Golf is facing a cultural and generational challenge. Between 2005 and 2007, the number of registered golf players in Scotland fell 29%, almost a third from the previous total. This is a considerable loss, raising questions about the sustainability of the industry and about the game itself.

According to the BBC, Andrew McKinlay, Scottish Golf’s chief executive, says that the sport needs a “cultural change” and attracting young players should be the primary goal. This issue is affecting several games and activities. Unless kids and young people want to become professionals, like so many times happens with football, adopting the cultural trend of the time seems inevitable.

Relax rules

Mr McKinlay was very specific. He said that if kids don’t want to dress up formally to attend a golf meeting, they shouldn’t be forced to do it. And if kids want to be allowed to use their smartphones during the game, they also should be allowed.

Rules should also be relaxed regarding monetisation. Today, people are less prone to invest in a membership and stick with a single service provider, and this leisure activity should be no different. If potential clients prefer a “pay per play” model, clubs should give them that model. An alternative business and market approach are needed, according to Mr McKinlay.

Mental health

Mr McKinlay also told BBC about his audacious efforts to include golf in the National Health Service (NHS), to be prescribed by doctors in cases of cardiac, respiratory and mental issues. While the game forces people to move around and be outdoors without being too demanding, Mr McKinlay emphasises mental health benefits. Physical activity combined with socialisation should present patients with good opportunities to recover.

The “2018 International Consensus Statement on Golf and Health to guide action by people, policymakers and the golf industry”, published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, gathered 25 experts around this idea.

Is golf going more informal?

The ‘relax rules’ advice of Mr McKinlay may cause some old-fashion players to turn their heads. However, this sport was always a game with a great deal of an informal attitude. Surely you need to respect sportsmanship and etiquette, but in what other sport is it possible to eat and drink during playing? And if it’s not required a particular uniform (because it’s not a collective game, and its less movement than tennis), why not let kids dress more casually?