Beverley Thorpe asks who is taking responsibility for the future of Professional Golf in Scotland and is it time for significant change?
February 15, 2019
“I think both the PGA in Scotland and Tartan Tour can become even stronger brands than they are just now as they have loads of potential,”
Shona Malcolm, Secretary of the PGA in Scotland, speaking to Martin Dempster in the Scotsman in September 2015.
Three years later, how are the PGA in Scotland progressing with their ‘tournament and brand development’? Chat around my kitchen table, at the occasional small, informal gatherings of Scottish Pro golfers, often leaves me asking the question, “What do the PGA in Scotland actually do?”.
In 1901, the original Professional Golfers’ Association (PGA) was established in Great Britain. The Association stated its aim was to raise the profile and status of the professional golfer and look after the welfare and interests of its members. Today the PGA claims, “With golf continuing to grow on a worldwide level, The PGA remains committed to providing its members with lifelong learning to meet the challenges facing the golf industry, while simultaneously helping advance the sport and the industry and ensuring that participation upholds the protocols, values and integrity of the game which were outlined when the Association was formed”.
The claim golf is ‘growing on a worldwide level’ belies the state of Scottish Golf in general. 50,000 golfers have given up their club memberships and 20 clubs have closed their doors in Scotland in the last 10 years. Just as alarming, 117 years after its establishment, with the purpose to ‘raise the profile, status and look after the welfare and interests of its members’; why do so many playing and club professionals find themselves in precarious situations?
Shona Malcolm was right when she said back in 2015, “25 years ago the Tartan Tour was right at the top end of the game. It was the biggest of any of the PGA’s regional circuits covered extensively in the media and secured sponsorship almost without thinking about it. Is it taken for granted a talented golfer who chooses to
should have the opportunity to play for a living, or is this an antiquated concept which doesn’t fit today’s society? Does it actually feature in the development plans of the PGA in Scotland?
Order of Merit statistics from 2011 show 246 players shared a prize fund of over £580,000. The top ten players earning just under £200,000. Fast forward to 2018 and with the season almost over the total money earned is around £210,000. The top 20 players have achieved winnings of around £129,000. Significantly, there are 179 players taking a share of the winnings to date, however, a further 140 players have no money to show having entered at least one tournament.
Every Professional pays the PGA £400 a year for membership. In return they are given a number of benefits; the PGA Professional Magazine showing golf break offers they can’t afford and £5,000.000 indemnity insurance they can get online for £30 a year! On top of that, Pros must pay to ‘enter’ each PGA tournament they play in (up to £120 per event), plus pay their own travelling, accommodation and any additional expenses.
Amongst her skills Shona Malcolm lists ‘undertaking value for money / performance reviews and project management’, so she should have little problem working out the Scottish PGA’s tournament format does not work for today’s Professional golfer! It doesn’t take ‘Golf Science’ to realise the PGA are not looking after the interests of the members who pay them.
So what of the future? There is the arrival of Tournament Controller, Colin Gillies. Heralded as ‘no ordinary player’ when it comes to the Tartan Tour, could he be the man to restore the players’ faith in the PGA? He admits to “knowing the highs and lows of trying to make a living on the Tartan Tour”. He was the first player to break the £500,000 barrier in career earnings on the circuit and remains its all-time leading money winner with £513,747. He chalked up over 120 victories on the Scottish scene. At a time when players are desperate for opportunities to win money, perhaps the statement "I won most money during my time on the circuit. I don't know if that means I was the best or was just out there too long", might not endear him to his struggling fellow professionals.
And finally, back to Ms Malcolm in 2015; “We are probably going to look at different ways of securing sponsorship but it will probably be a few months before that really kicks in. The Tartan Tour was right at the top end of the game. It was the biggest of any of the PGA’s regional circuits covered extensively in the media and secured sponsorship. almost without thinking about it. We are keen to get back to that and will be pulling out all the stops in our attempts to do so.”
It has been more than a few months since September 2015 and the ‘stops’ haven’t been pulled out! They probably won’t be. Things suits the PGA the way they are. When it comes to ‘regional circuits’ the PGA of Scotland need to strategically redevelop their product. Without the right tournament format suiting players and sponsors the future looks bleak. The PGA talk of passion but show apathy and lack of foresight. They act like a draconian corporation rather than the ‘members only’ organisation they claim to be. They are not the Golf Government or Golf Police and they seem to have forgotten why they say they exist. Who pays them seems irrelevant. Don’t they owe it to their members to display the honesty, integrity, innovation and leadership they so proudly claim to have?
And as for the Professional golfers who are good with balls……… ask some questions, stand up for yourselves ……...and grow some!!!!!