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TEE TO GREEN, STEVE SCOTT: Scottish Golf’s new regime must make women’s participation a priority

Martin Gilbert is now the chair of Scottish Golf.
Martin Gilbert is now the chair of Scottish Golf.

Scottish Golf has had a tumultuous year, even by the standards of these unprecedented times.

In the early summer of 2020 the organisation seemed to be a train wreck, haemorrhaging member subscriptions and staff as a result of the pandemic.

The SGL annual review was released at the weekend. There’s no reference at all to the crazy few weeks when outgoing chair Eleanor Cannon was doing the rounds of social and mainstream media digging holes for the organisation to fall into.

To be fair, under the studious direction of COO Karin Sharp, things quietened down and SGL seems to have worked itself to an even keel.

Cannon kept her own counsel for the rest of the year, and will now be succeeded by Martin Gilbert.

The ever-enthusiastic figure behind Aberdeen Standard Investments “blanket” sponsorship of Scottish golf over the past decade, Gilbert has the best interests of the game in Scotland close to his heart, no question about that.

It’ll be interesting to see his input into SGL’s operations. He’s certainly not the sort to rubber stamp everything that has gone on before.

Numbers rise encouragingly during the pandemic

And there’s at least a foundation from which to build. After decades of regression, Scottish golf club membership is on the rise again, largely due to free time caused by pandemic lockdown(s).

There was a 6.1% rise in memberships to 190,777. Take in those who play regularly and aren’t members of clubs, then you’re getting pretty close to – and maybe beyond –  the numbers who on average attend Scottish football at all levels, when people are allowed in.

Given the political clout I’m always told the football community have – personally I believe that’s pure fantasy, but there you go – then golf in Scotland has a hefty constituency as well.

In addition, golf has a superstructure of tradition and courses that are attractive to lucrative outside investors (tourists, sponsors) in ways that soccer can’t possibly match. Wielding this benefit to the country should be no small weapon to foster golf’s future.

The number of women playing is still far too low

But we’ve also got to do it ourselves. Hidden amongst the encouragingly increased numbers playing was women club members up by just a whisker, from 21,151 to 21,614.

Already we’re working from just 11% of the total number playing. The increase in women alone was barely a third of the overall rise.

That’s just pathetic, to be honest. Golf should be as much an attraction in the outdoors during these times to women as it has been to men.

It’s not just Scottish Golf’s fault that numbers are so low but it’s up to them and the R&A – whose grant of over half a million was crucial in keeping SGL afloat – to make it right.

Gilbert recognised the importance of women’s participation in his ASI days by massively upping prizemoney for the Ladies Scottish Open, so one expects he can be relied upon to make this a key aim of his tenure as chairman.

Bryson answers quickly

Bryson DeChambeau gets the red cardie on Sunday at Bay Hill.

You’ve got to tip your (flat) cap to Bryson DeChambeau. He answered Collin Morikawa’s WGC win with his own at the Arnold Palmer Invitational at the weekend.

The antics on the long 6th on Saturday and Sunday got golf twitter all agog. I was more impressed with the way Bryson controlled himself and his game, defending his lead 12 doughty pars after the birdie at 6.

As for the long-driving exhibition, it was fun for those who like that sort of thing. To me he didn’t actually achieve very much of an advantage by doing it. But that’s Bryson all over, I think. The method is just a whacky way of essentially getting the same result.

Far more important were that series of par putts and the huge 40-footer for birdie on the fourth. But the needle’s been moved again, which is good for golf and Bryson’s own relentless self-promotion.

The new era is upon us

Further to last week’s mention of golf’s new stars, Phil Mickelson has now dropped out of the OWGR Top 100.

It’s the first time since 1993. Phil hasn’t been playing the main tour either much, or that effectively.

He hasn’t cracked the top 40 at any PGA Tour event this current season in nine starts. His last finish of note was a tie for second at the WGC FedEx St Jude last July.

During that time, of course, he’s debuted on the Champions Tour and won twice in three starts there.

Phil hasn’t made the complete switch quite yet, but you feel it is coming. And the evidence is fairly clear that once you make the switch, you leave the main Tour behind for good.

There have been a few players who have been reasonably competitive in both tours, but only up to a point.

Bernhard Langer still looks solid at the Masters and occasionally at the Open. Steve Sticker and Miguel Angel Jimenez don’t disgrace themselves at all on rare visits to the main tours. But they’re really no longer a serious threat to win.

Mickelson may buck this trend, of course. No question that’s what he believes. But with Tiger laid up potentially permanently now, the long-awaited change of era may be here now.