Skip to main content

Economic Value of Golf

Volume 608: debated on Wednesday 13 April 2016

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Margot James.)

Two weeks ago, I was particularly pleased to have secured this Adjournment debate in the wake of the launch, hosted by the all-party group on golf, of which I am chairman, of a report by Professor Shibli at Sheffield Hallam University on the benefits to the UK economy of golf. The report was instigated and funded by the Royal and Ancient, the home of golf.

As my right hon. Friend the Minister is aware, and as maybe you are Madam 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. The report’s launch and this Adjournment debate coincides with last weekend’s exciting golf, where Danny Willett won the US Masters. Six of the top 15 players at the tournament were 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. Golf is no different. Among 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 about 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. I was recently informed that some view golf as a game played across a distance not of a course or a fairway, but of the five-and-a-half inches between the ears. It can be a sport as frustrating and rewarding as one wants it to be.

Among all the preamble, I mentioned the report that 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. This debate will enable the House to recognise and celebrate golf’s contribution on myriad levels, including economically and to the health of participants.

At this point, I would like to congratulate Martin Slumbers and all at the Royal and 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 would like to congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this important debate, and to acknowledge his work as part of the all-party group on golf. He raises an important point about economic value. Does he agree with me that there is a particular value to small business, as I well know round about St Andrews and elsewhere in North East Fife? He is also right to acknowledge the health benefits for people of all ages of taking part in golf.

I thank my colleague and fellow all-party group chairman for his welcome intervention.

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

The economic value is clear: with nearly 4 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.

I am glad that my hon. Friend has secured this debate. Although I cannot challenge St Andrews, Dorset has many fine golf courses. In terms of economic benefit, golf provides useful employment, especially for younger people living in a rural area. Does he agree that that is vital in our more rural areas?

Indeed it is, and I thank my hon. Friend for making the case for Dorset, as one of the many parts of the nation, both urban and rural, where golf is important. I shall come on to some of the statistics later in my speech.

Overall, golf’s positive contribution to the British economy is over £2 billion per annum, not just directly through golf clubs and through our vibrant golf equipment industry and golf shops, but indirectly through the construction and real estate industries.

I am particularly pleased that England Golf is the home of the amateur game in this country. It is based in my county of Lincolnshire in Woodhall Spa in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Louth and Horncastle (Victoria Atkins), so the game’s contribution is well spread across our nation. I doubt that even colleagues who want us to remain in the European Union could come up with a scare story about the damage that leaving might hypothetically do to this great game of ours—the Ryder cup is surely safe, no matter what happens on 23 June.

I congratulate my hon. Friend and namesake on securing this debate. I have a family interest in that my dad and constituent Bob is a keen player at Meltham golf club in my constituency. In talking about the economic benefits, will my hon. Friend also acknowledge those in the clothing and equipment supply chains? Glenbrae Leisure in Slaithwaite, for example, makes lots of jumpers and leisure wear, and the cloth in the green jacket that Danny Willett wore in Augusta at the masters was woven and dyed in my constituency on the outskirts of Huddersfield.

I thank my good friend, distant relative and fellow all-party group officer for his interjection. He never fails to take the opportunity to make a good point in this Chamber.

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, as it will be at the 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.

As the Member who represents Royal Troon, in my maiden speech I paid tribute to it and welcomed people to come and attend the open in July. As I said, my house is not quite big enough, but my garden is quite big if people want to bring a tent. Anyone wanting advice on eateries, travel or anything else about Royal Troon is welcome to speak to me.

That is very kind of the hon. Lady. I am happy to have been able to tee that up, so that she could drive that intervention down the fairway! Sorry, everybody; I must stop it.

Of course, golf is not just about jobs and money, vital as these are. Golf is the fifth largest sport in the UK in terms of participation, and the health benefits are clear for so many who take part in it. If everyone played a round every week, perhaps the obesity problem we face in our country would soon be eradicated. No one can play golf without indulging in physical exertion. Indeed, the game has been described by some as a good walk interspersed with some elation and frustration, often in unequal measure. Golf is a sport that supports our Government’s aim of ensuring that the nation’s population are active. On average, a game of 18 holes involves walking about six miles, although I personally would disagree with that figure. Given 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 to have a soft touch in my short game.

More seriously, golf is a sport that supports participation by men and women across all age groups. It is not subject to the decline in participation in some sports, such as team sports, by people who have reached their early twenties. Golf participation rates tend to increase until people are in their thirties and remain steady until they retire. It is, indeed, a game for all.

My hon. Friend is making some excellent points. Does he agree that municipal golf courses are particularly important? Is it not disgraceful that my local council, Pendle borough council, is proposing to close the only municipal golf course in Pendle in order to save £50,000 a year? The same council, in the same month, spent £300,000 on the purchase of a disused building in another part of the borough, so it clearly has a lot of money and does not need to make that saving. It simply does not recognise the importance of golf to people in all age groups. This is a real sport in which everyone can get involved, and the borough should save our local golf course.

I thank my good friend and fellow traveller for his intervention, but unfortunately that is not the only example in the country. In my home area, Wirral council, which is also Labour-controlled, will get rid of the municipal golf course if it has its way, and in Lewisham, one of the oldest courses—perhaps even the oldest—is also under threat.

In Troon, we are lucky enough to have 12,000 souls and nine golf courses, three of which are municipal. The hon. Gentleman spoke of people playing until retirement. In fact, golf is one of the few sports in which people can engage in their eighties and nineties. Our ladies’ club certainly includes players who are well into their nineties. Such courses should not be got rid of.

I shall come on to some of the other options for people who want to play golf in their retirement.

All that shows why golf adds such value to our economy, to employment, to our environment, and to our public health. I felt that it was important to secure this debate because I wanted to ensure that golf received the recognition that 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 been to help traditional parliamentarians to play 19 holes together rather than celebrating the positive impact of the game throughout the nation. Some of us who came up against that closed shop in the last Parliament decided to reinvigorate the APPG with the simple aim of promoting participation in golf across the ages and sexes. Our European neighbours see ladies’ and girls’ participation rates that are double ours in the UK, and we want to close that gap. Golf can be, and is, a game to be enjoyed by all the family.

The first priority of the APPG is participation, but hand in hand with that goes an aim that is just as important—the aim to change the perception of golf. This great sport is for all ages, and we want to encourage young girls and boys to try it, whatever their background and wherever 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.

Some great work has been done by England Golf and its new chief executive, Nick Pink, by the Golf Trust and by others. All four home unions have specific projects in inner-city areas, including the national Get Into Golf campaign and help for those with disabilities to take part in the sport. In the neighbouring constituency of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Stephen Phillips), Lincoln Golf Centre recently launched a project to help people with dementia to play and continue to play golf, which is happily hosted by Brian Logan and supported by Anthony Blackburn, founder of Golf In Society. Before Easter I was invited to meet players and their families, friends and carers, some of whom enjoyed a morning of respite while their husbands, wives, friends or partners enjoyed some golf.

The end of April marks the start of national golf month, which I am sure the whole House will support. On Wednesday 27 April there will be an event on Speaker’s Green to promote participation in golf. My right hon. Friend the Minister has been invited, and I am sure that you, Madam Deputy Speaker—as a member of the all-party parliamentary group—and all my colleagues throughout the 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.

I am interested in investment in golf tourism, and the results of that and of direct spending in constituencies. In my constituency, we have 30 courses. A £10,000 investment by Visit Scotland and the local council has led to almost £500,000 of indirect and direct revenues. Should we not be using this debate—I am sure the hon. Gentleman will agree—to put pressure on tourist boards and local authorities to put more money into attracting golf visitors to the UK, because the bang for our buck there is clearly higher than it would be elsewhere?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. I agree with virtually all the points he made. The many disparate and far-reaching organisations within golf need to work with those outside the sport to ensure that it achieves the participation level that it should, at various levels.

The conclusion of the report demonstrates that golf is of considerable importance to the economic contribution of sport in 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 later this year 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 from my right hon. Friend the Minister, including his acceptance, I hope, of my invitation to him for a round of golf this summer at either Bexleyheath or Barnehurst golf clubs in his constituency, which have obviously noted his renowned sporting prowess.

I thank the House for its attention.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Lincoln (Karl MᶜCartney) on securing the debate and on his constructive and interesting speech. I commend all those who have made interventions highlighting the golf courses in their constituency, and my hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley (Jason McCartney) for giving us some history about the jacket and the tweed involved. It is also good to see my hon. Friend the Member for South Derbyshire (Heather Wheeler) in her seat. Before the debate, she highlighted the fact that I should mention the apprenticeships in her area and the green keepers and professionals in her golf clubs. We have had an interesting tour around the country and its golf courses.

It is particularly timely that we consider the matter in the wake of a hugely successful Masters tournament for British golfers. I add my congratulations to Danny Willett, whose fantastic performance led him to his first Green Jacket—the first for a British golfer in 20 years. I also congratulate Lee Westwood, Paul Casey, Matthew Fitzpatrick and Justin Rose on finishing in the top 10 —quite an achievement and what a result for our country.

I praise my hon. Friend the Member for Lincoln for spearheading the recently formed all-party parliamentary group on golf. Its existence at Westminster is long overdue and I am sure the group will provide a strong voice for the sport in Parliament. The calling of this debate already shows that that voice is being heard, and we commend him. The new APPG is good news indeed for the sport. I wish it all success.

I agree with my hon. Friend that as MPs we should take an interest in the sport, whether we have golf courses in our constituencies, or we have people who are very interested in the sport and play elsewhere. Perhaps some people watch it just when there is an international competition. I thank him for his kind invitation to attend the APPG’s first parliamentary reception in June. It is in the diary and I very much hope to be able to attend.

I should like to highlight the importance of golf to our nation’s economy as well as to the health and wellbeing of all our citizens who participate. Today we have heard in particular about the economic value of golf. Indeed, Sheffield Hallam University’s very helpful report has outlined how important the golfing sector is to our economy, and I commend its publication, which has stimulated considerable debate and interest. Its publication is timely as the Government’s new strategy for sport cites economic development through sport as one of five high-level outcomes. It is important in our strategy for sport to ensure that more people participate at every age. We have heard that people can continue to play golf to a considerable age and that is commendable. We know from the report that the golf market is significant to the health of our economy, accounting for 14% of all consumer spending on sport and employing more than 74,000 people in the UK golf industry. Golfers spent £4.3 billion on their sport in 2014, and golf paid almost £1 billion in tax in that period. That is a really significant contribution to the nation’s coffers.

Britain’s historic association with the game reaps many economic benefits from overseas visitors, as has been mentioned. Many flock to our shores to see the world’s best compete in the Open championship each year, while others come to play throughout the year on our world-famous courses, some of which have been highlighted this evening. Following the success of the 2014 Ryder cup at Gleneagles, the 2019 Solheim cup will also be played there, further cementing Scotland’s reputation as the home of golf. This will also generate further economic benefit for the country, and broadcast and media coverage will highlight Scotland’s natural beauty to the watching world. Speaking also as the Minister with responsibility for tourism, I welcome that opportunity.

I totally agree with my hon. Friend that to stimulate the economic benefits further, we need to increase the number of people playing the sport. Golf is already a highly popular sport, with the latest Sport England survey showing that it is the fifth most played sport in England. It can be enjoyed by people of all ages, and participation has increased in the last year or so, which is welcome news. However, we must do all we can to increase participation further in golf, and in sport as a whole, for many reasons, not just the economic ones that we have already mentioned.

Sport England is investing £13 million in the current spending period on increasing participation through the England Golf Partnership, which is running a national campaign called “Get into Golf” to inspire people of all ages, backgrounds and abilities to try the sport and to enjoy it. The campaign offers low-cost golf taster sessions and a range of courses for beginners and improvers. I have to tell my hon. Friend that I fear I would be an improver. I am pleased to say that more than 18,000 people took part in those sessions between April 2015 and September 2015, helping to take the sport to new participants.

In July 2014, England Golf also launched its new strategic plan, “Raising our Game”, built around the key priorities of more players, stronger clubs, developing talent and putting on outstanding championships, thereby improving the image of the game and ensuring excellent governance. As part of the plan, a new club information pack has been produced to help clubs to market themselves better and bring new people to the game. England Golf has also worked with 50 targeted clubs on demand-led marketing workshops to help clubs to grow, and it has developed a two-year pilot programme in Northamptonshire, Staffordshire and Warwickshire to get more people playing the game in those areas.

A new programme is also working with 100 clubs to increase the number of women golfers. Much is being done to improve the health of the sport, although we should always look to do more. I welcome the Royal and Ancient’s decision last year to allow female members into the club. That has been a really long time coming, but I believe the decision will help the sport to move towards more balanced representation in the governance of the game. It will also be a positive step towards quashing the barriers within the sport. For golf to grow, it is vital that it demonstrates that it is an inclusive sport, open to all people of whatever background, age, race or gender. It is for everyone and, as we have heard this evening, people can participate at all levels.

It is important that we show that we are keen on the sport, and the inclusion of men’s and women’s golf at this summer’s Olympic games in Rio will give golf a unique opportunity to access a global audience, encourage fresh blood into the game and increase economic growth for the sport sector. I was interested to learn that this will be the first time that golf has returned to the Olympics for 112 years, having last been played at the games in 1904, with men’s and women’s tournaments taking place. Golfing authorities believe that the sport’s visibility will be greatly elevated by its inclusion in the Olympics, leading to greater participation. It was also announced earlier this month that gold medal winning golfers at the 2016 Olympics will win exemptions to next year’s majors. The men’s winner this summer will win entry to the Masters, the US Open, the Open, and the PGA Championship, which is really good news. The winning woman will also be given exemptions to the 2016 Evian Championship, the ANA Inspiration, the Women’s PGA Championship, the U.S. Women’s Open and the Women’s British Open. All of that will have a positive, enhancing effect on the game.

Sport England has worked with the England Golf Partnership to achieve a much clearer understanding of the market and to tackle some of the barriers that get in the way of more people playing golf: time, cost, and accessibility. The APPG’s launch of national golf month at the Palace of Westminster on 27 April is a welcome boost, putting the spotlight on the sport and promoting the importance of golf to the UK’s health and economy. We must also never forget the most important thing: golf is fun. Part of the Government strategy on sport is about getting more people involved in sport for health, social and recreational reasons, but also because it is fun. In addition to all those other things, sport can be fun. It is fun even when we lose, because participation is about enjoyment. In today’s society, getting people going and doing things is fun in itself.

As I have mentioned, the economic impact of golf is important, but a 2009 study—it is a little out of date—of 300,000 Scandinavian golfers also estimated that those who play the game lived five years longer than non-players, regardless of age, gender or socioeconomic status.


A further study found that walking 18 holes equates to moderate-to-high intensity exercise for older people and moderate exercise for the middle-aged—and that is without the added bonus of playing the game. It is good news all round. Golf suits participants of all ages. It is good for communities and for jobs and presents an opportunity for people to do something different. I encourage as many people as possible to participate and to look to golf as an option for their entertainment, enjoyment and sport.

In conclusion, I am delighted to highlight the valuable contribution that golf makes to this country, enriching the lives and wellbeing of those who participate and work in the sector, and contributing to the economic health of the nation. Tonight’s debate has been a welcome addition to the promotion of golf, encouraging participation and highlighting the work being done by so many excellent groups and organisations. Sport matters. It matters to this Government, to this House and to this country. Golf can play an important part in the Government’s new sports strategy, which aims to encourage a more active and participatory nation. I again thank my hon. Friend the Member for Lincoln for securing this debate today and thank those who have intervened and participated, because we want to get more people enjoying golf and working in the industry. I believe that that is the way to a successful sport. We want to see more great British stars winning on the international stage.

Question put and agreed to.

House adjourned.