• Big issue: Virtual reality in South African golf

    Golf memberships
    Traditional vs Virtual: That is the question

    This month’s Big Issue we weigh up the pros and cons of traditional and virtual golf memberships, writes WADE PRETORIUS in Compleat Golfer.

    You either love them or hate them. At 19th holes around the country, you will struggle to find a four-ball on the fence regarding the debate whether or not virtual memberships are good for golf.

    Most of the time the issue of virtual memberships is expanded to include (or divide) players from two categories: those who are members of a club where they play their golf most of the time, and those who sign up with clubs – real and mythical online beasts – and don’t visit their ‘home course’ because it either lies in another province or is used only for handicap purposes.

    I’ve been on both sides of the debate. I was a long-time member of a club I still consider my ‘home course’, but resigned when I moved to another town. There I found no economic solution to my problem of the high costs of making another course my home. I duly signed up online to pay a monthly fee in exchange for ‘membership’ of a club and two rounds a month – and it worked well for a while.

    There are certainly benefits to both. It’s a great feeling walking into a club where you know many people by name, share camaraderie, have intimate knowledge of the course and the greens, and take advantage of the ever-expanding list of post-round activities – quiz nights, musical events, etc – which have now increased to make things more family-friendly. But those ‘perks’ come at a cost that many golfers in South Africa simply cannot afford.

    The game is not cheap, but the emergence of the alternatives to joining only one club has allowed players to stay in the game longer than they would ordinarily be able to, and has even helped grow the game by providing a cost-effective solution for new players.

    Both sides of the debate also have their negatives, and these are not simply financial. Members of a club can find booking a tee time harder when bulk slots are made available to visitors, while non-members don’t have the incentive to keep up with the pace of play, to treat the course like their own, fill divots, rake bunkers and fix pitch marks. And then there’s the dreaded ‘us versus them’ mentality.

    A major stumbling block to brokering peace between the virtual and traditional divide is that handicaps are far easier to manipulate – yes, that issue is still rife and will be brought up later in this series – if you are just entering the scores online.

    Many still feel it is socially acceptable to rock up at a golf day, shoot a net 64 or 65, offer ‘it’s my lucky day’ and walk off with the best prize. Doing that three times in as many months as a member of a club will quickly be ‘dealt with’ by the club captain and fellow players.

    It’s plain to see from any angle that is not good for golf in South Africa.

    What golf needs, with virtual memberships or traditional ones, are more people playing the game. We can only hope clubs are taking advantage of the free marketing to prospective members week in and week out. Is something being done to convert them to members of the club, or is the financial reward from green fees in bulk enough?

    It is also clear that traditional memberships need to be revamped – by creating new categories – to make it attractive to convert from the virtual world and become ‘part of the family’.

    For now, virtual memberships are going nowhere. Clubs need to appease their members by making sure these visitors fit into the field when they arrive, and monitor them with the use of marshals to ensure they keep up with the field and adhere to the rules of the game.

    Getting more people into the game, then into clubs and getting them physically and financially invested has to be the goal if golf is going to survive in these harsh economic times.

    READER FEEDBACK FROM LAST MONTH’S ISSUE ON SLOW PLAY 

    On a recent trip to Canada to visit my son, I tried to call on as many golf clubs as possible to see how they do things in a country where golf isn’t played all year round due to the weather.

    During winter, the clubs suffer from a lack of rounds played, and during the non-winter months all the ‘hungry’ golfers and clubs try to catch up on lost time. Needless to say, the clubs are then extremely busy and they try to fit in as many rounds of golf as possible.

    I came across a scorecard used at Hazelmere Golf Club in the Vancouver area where time-saving and an increase in golfing rounds is of major importance, and proposals for speeding up a game are made on the back of the scorecard. My mates and I tried the time-saving tactics at our local course and it works!

    Perhaps we too, can create a ‘new’ culture among our golfing fraternity.

    Louw du Plooy

    – This article first appeared in the November issue of Compleat Golfer, now on sale!

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