In calling for major changes in the way our game is governed, it seems that it is not just England Golf under attack at present. Their paymasters, Sport England, are also living in a fantasy bubble, spending government money to justify their existence, while sport wends its own way, regardless of their input.
Following on from our strong editorial and lead article last month we have, not surprisingly, had quite a bit of feedback from various elements of the golf world.
Much of it has been positive and confirms that there is a deep dissatisfaction with England Golf, and some of it has been critical of our contempt for their authority. Below we have posted some of the responses that we had to the article.
What is clear is that England Golf is not universally popular with commercially-driven golf operators, who get meagre help in return for threats for payment if affiliation fees are not paid on time. These golf taxes are set to rise if England Golf get their way. There is already the disparity that commercial operators must pay VAT on affiliation fees, yet member owned clubs need not. It is also abundantly clear that England Golf is not yet interested in cutting their cloth according to their wallet, and, if central funding diminishes, then they will expect an increase in affiliation fees to fill the gap. It seems likely that they may offer an England Golf affiliation licence or similar, given that they have a lot of golf centres and courses that are completely unwilling to pass on an affiliation fee tax to all their members/season ticket holders. The value of this remains to be seen, but I fear it will be more than £200 per centre. It is far more likely that they will wish to collect several thousand pounds from each centre and then they can increase this each year at a rate of their choosing. For the time being at least, it is only the ‘members club’ that affiliates in any golf facility and NOT the facility. Golf centre and course operators really do not need to pay more if they do not want to - they need to merely adjust their constitution accordingly. Once a golfer gets a handicap, then I think he or she is fair game for the payment of an affiliation fee – until that point in a golfer’s progress, they should be untaxed.
It is not easy for golf clubs and courses at present and additional costs are never helpful for member owned clubs too. If affiliation fees rise any further then shouts of ‘foul’ will come from all directions.
As yet, we have had no response from England Golf. I had thought that they may wish to communicate with me to put their side of the story across, but as of going to press we have heard nothing – so much for engagement then.
Here are some comments from readers, which we have deliberately left as anonymous:
“At last, somebody has said the truth about England Golf. How much longer are we going to have to put up with their overblown administration, which is blighting the growth of the game?”
“ When we supported the fusing together of the old men’s and ladies’ golf unions/associations to create England Golf, we were promised that there would be savings and synergies. The Chief Executive at that time was John Petrie. John assured us that after the first year, the costs of affiliation fees would be able to reduce. The temptation to keep them at their new-found level has proved too great to resist. What a con.”
“England Golf do a lot of good for the game and you are making it harder for them to increase the number of new golfers.”
“In line with the English Golf Union rules of the time, our golf centres set up a members club to deal with all the competitions and handicaps and therefore we collected "season ticket" monies for many years. Also around 15 years ago we set up associate memberships, which allowed golfers a discounted day ticket, with a lower annual fee, which in turn allowed golfers to join the club, get a handicap and compete in events.
We have a dual system of associate membership, which gives a varying level of discount, related to the annual amount paid. The system works perfectly, giving us thousands of committed golfers, who regard themselves as ‘belonging’ to our facility, without the fully committed cost of a full 7-day membership.
At present we have over 2000 members across our clubs in all categories. About half of them are annual payers for unlimited golf. Interestingly, only a third of the 2000 are members of the members club as our type of new age golfer isn't interested in all the old fashioned competition golf and prefer to play with mates informally under their own "society" handicaps that their mates have awarded them!
I will not be under any circumstances changing this and if it means England Golf de-affiliating our clubs, so be it. I would create our own schemes and run the risk of losing a few members. I also believe we would still hold plenty of friendly matches with other clubs.”
“Obviously the government and HMRC must share the responsibility for their lack of fairness in dealing with proprietary golf clubs.”
“It is quite ridiculous for any organisation to increase the affiliation fees to any type of club or facility, which is struggling for numbers in this day and age. England Golf have done little or nothing to help any of the struggling courses that I know.”
“You seem intent on destroying an institution, which has provided lots of fun and enjoyment for thousands of golfers over the years.”
“I cannot bear the fact that we are forced to sell county cards if we wish to participate as affiliated golf clubs. These county cards are a genuine disadvantage to anybody running a commercial golf course operation. This is an idea that was created by customers for the benefit of customers and we as operators are being virtually blackmailed into accepting it.”
“My issue with England Golf started when they took all the money from the golf clubs and then bought their own golf club, creating competition to all the people that gave them the money in the first place. It was incredibly arrogant and self-centred.”
“I’ve just read your article in this month’s magazine, all excellent stuff but I doubt England Golf will take any notice. They will not take any notice until fundamental action is taken, something which completely undermines their income base.”
“I have long been opposed to the golf taxes that affiliation fees are.”
“Great stuff and a cracking read. I think you will have a few of the Colonel Blimps spluttering into their Kümmel!”
“Excellent article and I’m really pleased you have written this. .....only about a third of our members get any benefit from county or England Golf competitions. Many of them don’t even hold an active handicap. They do not think this is good value for money. What is worse, is that I am expected to pay for this non-valued privilege.”
Threat of Dis-Affiliation
Bearing in mind courses and clubs are extremely cooperative in the way that they deal with the local county unions and the whole issue of affiliation, it is perhaps a little surprising as to the level of threat that many counties will go to, if somebody was slightly late in paying. I attach an of example, which show such a lack of respect and the tendency of these ridiculous county officials threatening golf courses and centres, who are the real engines for the growth of the game. This is the charmless way that some counties interact with user-friendly golf centres.
We have been informed by England Golf that they must have your affiliation fees within 14 days to avoid dis-affiliation.
A copy is attached.
We cannot find your payment of the attached invoice.
England Golf, who retain much of this, have reported that your affiliation, and handicaps, will cease if not settled by the end of the month.
Sport England Under Attack Too
Ironically, given the timing, the Times published an article by their excellent sports writer Matthew Syed, who was calling for Sport England to be disbanded. We have several quotes from Matthew’s article and I commend him for his courage in taking such a strong stand, even though he is jeopardising some of his long-term friendships within sport.
The gist of his article is that Sport England claim to have increased participation in sport by their targeted funding and initiatives. Unfortunately, this does not ring true and the fact that Sport England moved the goal posts of participation has been noticed and exposed as the clear manipulation that it is.
In addition, Matthew explains that there is a major difference between ‘funding in’ and ‘additional sporting output.’
Many of the successes in Sport England’s recent funding have come in the more expensive sports, where funding is the only means of participation and can easily give us the edge on countries with smaller budgets.
“In 2005, Sport England took a belated decision to measure outcomes. A polling company was commissioned to assess the number of adults participating in three sessions of sport per week by making tens of thousands of phone calls. It was called the Active People survey, which cost around £5 million annually to collate, but the results were entirely predictable. The numbers participating in sport plateaued despite all the grandiose rhetoric.
“Sport England responded by changing the goalposts. Instead of targeting the number of people playing at least three times a week, it moved to a target of at least once a week. Despite the expensive boost of a home Olympics, an event that was supposed to turbocharge participation, activity declined according to this criterion, too. By 2016, the last year of the Active People survey, 15.8 million people played sport at least once week, a fall of 0.4 per cent since 2012.”
Sports organisations are not very good at getting people to do things – entrepreneurs are much better at it. England Golf, like Sport England want to claim all sorts of participation in golf as their work. This will entitle them to more money, from, wait for it….. Sport England. A couple of dummies stitched together, with neither having the foggiest idea of how to grow participation.
My very real preference would be for England Golf to focus entirely on elite golf, with national and international competitions. Leave the growth of the game to commercial forces and economic opportunities seen and fulfilled by clear-sighted leisure operators.
Without Sport England funding, England Golf will definitely not be able to continue in its current activities. Major changes will have to be made. The sale of Woodhall Spa – and a move to a more central location – a downscaling of staff, and a refocusing on elite golf. All rather good for golf, but perhaps not so good for those RAAJs (Results Averse Activity Justifiers), who speak of ‘moving forward’ and ‘frameworks’, without having a ‘Scooby Doo’ on how to grow the game.
I rather hope that Matt Hancock, the secretary of state for digital, culture, media and sport, has the balls to pull the plug on Sport England, which, in Matthew Syed’s own words is: ‘….one of Britain’s most powerful and parasitic lobbies.”
Matthew Syed, makes dozens of beautiful points in his article, but the most damning is that, like most quangos, Sport England is world-class, not unfortunately at driving outcomes, but at finding ever more creative ways to justify their existence. It is a shame that this particular skill has also been so well mastered by England Golf.