Can golf clubs hack themselves out of the financial rough?

The latest data from the State confirms the domestic economy is purring once again. Yet the renaissance has not been uniform across the leisure industry.

There once was a time when golf clubs, which rely on the economic confidence of the middle classes and a buoyant corporate sector, were as reliable an economic barometer as any other. But even though corporate profits and consumer confidence are both riding high, many golf clubs are performing sluggishly and offering discounted rates to attract new members.

The latest well-known club to file financial results in the Companies Registration Office is Castleknock Golf Club. Last week, it posted flat revenues of €2 million and a €50,000 deficit. Its results are far from disastrous and it may feel aggrieved at being singled out – it simply happens to be the most recent one to post figures.

But it is illustrative of the rut in which the sector is stuck: Castleknock is the epitome of a Dublin “leafy suburb” and its local economy is booming. So why isn’t its golf club?

The sport is struggling across the globe as golf’s playing base ages and it is failing to attract younger players. Even Donald Trump’s courses in Scotland lost £17 million last year.

Frothiest years

A report by the Economic and Social Research Institute earlier this year drilled into the decline in participation rates, and established that the rot had begun to set in as far back as 2003.

The frothiest years of the last property bubble, during which many Irish courses became vehicles to flog course-side houses, disguised the malaise.

Despite the housing shortage that has re-emerged in recent years, there will be no return to the credit-fuelled property extravaganza of the past. If golf clubs are to have a prosperous future, they must ditch their old boys’ club mentality, and focus on attracting families.

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