Matthew Pitt features in Social Golf article published in Australian Golf Digest

Matthew Pitt has been heavily quoted in an article published in the June edition of Australian Golf Digest.  The article, The Social Movement, centres on the changing face of golf and the many options golfers are being presented with when it comes to getting their regular golfing fix.  See below for the transcript of the article:


More than any other sport, what goes up in golf certainly must come down.

Australians are all too familiar with hangovers, yet golfers Down Under still weren’t prepared for the ‘morning after’ the Greg Norman era. Of all the areas of the game that suffered – course construction, residential golf development, participation – club memberships were hit the hardest. But it wasn’t just because the Great White Shark moved into new chapters of his career.

Work habits changed, and population growth created longer commutes and working hours. Then, the price of real estate and cost of living grew disproportionately to wage increases. Before we knew it, golfers could no longer justify spending several thousand dollars a year on a golf club membership if they were only getting out to play less than 10 rounds.

But like a cold sports drink to a hangover, social golf clubs nursed the industry and, suddenly, a coping mechanism was created. Networks began to pop up offering golfers a recognised handicap and a means to play competitive golf without having to hit the course twice a week to justify the financial outlay.

Matthew Pitt was at the forefront of the social golf club movement as it began to gain momentum in Australia, and witnessed firsthand the change to the membership landscape.

Pitt founded Bushranger Golf – which gave golfers nationwide access to affiliate handicaps and amateur and social events – before creating Social Golf Australia (SGA).

“It’s not that the sport became too expensive, or even that people couldn’t afford their memberships. It was the value and free time which declined,” says Pitt.

“The thing we hear most from people who had been members of clubs is, ‘I don’t have the time to play as much golf’ or ‘I’m paying $2,000 and I only got out for five games last year’. These golfers have kids and busy jobs – they barely see the family all week and the last thing they want to do on a Saturday is spend another six hours away from them.

“But they never wanted to stop playing golf. And if a mate called and asked them to play a corporate golf day they wanted to have a handicap ready to go.”

To its credit, Golf Australia recognised the demand and created the Golf Access Australia (GAA) program in 2004, with the aim of forging a pathway for social golfers to eventually convert into club members. It was operated on a state level, administered  by GAA providers that had acquired the appropriate accreditation. Subsequently, social clubs such as Bushranger Golf and SGA grew quickly – Pitt registered 29 handicaps in 2007, 70 in 2008 and 130 the following year. Now, SGA is set to maintain 2,000 handicaps in 2016.

“But there was a lot of opposition from golf clubs in Australia,” says Pitt. “Perhaps they felt their traditional membership model was being undermined, even though Golf Australia reassured clubs the intention of GAA was not to target club members, but to create a pathway for social golfers to engage with clubs and access club memberships.”

Eventually, traditional clubs and Golf Australia reached an agreement – a moratorium on social golf clubs registering anyone who had been a member of a golf club in the previous two years. It was then cut down to 12 months. Still, the clubs opposed GAA and it was eventually scrapped by the national body in 2012.

That was despite the fact Golf Australia couldn’t find any data to suggest social golf providers were taking the traditional clubs’ share of the member market.

“There is no evidence that members of traditional clubs are leaving to join social clubs. Golf Australia monitors this closely,” says GA game development director Cameron Wade.

With clubs’ initial fears hosed down, it begs the question: can traditional clubs and social providers actually work together to grow the game of golf? Absolutely, Wade believes. “Social golf clubs are important in growing participation and providing an entry point into the game,” he says.

“They can be a pathway and a feeder into traditional club membership. In fact, evidence shows that members of social golf clubs have transitioned into joining a traditional club.”

Article originally published as ‘The Social Movement’ – Australian Golf Digest (June 2016)

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