The old blazerati of the Scottish Golf Union had their faults: clumsiness, self-importance and occasionally some – ahem – entrenched views. But you could never fault their passion for golf.
When I started this job in the mid 1990s the SGU was famously run by secretary Ian Hume, the indefatigable Graham Ewart and two administrative assistants from a cottage in the car park of the Royal Burgess GS in Edinburgh.
It worked, but only because the avuncular Graham – a force of nature whose talents ranged from a forensic knowledge of the rules of golf to where to get the best ice cream in any place in Scotland – seemed to do everything.
Scottish Golf Limited, as it is now, would need about five people to do the job that Graham did – anyone would. But they have a damned sight more people than that working for them these days.
The old SGU floundered when it overreached itself with the ill-advised and ultimately ill-fated national golf centre at Drumoig. The current SGL is floundering financially as a result of the COVID-19 lockdown, but it goes a whole lot deeper than that.
In the past few weeks Eleanor Cannon, the Scottish Golf chair, has gone from one car crash to another. First, there was obviously premature decision to axe all competitions and performance programmes for 2020 due to the lockdown, in sharp contrast to our cousins in England, Ireland and Wales.
Then followed the departure of Andrew McKinlay as chief executive last week, which not surprisingly brought a whole number of questions as the former SFA chief operating officer was the third CEO in Cannon’s term.
Her response to some perfectly reasonable media coverage of Scottish Golf’s difficulties and a critique of her performance as chair was to claim “intimidation and harassment” in a spectacularly ill-advised “open letter” on social media.
This brought derision from figures in golf no less distinguished than BOTH the last two Team Europe captains, Thomas Bjorn and Catriona Matthew, among others.
Then Cannon braved the Radio Scotland’s Sportsound programme on Sunday where she read from what was obviously a prepared statement and then bristled at some direct questioning from the Beeb’s Tom English.
Who exactly is advising Scottish Golf on their communications strategy? You couldn’t see as many own goals in a week of public park football.
The lockdown has clearly resulted in serious, existential issues for Scottish Golf. 40 per cent of member clubs are withholding their annual subscriptions, creating a predicted shortfall of £1 million. This is why, Cannon told Sportsound, Andrew McKinlay walked.
But the question that needs answering is not why Cannon has had four chief executives in her tenure – these things happen – nor indeed why she is still in situe herself but why Scottish Golf needs the £1 million in the first place.
The organisation is still operating, with that shortfall and with considerable staff furloughs.
Cannon also told Sportsound that the clubs’ annual subscription for 2020 would now be rebated, which surely will create an ever bigger funding shortfall.
Why do – or did – they need all this cash? Scottish Golf is a union of Scotland’s 550 golf clubs, for the primary purpose of running international teams, national competitions and coaching programmes for juniors. It’s also a safety net for clubs that get in difficulty or dispute.
Yet those core values, the teams, the championships and the coaching programmes were the first things to be axed as a result of this current predicament.
In contrast, it’s illuminating to see that 40% of member clubs looked to where they could first cut costs and opted for their SGL subs. Doesn’t that say something quite direct about the value of the organisation to its members?
SGL has been overreaching again, as it did in a previous form with the national golf centre. It wants to run a centralised tee booking system for clubs, free of charge, undercutting private booking agencies who already provide the service, and who are understandably upset and considering legal redress.
But even putting that aside, Scottish Golf has become overbearing and actually demanding to its members.
Just in the past month SGL has asked clubs for sensitive private financial details, and recently they wanted to harvest the data of all golf clubs and club members in Scotland and flog it to the highest bidder (this was before the Facebook data scandal).
The cash is also being spent on “promotion”. There are SGL “media” people at many big tour events filming with hi-tech gear on the range and trying (pitifully) to ape the European Tour’s excellent social media content.
SGL doesn’t really need to be involved in promotions or generating moneymaking ideas – sorry if that’s not proactive and dynamic enough for you. It needs to pick and fund the national amateur teams, run the championships and stay the hell out of the way of the business of private clubs and golfers unless they’re asked to help.
Until they realise what they should be, SGL is likely to lurch from crisis to crisis no matter who is in charge.
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