. The safe shot would be a three-wood leaving a seven-iron approach, but the confidence in my wood isn’t particularly high. I need more time on the range with it. So, I pulled out the Big Dog, TaylorMade Superfast Burner 10.5 degree. The mutterings of the crown told me that this was a bold choice.

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I have two shots from my driver, the usual straight-ish shot with a five-yard fade, and an infrequent pull left that would reach the 18th fairway at my own place. Standing on the tee and the fairway was indeed vast, 130 yards wide, and yet not as wide as I’d expected. It was certainly missable, framed on both sides by brilliant white out of bounds posts. The sheer width of it makes picking a line more difficult.

fullsizerender

The golfer doesn’t just blindly play one down the middle of a defined fairway. The line should be carefully selected.

The Golfers’ Bridge over the Swilken Burn would be too far left and bring in the out of bounds (and indeed, cars and hotels) if my pull shot emerged. The Jigger Inn and Old Course Hotel would bring the burn into play should I fade the ball. The Road Hole Bunker seemed a good line. I made that selection and took my stance just as a car decided to cross Grannie Clark’s Wynd. Backing away from the ball I felt like a pro that’d had a camera click on his backswing.

A few swishes, that was the total of my warm up. I re-took my stance, surprisingly feeling no nerves. I had often pictured this moment, would I duff the ball, would I be shaking so much I couldn’t make a swing? This was my moment. There was a belief, an unmistakable confidence about me. I had already wrote a par on my scorecard. I made a lovely easy swing, a nicely balanced follow through, and the ball set off beautifully straight on the intended line. I had even allowed myself a smile as the usual fade showed a little horizontal ball movement taking the ball a little to the right. Good, I’d avoided the pull and there was no risk to the cars on The Links road. And further right. The ball is still going right.

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I felt all joy drain out through my legs. It kept going. The wind. I forgot about the bloody wind.

The first tee is rather sheltered by the surrounding buildings, but as soon as the ball reached its apex above the rooftops, the stiff 25mph south-westerly wind took my natural ball movement and accentuated it. It was sailing over Grannie Clark’s and towards the white fence. It was dropping, dropping, I held on to the hope it would fall out of the sky and stay in bounds. It would make for an interesting second shot, but the par would still be on. My eyes were darting up and down predicting its ballistic path, it crossed the horizon over the Old Course Hotel and comfortably sailed over the fence.

I had missed the widest fairway in golf.

Lies, Damn Lies and Putting Statistics

Why driving for show is better than putting for doh!

golf-tours-news-blogs-local-knowledge-assets_c-2014-02-blog-jordan-spieth-0221-thumb-300x385-114583

Image source

Jordan Spieth, the 22 year old Golden Child (I am contractually required both to mention his age and some kind of moniker in any writing about him) has wrapped up another tournament, his 9th professional win at the age of just 22. It’s certainly impressive for the twenty-two year old, the likes of which we haven’t seen since a 22 year old Tiger Woods. The key to his success appears to be his putter, which wills the ball into the hole. I am a big fan of Spieth, when he won the 2015 Masters I considered him to be the real deal and while I expected to see him contend in future majors, it was somewhat shocking how close he came to nearly completing the modern Impregnable Quadrilateral.

A recent Twitter poll conducted by @MMcEwanBunkered of Bunkered magazine asked if you’d rather drive like Rory or putt like Spieth ended with 66% in favour of Spieth. Spieth’s putting is now talked of in mythical proportions. Spieth doesn’t roll the ball to the hole, the hole comes to Spieth. Spieth doesn’t read the greens, the contours adjust to his will. Spieth doesn’t allow for the break, the earth’s rotation moves to suit. So maybe I’d better whisper the next part…

Spieth isn’t the best putter on tour

Blasphemy! Infamy! However, before a mob with pitchforks arrive at my door, let me explain how he’s not even as good as Lee Westwood.

2015 PGA Tour Stokes Gained league table:

•    Aaron Baddeley
•    Jimmy Walker
•    Daniel Summerhays
•    Lee Westwood
•    Brandt Snedeker
•    Jason Day
•    Brendon Todd
•    Jordan Spieth
•    Russell Henley

What this means is on average Spieth takes 0.572 putts per round less than the rest of the field, and with tight margins in professional golf, that’s a pretty big head start. In essence, he just needs to be good as the rest of the field for the rest of his game and he’d win by 2 shots. And that’s pretty much what is happening, as @kieranclarkgolf points out in Golfshake, Spieth is so successful because he’s got a well rounded game, he’s in the top 15 of all statistical categories. While his putting is good, the main reason he’s number one is because he’s not bad at anything.

By comparison, while Rory is 10th in driving distance (313 yards average) he languishes down at 41 in the same putting category. It’s not much of a difference (0.273) but it adds up to giving Jordan Spieth one shot per tournament. He makes up for that with his long game.

So would I like to drive like Rory or putt like Spieth? I’d take drive like Rory every time.  According to my Golfshake annual stats email, I will typically go round my course in around 85 shots, and 36 of them will be putts. If I putted like Spieth, I’d take 28 putts per round and I’d go round in 77 blows. So not quite scratch material. Comparing my stats against other people of my handicap, my driving is actually better than average, my putts are quite typical but my GIR and scrambling are particularly poor, so already I can see that my driving is keeping the rest of my game afloat. (I’ll be going into stat analysis in a future blog.)

So why would I still chose Rory’s driving over improving any other part of my game? Below is a scorecard of my course and (based on an idea by @JeffCarnage) this is what would happen to my irons should I be hitting 315 yards from the white tees but kept everything else the same.

Card

Driving it like Rory renders my golf club unrecognisable. At the moment there are 4 shortish par 4s at my course where I would be hitting a wedge into the green. My second shot would be a wedge 11 times if I hit booming drives. The first hole at my course is a long par 4, tough start. I can’t imagine being able to hit a pitching wedge into it. The toughest par 4 on the course, the long, uphill 6th now becomes a 7 iron approach. Where today I’m happy to escape with a bogie, suddenly a birdie at this hole is a distinct possibility. There are two par 5s which I can’t reach in two from the medal tees, both would now be reachable with mid irons.

I’d need a bag full of wedges.

My typical round would consist of 18 tee shots, 36 putts and 31 other shots. With a wedge in my hands 11 times would my GIR improve? Dramatically. Could I go round in 77 or less? No question. Could I even go round level par? Not quite, my putting would have to improve!

Unless you are taking 40+ putts per round, work on your driving.

Blairbeth GC is the latest victim of golf’s nomads

Blairbeth Golf Club from the Cathkin Braes – Panoramio user Jim Campbell

It is with some sadness that I learned of the demise of Blairbeth Golf Club. There have been a number of golf clubs in Scotland close their doors in recent years however Blairbeth is perhaps the most alarming as it is slap bang in the middle of the city so there really shouldn’t be a shortage of members on its doorstep. It would seem, however, to be a victim of circumstances rather than mismanagement, its customer base has become more mobile and has simply gone elsewhere.

Blairbeth is located on the south side of Glasgow and has pretty decent views of the city, perched at the foot of the Cathkin Braes which form the southern boundary of the city. It was the first ‘private’ golf club I played as a young adult, getting signed on by some friends. Before that my time had been spent on council/public golf courses. Trying not to be snobby about it, I would describe it as a good entry level golf club. Unpretentious, it was blue collar working class, relaxed, friendly, the green fees were modest and the course in reasonably good condition, the greens consistently some of the best. After playing golf at badly maintained 9 hole courses, it felt like Gleneagles to me. It formed the bridge between the council golf clubs, and the exclusive country club type frequented by lawyers and doctors. It would appear that holding the middle ground on this occasion has been its downfall, squeezed out of business from both ends with members electing to become nomads or moving to once exclusive clubs.

Turning the clock back to the turn of the Millennium, it was a very different picture. To get a game on a council golf course there would either be a two hour wait on the tee or you’d have to book one up to a week in advance. Private golf clubs were fairing very well too, membership was full and waiting lists of up to 8 years for some clubs with hefty joining fees. In many parts of Glasgow if you wanted to join a course the only way was to join as a junior member and graduate up through the ranks. Once you became a full member the retaining rates were high, you daren’t leave the golf club for fear that you wouldn’t get back in. Clubs like Blairbeth were accessible and a cost effective way to guarantee a game at the weekend.

This changed with the recession of 2007/08. Faced with having to cut household budgets and increasing demands on leisure time, many took the decision to resign their golf club membership rather than pay £700 to play three rounds of golf per annum. Virtually overnight, the bubble burst. The waiting lists were gone. In a drive for new members the joining fees were cut. If anything this encouraged existing members to leave, the spectre hanging their heads had gone and they could easily come back in a few years. Golf membership declined but rather surprisingly participation rates have not decreased by as much, it’s the way golf is accessed that changed.

The casual golfers who were previously forced to be members of clubs are now nomadic. There are good deals to be had trying out different courses around the country, clubs desperate for the vital income. For the same price of their annual club fees the casual golfer can now play a dozen highly rated courses in the summer.

For the player who somehow has 6 hours available on a Saturday to play a medal and wants to remain in a club, the world is their oyster. Every club is virtually affordable, the barriers to entry gone. They can now join that top rated club a short drive away, the joining fee can be paid up, the club forced to adapt to be more inclusive for all. One 125 year old bastion in the south of Glasgow is now even allowing women to join.

This has been the downfall of Blairbeth. It previously had issues due to its suburban location, petty theft of flag poles and balls, teenagers wandering the fairways, but this had mostly been resolved by regeneration of the local housing schemes. The suburban location was also one of its best features, an easy drive or walk from work or home. However with the smoking ban and now the stricter drink-drive limits the additional earnings in the bar and restaurant suffered.

Identifying that they had issues the club recently decided to cut down to a 9 hole course to save money on maintenance but faced with the choice of a 9 hole course or for just a few minutes more in the car the member could be in more idyllic surroundings, this proved to be the death knell.

Blairbeth has now joined the ranks of Kames, Castle Park, Lothianburn and Rutherford Castle golf clubs, and sadly it won’t be the last.

Main image source http://www.panoramio.com/photo_explorer#view=photo&position=750&with_photo_id=3580830&order=date_desc&user=101764

Ryder Cup legacy ticks the box but misses the mark


Clubgolf was set up to introduce golf to 9 years olds across the country, and with the subsequent award and hosting of the Ryder Cup matches at Gleneagles in September 2014 Clubgolf was tasked by the Scottish Government with being part of the Ryder Cup legacy. My nine year old son is already an accomplished golfer (in relation to his age) so when Clubgolf arrived at his school and handed him a plastic club it was much to his bemusement. However I was curious as to what the target audience would make of Clubgolf, so I asked one of his school friends, a sporty 10 year old girl. Given the poor uptake and retention of teenage female golfers I was curious as to what she thought of the Clubgolf experience.

So who’s your favourite golfer?

I don’t have one

Can you name any golfers?

Tiger Woods

Have you heard of Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler?

Rory

What about Charley Hull?

I don’t know him (!)

Did you see The Masters on TV last night?

No

Before Clubgolf, have you played golf before?

Only swinging one of Calum’s [my son] clubs in your garden

So what about Clubgolf, did you like it, did you have fun?

Yes

What did you do?

They showed us how to hit balls, played games

What was the best bit about it?

We got out of class for a while!

So now you know how to hit a golf ball, did they tell you where to go next if you want to take it further?

No

Where do you think you could go?

I don’t know. A golf club?

Do you know where your nearest golf club is?

No
Do you think you’ll take up golf?

No. We got given a leaflet in school for an athletics club starting over Easter so I’m going to go to that.

Drawing conclusions based on a sample size of one may be a little unfair on Clubgolf, and it will be impossible to enthuse every child to take up the game, however there appears to be a disconnect between Clubgolf visiting schools and driving them to the local golf clubs where, on the whole, the pros do seems to be keen to teach and develop young golfers. Why don’t Clubgolf hand out leaflets advertising local clubs? Why don’t they actually have a Clubgolf session at a local club, get the kids in the door show them what it’s like inside one, that it’s not a fortress of middle aged men?

Until this is addressed Clubgolf will achieve their goal of introducing golf to all primary school children, but sadly will do nothing to increase junior participation levels.

Remember when I was a hypocrite?

It’s been an interesting couple of weeks for women’s golf. Firstly something I never thought I’d see in my lifetime, the R&A admitted it’s first female members. Voting to remove the meat and two veg clause was one thing, I didn’t think they’d actually invite lady members so readily. Alright it was just female equivalents of their blazer wearing establishment males, golf administrators from around the world, jobs for the girls. This was followed by the bizarre idea to give Princess Anne, who’s never been known to enjoy the beautiful game, an honorary membership.

The R&A also missed a chance to right a wrong by not offering a membership to Judy Bell. Bell was elected as the 54th president of the USGA in 1996, the first female to hold that office, however was also the first modern sitting USGA president not to be offered membership of the R&A. It was wrong then and wrong not to use this opportunity to make amends. As the R&A stated that all offered invitations were accepted we can only assume the offer was not made.

Next, Royal St Georges removed the female requirement. One can only hope that Royal Troon and the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers (Muirfield to the uninitiated) may follow suit. It may make for an uncomfortable Open Championship in 2016 should they chose to ignore it.

So pretty positive things happening in the world of women’s golf. But in the middle of all that came the news that the BBC lost the rights to the Women’s British Open to Sky Sports. You might have missed that, it was announced with quite a whimper in comparison to the previous week. When it was learned that from 2017 the (mens) Open would be live solely on Sky some people predicted a disaster of biblical proportions. Old Testament, real wrath of God type stuff. Fire and brimstone coming down from the skies! Rivers and seas boiling! Forty years of darkness! Earthquakes, volcanoes… The dead rising from the grave! Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together… mass hysteria! The debate saturated social media for days.

I wrote a blog around that time explaining why moving the Open to Sky might not be that bad a thing, it could actually be a positive thing for golf. The investment Sky would be making will be good, the highlights package for non-Sky subscribers was acceptable to keep up the interest. And, with golf participation falling despite the Open being on free-to-view there was no evidence in the argument that golf should be kept on free-to-view to encourage numbers.

However, here’s where I’m a hypocrite. None of that matters when it comes to women’s golf. Participation rates in women’s golf is abysmal, and the retention rate of young ladies sticking golf past age 14 is even worse. Woman’s golf needs to be normalised. By normalised I mean people need to be exposed to it just by flicking through the channels, people need to be at the stage where they turn on the TV and the sight of a female hitting a golf ball is second nature. The man on the Clapham omnibus would struggle to answer the question who was the last Scot to win a major championship, most golf fans would answer Paul Lawrie (1999 Open Championship), the actual answer is Catriona Matthew (2009 Women’s British Open). Indeed entering “last Scot to win a golf major” into Google, Matthew doesn’t even appear until the bottom of page 2. When Rory McIlroy can’t even win BBC Sports Personality of the Year what’s the chances we would celebrate the first Scottish women to win a golf major, and that it came a scant 11 weeks after she gave birth to her daughter.

I dearly hope I’m wrong with this one, however after attending the latest junior training session at my club where boys outnumbered girls14-to-1, I fear the worst.

(main image credit http://ladieseuropeantour.com/super-stacy-wins-the-2013-ricoh-womens-british-open-in-style/)

Why The Open On Sky Might Not Be As Bad As You Think

I am vehemently against the BBC losing The Open from free to air to Sky pay per view. Or at least I was. However I can’t quite believe what I’m about to write. Maybe it might not be so bad after all, it might not be the death knell I once feared. Dare I say it, it could be a good thing. I present the case for the defense, m’lud:

It started as rumours a few weeks ago, these firmed up last week and the R&A confirmed today. Sky’s bid, said to be in the region of £10m per annum, has been accepted and they will broadcast The Open Championship starting with the July 2017 event from Royal Birkdale. The 60 year old tradition of golf’s oldest championship live on the BBC will come to a close (only it won’t really, as the BBC didn’t cover it live all those years and they’ll still have extended highlights but lets not ruin a good headline.)

The “sporting crown jewels” or “listed events” actually refer to mundanely titled The Ofcom Code on Sports and Other Listed & Designated Events and is split into Groups A & B. Group A is an event that must be on a free to air channel although subscription channels may cover the even if they wish, this includes events such as the FA Cup Final, FIFA World Cup and the Wimbledon final. Group B requires that highlights or delayed broadcast must be available on a free to air channel. The list was only drawn up in 1991 with the advent of multi-channel television, since the list was revised in 2000 The Open Championship has fallen under Group B. It had been long suspected that Sky had consistently bid higher than the BBC to secure the only major not in their portfolio however until now the R&A were happy to stick with wall-to-wall free to air coverage with the BBC.

So why the change? Unfortunately the R&A haven’t shared the decision making process with us, but it’s likely to involve money and an assessment that free-to-air isn’t delivering the promised benefits especially with introducing the sport to a new audience who now access their content different to our generation.

(Edit, the R&A have issued this letter explaining their decision and confirm that “it is not possible to make an informed case that participation is simply and directly linked to free-to-air television viewing“)

One of the major reasons I love golf is due to watching The Masters and The Open on the television as a child. The Monday following The Open the local municipal would be full of kids using their dads clubs dug out of the shed and badly clobbering a ball around a field. But how many of these kids actually went on to play golf in later years? Out of my regular foursome, I’m the only one who ever joined a club and still plays. My brother hasn’t swung a club since age 16, “Spam” only occasionally plays in works outings and Gary found drinking and women. This is the shocking lack of retention, especially in the ladies game, that’s worrying the R&A and they can no longer sit and wait for kids to approach golf and stick with it. The major argument for having The Open on free to air is to drive fresh blood to the golf courses but the more I think of it, the less I agree with it’s effectiveness. Maybe the R&A have a plan to spend all that extra cash.

Calum at the Scottish Open, Loch Lomond in 2008
How to inspire the next generation? Calum age 3 at the Scottish Open, Loch Lomond

As it turns out, The Open isn’t leaving the BBC after all. They will broadcast an extended highlights show from 8pm-10pm which on the face of it is a more palatable format for non-golfers to watch rather than the 12 hour marathons us golf nerds enjoy. The highlights show, often shown directly after a marathon telecast or at some godforsaken hour, were poorly watched. The main golf coverage was poorly watched as well, while 5 million may have watched Rory pick up the Claret Jug only 1 million tuned in on a Friday morning. Having the highlights package on in the early evening for kids to watch containing plenty of Rory is the key. Rory sells.

There is also the option these days to take out a one week subscription with Sky, via Now TV, for £10.99. While that’s £10.99 more than it used to cost, it’s still not an insurmountable amount for a golf fan to pay. I wish I had that option years ago to watch the other majors.

I didn’t get Sky until four years ago. My exposure to golf was mainly the free to air coverage on the BBC. I hadn’t seen a Ryder Cup since the 1993 hosting at The Belfry. I followed Mickleson and Monty imploding at the 2006 US Open via BBC Five live radio coverage and text updates on the BBC website, and indeed only saw footage of it for the first time last year. I hadn’t seen the Battle at Brookline, Tiger’s demolition at Pebble Beach or winning on a broken leg at Torrey Pines. If anything, it made The Masters and The Open more special for me, I would take days off work just to watch the continuous live coverage.

My lack of exposure to the US Open and the PGA Championship is evident, these tournaments rank numbers 3 and 4 respectively on my list of favourites, and I fear The Open will fall from the heart and soul of the nation. And yet the complete opposite has happened since the Ryder Cup left the BBC stable and joined the Sky hype to make them the Most Important Matches in the World Ever(TM). The tournament has prospered.

Perhaps the whole crux of the argument is the worry that Sky will make a mess of it. Yet on examination, it is the BBC who treat it like amateur hour. Sky cover 28+ hours of golf every week, that’s getting on to nearly equivalent of an Open. Every week. The BBC have not done anything to improve coverage since Ken started walking on the course 15 years ago, this is the channel that sent Gary Lineker to Augusta for goodness sake! Meanwhile Sky have added the Shot Centre, the Sky Cart, have constantly innovated with the content packaging to build excitement and make it more presentable to a younger audience. Handing the golf over to the BBC for one week in the year makes no sense. I have no doubt Sky’s coverage of The Open will be excellent.

I can just see the 2017 schedule now, for the weeks running up to The Open there will be interviews, documentaries, highlights of tournaments from yesteryear. The BBC by comparison would stick on a 30 minute recap at half past midnight on the Tuesday before and that would be it. Sky will raise The Open to new levels of hype, and perhaps in a format more appealing to a younger audience than the venerable but stuffy Alliss & Co who are like a comfortable slippers and glass of port. This could actually be the kick up the arse The Open needs.

It’s not the end of the Open, it’s just the end to the way we accessed it in our youth.

The Open Scoreboard
Photo Credit: Geoff on Flickr https://www.flickr.com/photos/7737269@N04/