THE BLOG

Why More Diversity in Golf Will Benefit Us All

24/09/2014 11:00 BST | Updated 23/11/2014 10:59 GMT

As the Ryder Cup tees off tomorrow, there will be one big difference. With Tiger Woods not taking part due to ongoing back problems, there will be no black and minority ethnic (BME) competitors. Despite the fame of Woods, at the highest level, golf remains a mainly white, male and middle class sport. In fact, 63% of all golfers in Europe are adult men with women making up just 23%, and young people 14%.

There is no doubt that golf is trying to change this image. Just last Thursday, the Royal & Ancient Golf Club in St Andrews voted to lift its 260-year ban on female members and Augusta, the Georgia home of the Masters, finally admitted women in 2012.

These changes are welcome but, to be honest, this move is long overdue. Women's top golf players already draw huge crowds, with this year's Solheim Cup organisers now looking to broadcast the next event. The players are also commanding impressive pay, with top earner Karrie Webb racking up $18.5 million in career winnings. And young celebrities like 17 year old Charlie Hull will no doubt inspire more young women to take part.

But at grassroots level, things are a little different. Recent data from Sport England shows that the number of people playing golf regularly fell in 2014. In particular, if you're a young lad or lass living in one of the UK's most disadvantaged areas, opportunities to play golf will be slim.

The good news is that national governing bodies (NGBs) are already responding. In June, England Golf announced a new commitment to grassroots players by introducing golf in the right way to get people playing. The Sports Council for Wales and the Golf Union of Wales are also making golf more accessible to young people through their Golf Development Wales initiative. We know from our own experience at StreetGames that providing activities in the right style really works to engage people.

Through the StreetGolf initiative, we're working with the Golf Foundation to get more young people playing, especially in disadvantaged communities. The idea is to create golf sessions that can take place anywhere -a football pitch, a sports hall or even a car park - to make golf accessible to those who don't have access to traditional facilities. We've already set up 35 projects benefiting 400 young people and by March 2015, we'll be running 70 StreetGolf projects across the country.

By taking golf to these communities, we also want to engage girls and those from BME backgrounds. We're currently running golf sessions at female-only clubs and aim to engage 26% BME participants across StreetGolf. We also have young golfing ambassadors on board like Us Girls Champion Sammy Fuller, who will inspire girls to give it a try.

Through projects like StreetGolf and our other doorstep sport projects, we're helping young people lead more active lifestyles and take part in sports they wouldn't normally have access too. We're also aiming to build sustainable projects that become part of the fabric of the community, leading to stronger and safer neighbourhoods and a championing of social action and volunteering.

But there's still a long way to go. We're having success in creating an interest in golf. But where do these young people go when they're too old to attend a youth group? Membership fees at golf clubs are out of reach for the majority and even municipal pay and play courses cost around £10 in Wales and £20 in London for 18-holes. And if your nearest course is private and charges membership fees, this cost will be even higher. When you consider that the poorest households spend just £2 a week on sport, it's difficult to see how these communities can take part.

But cost isn't the only barrier. If you're a young lad or lass from a disadvantaged community, the prospect of a golf club can be quite daunting. It's a different world, where particular rules and etiquette apply that can embarrass those who don't understand them and turn them the sport off for life. We either need to teach these youngsters the social expectations and rules or create a new type of golf club where the etiquette is stripped down to a set of easily understandable rules.

And these clubs definitely need new members. Figures from the Scottish Golf Union, the governing body, showed club membership fell 14 per cent between 2004 and 2013 to 227,292. Golf clubs need to be more innovative in their pricing to get more people playing, not only to be more inclusive but to keep themselves in business.

There's no doubt that getting more young people from disadvantaged and BME backgrounds playing golf is a good thing. It not only helps get youngsters more active but will also boost the image of golf as a more inclusive sport. And who knows? Perhaps the next Tiger Woods will be a success story from one of the UK's most deprived communities.