For a golf course to remain relevant it must appeal to younger generations, women and families. Recent commentary has suggested golf must reinvent itself the same way cricket has evolved, by introducing shorter versions of the game to new audiences. First there was 50 limited overs matches and more recently Twenty20.
Australian golfing legend Greg Norman, when interviewed by Australian Golf Digest (October 2015), declared he was a “big proponent of increasing the speed of the game; building 12-hole golf courses reducing the time.” When specifically asked if 12 hole layouts will become as popular as Twenty20 was to cricket, Norman responded “In the next generation, yeah. The answer is yes; I think all over the world…it will be and it won’t take much.”
Gibraltar presented the concept of trialling a 12 hole form of play, offering a shorter version of the game, at an information session for Councillors in October 2015, as Council is the owner of the land. Myths circulating about physical changes to the land or non-permissible activities such as residential development were dismissed by John Uliana of Gibraltar as untrue “These rumours are patently untrue, even fanciful, clearly you would have to own the land and rezone it before you could build anything on it. And I don’t know anyone in this community that wants to see that land built on.”
Gibraltar has responded to the new trend of golfers seeking to play a shorter version of the game by looking to transition the play on the course to 12 holes. The pathway to sustainability involves playing 12 holes achieving both a shorter version of the game for casual golfers and families, as well as meeting the needs of competition golfers holding a handicap score – who simply play 6 holes again to finish a round of 18 holes played. Australasia’s leading golf marketing company, Golf Industry Central (GIC), advised the club throughout the project.
John Uliana of Gibraltar has stated: “Our aim is to ensure a high quality golf experience exists for members, locals and visitors well into the future. We do not want to be one of those golf courses asleep at the wheel that fall by the wayside, as has happened in other regions. The best way we can preserve the legacy of the first course established in the Southern Highlands is by adapting to changing demands and market conditions. I am proud of what the team has achieved at Gibraltar and invite locals and visitors to come and trial the new play, practice range and activities for kids and families, an approach that will secure ongoing golfing experiences and local employment.”
Across Australia changes in lifestyle and competing leisure options have led to declining membership numbers, falling revenue and less women playing. Women previously represented 35 per cent of golfers in the 1970s but now only represent 21 per cent (Golf Participation Report 2014).
To overcome the decline in demand for traditional golf, proactive clubs are rethinking the golf experience they offer to broaden appeal.
According to Gibraltar Country Club, Golf Operations Manager Tony White “The 12 hole form of the game is ideally suited and appealing to; enthusiastic golfers that are time-poor people, less able bodied golfers and players new to the game and less capable. There is great flexibility with 12 holes, 6 holes can be played in an easily accessible one hour and fifteen minutes and 12 holes in two and a half hours. Golfers maintaining their handicap can play either 12 holes or 18 holes by playing 6 again.”
Facts (Golf Participation Report 2014):
• Golf club memberships are in decline nationally
• Two thirds of golf clubs have less than 200 members (not sustainable)
• Elite golf clubs, the top 5%, hold 25% of all members. The majority of clubs, 95%, share the remaining 75% of members (regional clubs must innovate to remain relevant)
• Female golfers in decline now only 21% (previously 35% in the 1970s)
• 60% of national golf membership is aged 55 years or greater
• NSW is the poorest performing state in terms of golf membership reduction