Moore’s proposal to turn it into nine holes is such a good idea – but it doesn’t go far enough. Boot all the golf clubs out of cities where there is just not enough open space. Already the sport is being abandoned. Participation has plunged from 8.2 per cent in 2001 to 5.2 per cent in 2020, a decline of over 36 per cent in 19 years. Compare that with the sports that don’t rely on big footprints, fancy clobber, expensive gear, such as recreational walking, which has increased by 70 per cent to just under half the population. Why are we giving up massive amounts of space to a pursuit that offers so little to so few? Build a few outback golf links and send the 18-hole obsessives on a long drive.
The cost and the way the sport is offered is just so off-putting for the majority. Professor of sport at Federation University and also at Victoria University Rochelle Eime loves golf so much she even signed up her twin 14-year-old sons to the game when they couldn’t play footy because of COVID. That cost a total of $100 at the social club rate. When she wanted to join her local club, she was told it would cost $1000. Then told she could only play on certain days of the week. She works full-time. She can’t be popping off for a quick 18-holes on a workday.
Who has a lazy four hours during the week, she asks. “This sport is run by people who love the competitive mode … we know the vast majority of the public don’t have the skills nor do they want that.” Eime says golf is a traditional sport, rooted in the male competitive model and that’s hard to break down to something that works for modern lives, including those of women. “We need female voices in the decision-making.”
Malcolm Gladwell, in A Good Walk Spoiled, possibly my favourite ever episode of his long-running series Revisionist History, spends the entire podcast exploring the social, political and environmental wrongdoings of golf. So many, although not quite as bad in Australia as in the US. We have more open space. But as he argues, someone needs to tell the golf clubs “that if they want to hold spatiotemporal continuity privileges, they have to give something back”.
Land, for instance. Golf itself knows there is a problem and does its best to paper over them. A drive for membership here, a recognition that the game has to change there. By July this year, membership of Australian golf clubs had risen by 0.05 per cent, the first increase since 1998, according to Golf Business Advisory Services; a minuscule rise compared with the cost to Golf Australia to make that happen, including its investment in the MyGolf outreach program. Golf Australia also worked with the Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins to build a set of guidelines to improve the way golf treats women (published last year, Eime had her issues this year). Mind you, that was under the old chief executive Stephen Pitt. Now it’s James Sutherland, the man who oversaw Cricket Australia when it sacked Angela Williamson after she posted pro-abortion tweets. The matter was later settled out of court.
Golf Australia said in a statement that it would argue to retain any public golf course in Australia. Fine. But now it has to build a sport that fits with contemporary values and the lives of working women. Let’s see if it has the drive for that.
Jenna Price is a visiting fellow at the Australian National University and a regular columnist.
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