THe news today that one of the best known golf clubs in the Lothians is close to administration should concern us all – because it could be the first of many.
Lothianburn Golf Club is a hilly and historic challenge which lies adjacent to the Hillend ski centre and enjoys spectacular views of Edinburgh and Fife. Its steep slopes mean it is not for everyone, but this is not the reason why Lothianburn and many other golf clubs in the region are struggling.
Firstly, the increased number of leisure options have made more people consider whether golf is a valuable use of their time.
With slow play a growing problem, many rounds of golf can take more than four hours (and even longer), meaning that a simple 18 holes can now take most of the day, once travel time and a drink in the bar afterwards is factored in.
And, of course, that drink in the bar tends to be just one and often just a soft drink. Golf clubs used to factor in reasonable profits from bar sales and catering but drink drive laws have long ended this practice.
This has all led to a dwindling number of people who are prepared to pay in excess of £500 a year for the privilege of a membership. Long waiting lists are now rare. Clubs instead are offering reduced joining fees, discounted subscriptions and other baubles to get new blood in the door.
The other factor is increased competition. Many new golf clubs have opened in the last 20 years. In East Lothian, for example, Craigielaw, Archerfield (two courses), Renaissance and Whitekirk, have diluted the pool of members.
Why does it matter? Firstly, Scotland is the home of golf and we should want sport to succeed and thrive. But secondly golf clubs own huge areas of open green space which will be attractive for housing and office space. Do we want the green space concreted over?
We need to think about that because other clubs are in a similarly precarious position to Lothianburn.