That’s the view of BBC Golf Correspondent Iain Carter, one of the contributors to a 30-minute BBC Radio 4 programme entitled In The Rough: Golf’s Uncertain Future.
Ahead of this week’s 146th Open Championship at Royal Birkdale, the BBC presentation analysed the state of the United Kingdom’s golf industry after nearly 20 years of significant change.
Despite acknowledging that there are now fewer golfers, the programme cited cause for optimism.
“Whatever the doomsayers say, it is still the fifth most popular sport in the United Kingdom,” said journalist and broadcaster Mark Hodkinson.
Carter added: “Whether you’re playing traditional golf on a great course, or at your local municipal, or TopGolf, or on the driving range, you’re contributing to the industry.
“All these different initiatives give me optimism that golf can grow and remain relevant. And golf will be massive at the next Olympics in Tokyo.
“But golf has to find ways of playing it to make it more attractive to families; to women and children.”
Also participating in the programme, which aired twice last week, were John Hopkins, The Times’ former Golf Correspondent, and Alistair Dunsmuir, Editor of The Golf Business.
Hodkinson visited Riddlesden Golf Club in Yorkshire, which closed down last year, and talked about the changes golf has gone through.
Riddlesden Golf Club was formed in 1927. Its membership halved over three years to barely 100, forcing it to close last year. It is now abandoned, the greens overgrown, the clubhouse derelict and boarded up.
“In the 1970s and 80s many men of a certain age and class spent their weekends and summer evenings playing golf,” said Hodkinson. “Not any more. England Golf reports that one in five golfers has given up club membership since 2004.”
The programme revealed that over a recent seven-year period the number of golfers playing once a month has fallen from 1.5 million to 1.1 million.
“It has had the knock-on effect of hitting golf clubs very hard, leading to many closures,” said Dunsmuir.
According to the broadcast, gender roles and the work/life balance in society may have played a role in the participation decline, as men are now less likely to disappear for a day to play the game.
“People are working longer hours and want to better enjoy their free time,” said Professor Sir Cary Cooper of the University of Manchester, an expert on well-being. “Studies have shown that the key to this is relationships, especially within the family. So this means men aren’t out on a golf course somewhere with their mates but are doing stuff with their wife and kids.”
Richard Fletcher, Business Editor of The Times, said many people had taken up cycling as a replacement for golf.
“I can’t remember when I was last invited to a golf day,” he said. “So many people now cycle and it has a real corporate element. Often it will be the first topic discussed.”
In The Rough: Golf’s Uncertain Future can be heard online at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b08wn9mj