New figures from Sport England offer cautious optimism for golf, with indications that the decline in participation is stabilising.
The latest Active People Survey (APS) results, for six months to the end of March, show a tiny decrease of 0.35% in the number of regular golfers.
There are currently 727,700 people, aged 16-plus, playing for at least 30 minutes a week; in October 2014 the figure was 730,300. Looking back over a complete year, the numbers have dropped by just 1.4%, from 738,200.
The report says: “There are increasing signs that we are seeing participation begin to stabilise.”
But, it also questions whether there will be long-term stabilisation because of a downward trend in the 35-44-year age group and in monthly participation, which suggests infrequent players are being lost. The number of monthly participants dropped by almost 3% over the six months.
David Joy, the Chief Executive of England Golf, commented: “While the survey contains some encouraging news for golf, the figures also show that we have more work to do. Club membership is still in decline; we particularly need to attract younger people and women and girls into golf; and we need to encourage people to play more often.
“We have changed the focus of our county activity to work closely with clubs to promote structured coaching, regular playing opportunities and memberships. We are also trialling new ways to make golf more accessible and to show how it can fit into a busy lifestyle.
“Our strategic plan, ‘Raising Our Game’, calls on all who care about the game to work together to increase participation and club membership and it has received a tremendous response at club, county and national level. We now need to stay focussed on our strategy, to bring about the further changes required to achieve the further growth that we know is there.”
Sandy Jones, the Chief Executive of the PGA, added: “The latest figures released by Sport England should be considered as positive news for all who are working in the continued management of golf and the development of the game. Every sector of the golf industry is now working closely together and we are seeing signs, from current feedback of those on the ground at golf facilities, of not just stabilisation of the numbers, but increases in participation in many sectors.
“This is clearly a result of the many new initiatives that have been introduced to stimulate growth and participation. It is without doubt important that golf remains firmly focused on the strategies that it has created to ensure that it remains one of the top five sports that people choose for their pastime activity.”
‘Raising Our Game’ sets out a vision of England Golf working at the heart of a network of partners to create a brighter future for golf. It supports the England Golf Partnership’s Whole Sport Plan to increase participation in the game.
• A new focus for the county network to promote structured coaching, regular playing opportunities and club membership. In the year to the end of April this helped to create over 8000 new club memberships and attracted over 44,000 people to take structured coaching, and over 25,000 into weekly golf.
• Warwickshire, Staffordshire and Northamptonshire are involved in a project to trial new approaches to increasing participation and membership. This includes promoting nine-hole golf and after-work roll-ups and offering free coaching at pitch and putt courses.
• The Get into golf campaign has been extended to invite all clubs to load their activities on to the website. England Golf has also invested significantly in digital advertising to promote the campaign.
• Factsheets to help clubs recruit and retain more women members have been produced.
• England Golf has increased the capacity of a number of county development officers to provide more club support.
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