THE coronavirus pandemic has led to a sharp rise in membership applications at golf clubs across the country, Scottish Golf chair Elanor Cannon has revealed.  

Cannon addressed more than 100 delegates at the governing body’s first virtual annual general meeting on Thursday evening.

The AGM was told the long-term decline in members at Scottish clubs slowed significantly last year.

There were only 500 fewer adult members during 2019 – far less than the 5,500 decrease between 2017 and 2018.

Cannon also revealed that many clubs which have only offered tee times to members since lockdown restrictions were relaxed had been inundated with enquiries about membership.

She said: “We are getting very positive feedback from lots of clubs which are dealing with membership applications on a scale they’ve not seen for years.

“We have heard of clubs that have had over 80 new membership applications in the past few weeks and that’s a very welcome trend we hope continues throughout the year.

“Many of those applications are from golfers who would otherwise play as visitors, but we have also received reports of new applications from people who visited golf courses for the first time to walk and exercise during the lockdown and have been encouraged to join by the friendly responses they received from existing members.”

The AGM heard how Scottish Golf rebated £575,000 to clubs to help them deal with the loss of green fees and clubhouse takings after the pandemic forced courses to close back in March. 

In addition, a £40,000 emergency fund was established to help clubs which have been particularly badly affected by the impact of the lockdown restrictions.

Cannon also told AGM delegates that investing in Venue Management System, an online booking, handicap and membership system, had paid off and predicted technology would play a key role in helping clubs deal with the challenges of the pandemic. 

She said: “Among a host of benefits, the new system allows for much simpler tee-time booking and eliminates the need for paper score cards for competitive play, so it’s proving a significant asset in allowing our clubs to function smoothly and safely for their members.

“The feedback from those clubs which have already adopted the Venue Management System (VMS) has been overwhelmingly positive. We believe our digital scorecard is the only one on the market in the UK that fully complies with competition rules allowing players to complete and submit their scores from their mobile phone.

“However, the VMS is not just important for coping with social distancing – it also drives value back to clubs by providing a fully integrated platform allowing clubs to promote their open competitions to a wider audience once Covid-19 restrictions are lifted, helping make our game more accessible to all.

“This is vitally important as we continue our efforts to promote our game and broaden the demographic of Scottish golfers, attracting more girls, boys and women to the sport and, in turn, making our courses more accessible to disabled players."

Cannon praised Scotland's golf clubs for how they had complied with government social distancing guidelines since lockdown resrictions were eased.   

“Our clubs and members also deserve enormous credit for the way they have responded to the restrictions forced upon us all by Covid-19," she said. "We recognise what an immensely frustrating and difficult period this has been, even as we begin to return to some semblance of normality.

"However, it is only because of the strict compliance and positive approach by clubs and members that we have been able to get back out playing again.”

"Finally, I’d like to offer my sincere condolences to those who have lost loved ones to Covid-19. Many clubs have lost valued members and friends to this disease in recent months and our thoughts go out to their families and friends.”