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Dinner – Monday 27 February 2023 at Yarra Yarra GC

Dinner report – Monday 27 February – Yarra Yarra GC       The rise of non-traditional golf

Golf Australia CEO James Sutherland had a surprise in store when he spoke at a Golf Society dinner at Yarra Yarra Golf Club in February.

During his speech to 65 members and guests in the historic Eaglemont Room, Mr Sutherland rolled out some surprising facts about the rise of golf, but said it was happening in ways other than what most in the room were familiar with.

Participation in golf was rising, he said, in alternative formats such as driving ranges, minigolf, indoor screens golf, pitch-and-putt, and entertainment venues that offer food and drinks and music as players hit golf balls off mats and aim at novelty targets for fun.

Mr Sutherland said membership at traditional private golf clubs had risen about 12 per cent since 2018 – boosted partly by the Covid19 effect – but this came after 20 years of steadily declining membership numbers across Australia.

These alternative golf formats were welcome, he said, because they are a nursery for the game and help form bridges between all the different formats of golf.

He surprised many in the audience when he said that members at golf clubs in Australia made up only 14 per cent – or just one in seven – of all people who hit a golf ball in any year.

The audience included two GSA members honoured with Order of Australia awards on Australia day: Anne Court AM, and Jean Gilbert OAM. Mr Sutherland’s dinner speech came as he is two years into his role as head of Golf Australia. He re-affirmed that GA sees its role as “encouraging more Australians to play more golf” and the national body has a strong emphasis on children, families and women increasing their participation in the game.

Mr Sutherland was joined by two other speakers, Barbara Kelly, the general manager of Chirnside Park Country Club, and Anthony Lawrence, CEO of Clublinks.

Barbara Kelly was recently inducted into the Victorian Golf Industry Hall of Fame. She has had 30 years at Chirnside Park and told the audience about the club’s transition of re-zoning their declining golf course at Chirnside Park to sell the land for housing and buying a phased-out quarry at Lilydale to create Gardiners Run 18-hole golf course. The club retained the clubhouse at Chirnside Park and converted it into a community hub with restaurant, bars, function centre and gaming, surrounded by enough land for community sports such as lawn bowls, tennis and a newly opened minigolf centre.

And it’s a winner. Membership is up, staff have increased, turnover is $10million per year and the club banks a $1million annual surplus.

Anthony Lawrence described how Clublinks is a company that manages eight golf clubs plus sports centres and gymnasiums across Australia. He said non-traditional golf was a fast-growing part of their business, and the three-tier driving range at Moore Park golf course in central Sydney was a thriving business.

One of the latest success stories, he said, was ‘Bubbles and Buckets’ at Moore Park, where players paid $99 for two glasses of champagne and snacks while they hit buckets of golf balls at the range. He said it was popular with groups of up to 40 women who socialise and network while they play, and every session was booked out.

John Trevorrow 

Click on the links below to listen two recordings from the dinner.

Dinner speakers- James Sutherland, Barbara Kelly and Anthony Lawrence with President Kim Hastie Lower one Jean Gilbert OAM

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