The value of golf to the UK economy

Two weeks ago, I was particularly pleased that I was granted this Adjournment Debate in the wake of the launch, hosted by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Golf of which I am Chairman, of a report by Professor Shibli at Sheffield Hallam University into the benefits to the UK economy of golf. This report was instigated and funded by the Royal & Ancient, the home of golf.

As my Rt. Hon Friend the Minister is surely aware, as are you Deputy Speaker, many facets of life depend on impeccable…timing.

Indeed all the sports that I regularly play, many representing Parliamentary Teams, rely on good co-ordination and timing, and as such this report’s launch and this Adjournment Debate coincides with last weekend’s exciting golf where Danny Willett won the US Masters alongside the fact that six of the top 15 players at the tournament were all British.

Perhaps, they were told last weekend about the importance of this upcoming Adjournment Debate and my starring role - although I think other factors may have provided any extra incentive they might have needed.

Our great sporting nation invented or codified practically every global sport, an amazing achievement, and golf is no different. Amongst the constant clatter and chatter of football, the hurly burly of rugby union or league, and, the more measured poise of cricket, golf stands out as a sport that can be played and enjoyed by all in our society – indeed there are around 3,000 golf clubs across the United Kingdom.

No player can rely on his or her team mates, the decisions of a referee or the noise from the home crowd, it is one man or woman – against one course. That is all. Two foes fighting each other for control – the ultimate battle both physical and mental. Although as I was recently informed, some view golf as a game played across a distance not of a course, or a fairway, but of the 51/2 inches between your ears, it can be a sport as frustrating and rewarding as one wants it to be.

Amongst all of this preamble, I mentioned the report I was proud to help launch. The report “A Satellite Account for Golf in the UK” shows explicitly the value in a monetary sense of Golf to the UK economy and this Debate will enable the House to both recognise and celebrate its contribution on a myriad of levels including economic, but also the benefits health wise to participants.

And at this point, I would like to congratulate Martin Slumbers and all at the Royal & Ancient who supported the report and Professor Shibli of Sheffield Hallam University Sport Industry Research Centre who produced it, the first of its kind for an individual sport in the UK.

I am aware that the Government in its Sporting Future strategy has set five priorities, one of which is economic development. When the results of the widely available report I referred to were published last month, it is clear that golf makes a vast contribution to our economy, much of which is unheralded and unsung thus far, I trust this Debate will go some way in promulgating the good news.

The economic value is clear, with nearly four million people playing golf once a year and 1.5 million people playing golf every four weeks, a number even larger than those employed in the National Health Service, the total economic activity of golf exceeds a staggering £10 billion per annum.

Overall, its positive contribution to the British economy is over £2 billion, not just directly through golf clubs and through our vibrant golf equipment industry and golf shops but also with the construction and real estate industries.

I am particularly pleased that England Golf is the home of the amateur game in this country, and is based in my County of Lincolnshire in my Honourable friend’s Louth and Horncastle constituency in Woodhall Spa, so the game’s contribution is well spread across our proud nation. And I doubt even those of my colleagues who want us to Remain in the European Union can come up with a scare story about the damage Leaving might hypothetically do to this great game of ours – the Ryder Cup is surely safe no matter what happens on 23rd June.

The final piece of the economic jigsaw is the number of people who work in golf with an estimated 75,000 people directly employed in the UK, the equivalent of 54,000 full time workers from Land’s End to John O’Groats. When the sport is on the world stage like it will be at Royal Troon for the British Open in July of this year, the economic benefits for the local economy stretch far and wide. Even our friends from the north in Scotland must concede that the English have assisted in the promotion and healthy aspect of their tourism industry where golf is concerned.

Of course it is not just about jobs and money, vital as these are, with golf being the fifth largest sport in the UK in terms of participation, the health benefits are clear for so many who take part. If everyone played a round every week, perhaps the obesity problem we face would soon be eradicated.

Because golf cannot be played without indulging in physical exertion, indeed it has been termed by some as a good walk interspersed with elation and frustration – often in unequal measure. It is a sport which supports our Government’s aim of ensuring the nation’s population are active. On average a game of 18 holes involves walking circa 6 miles. I personally would disagree with this figure as someone of my playing standard I often find myself walking perhaps double that distance as I search for my balls in the rough off the fairway, often on both sides, and dig them out of bunkers - some have remarked that I am lucky I have a soft touch in my short play...

More seriously, golf is a sport which supports participation by men and women across all age groups. It is not subject to the declines you seen in some sports once people reach their early 20s such as team sports; golf participation rates tend to increase up until the 30s and hold steady until people come to retirement. It is a game for all. Indeed.

All of this shows why Golf adds such value to our economy, to employment, to our environment and to our public health.

And it is why I felt it was important to secure this Adjournment Debate, to ensure golf receives the recognition it deserves and also to build on the recent re-formation of the new All Party Parliamentary Group for Golf, an important new step. For far too long Golf has only been recognised in both Houses by the Parliamentary Golf Society, an august and traditional body, whose role it seems, to some, has only been to help traditional Parliamentarians play 19 holes together rather than celebrating the positive impact this great game has across the nation.

Some of us who came up against this closed shop in the last Parliament decided to reinvigorate the APPGG with the simple aim of promoting participation in golf across the ages and sexes - our European neighbours see ladies and girls participation rates at double that in the UK and we want to close that gap. Golf can be, and is, a game to be enjoyed by all the family.

And secondly and just importantly as it goes hand in hand with our first priority at the APPGG of participation is that of changing the perception of golf. This great sport is for all ages and we want to encourage young girls and boys to try the game, whatever their background and where they live, and to continue to play throughout their lives with their friends and families. Who knows it may not be a further 20 years before we see another British winner of the US Masters.

There has been some great work from England Golf and their new Chief Executive, Nick Pink, the Golf Trust and others, and all four home unions with specific projects in Inner City areas, the national Get Into Golf campaign and help for those with disabilities to take part in the sport. Indeed in my honourable and learned friend’s Sleaford and North Hykeham constituency, next to my own; Lincoln Golf Centre, has launched a project to help those with dementia play and continue to play Golf. Happily hosted by Brian Logan and supported by Anthony Blackburn, founder of Golf In Society they invited me along before Easter to meet their players and family, friends and carers, some of whom enjoy a morning of respite whilst their husbands, wives, friends or partners enjoyed some golf.

In addition, the end of April is the start of National Golf Month and this is something I am sure the whole House will support and indeed there is an event on Speaker’s Green, here in Parliament to promote the participation in golf, on Wednesday 27th April which My Right Honourable Friend the Minister has been invited to, and I am sure Deputy Speaker, you and all my colleagues from across this House would enjoy taking part. The conclusion of the Report demonstrates that golf is of considerable importance to the economic contribution of sport within the UK economy. At the heart of the industry is a thriving club sector.

However, the sport's presence in tourism, hospitality, construction, equipment, clothing, betting and events are all notable areas of golf's economic impact, as is its contribution to taxation.

The report provides a replicable economic baseline for the golf industry, against which the future development of the sport can be measured. With golf making its return to the Olympic Games at Rio 2016 and the economy on an upward growth path, the economic and sporting conditions are favourable for the UK golf industry to develop further.

So I am looking forward to hearing the response this evening from My Right Honourable Friend, including I hope his acceptance of my invitation passed on to him for a round of golf this summer at either Bexleyheath or Barnehurst Golf Clubs in his own constituency, who have obviously noted his renowned sporting prowess.

Karl McCartney JP MP