Speaker – James Sutherland CEO Golf Australia
A sport for all
“Where have all the female golfers gone?” That was one of the challenging questions posed recently by James Sutherland, the new CEO of Golf Australia.
Mr Sutherland, in a speech to a Golf Society of Australia dinner at The Metropolitan GC, identified two crucial challenges facing all golfers and clubs: how to inspire more women and the next generation of young people, to discover and enjoy the game.
He said 20% of all golf club members across Australia today are female. In 1970, this figure was 34% and the zenith for women club membership was 1993 when 114,000 women across Australia were paid-up members. By 2019, this figure had fallen to 77,000 – a drop of more than 33%
“It is part of our ‘social licence’ as custodians of this great game to do better,” he said.
Mr Sutherland, who spent 17 successful years as CEO of Cricket Australia, was reflecting in late March on his five key observations after six months in charge of Golf Australia. As well as the challenge of falling female participation, he identified:
Golf is thriving. But is this real and sustained, or a fool’s paradise?
Club competition rounds played are up 20% and membership is up by 42,000 golfers after the Covid-affected year just past.
“We have to wait and see if these newcomers are here to stay beyond Covid,” he said.
Golf is a fragmented sport, but what is its potential?
Mr Sutherland believes exciting times are ahead with a national alignment and strategy. Golf Australia plans to run a survey of key people involved in the game. And the imminent move into the new Australian Golf Centre under construction at Sandringham, which will house Golf Australia, the PGA of Australia, and Golf Victoria, offers better collaborations.
The centre, funded by a $15.3million investment from the Victorian Government, includes a revamped Sandringham course plus practice and tuition facilities, and is due to open by late July.
We golfers are getting older
The average age of female club members in Australia is 63.9 years. The average male is 54.7 years old.
“Our number one KPI should be to attract new kids to play golf. All Golf Australia and PGA people, and all members of clubs, need to be doing more to attract and inspire the next generation of golfers.”
Tournaments are important, but are they good or bad for business?
He said that having to cancel important tournaments, including the 2020 Australian Open and 2021 Women’s Australian Open, were among the major decisions forced on Golf Australia because of the global Covid pandemic.
Mr Sutherland said such calls were met with a range of reactions.
“When you’re faced with the obvious health concerns, but also the commercial realities of putting on a tournament that might not meet some of our stakeholders’ expectations, it becomes a very delicate balancing act.
“Tournaments have traditionally been the shop window of golf to many, so it becomes imperative to think outside the box to keep golf front of mind.”
He left the audience pondering the challenges by asking: what was the biggest single television audience for golf in Australia? The answer was the first episode of “Holey Moley” – the reality TV show which features sudden-death matches on a super-sized mini-golf set whose resident pro is Greg Norman. Its first Australian episode attracted one million viewers.
“Many of these people were new eyeballs for golf. We have to ask ourselves what we all can do to make golf more appealing to younger players and to a wider participation,” he said.
Now THAT is food for thought.