Golf clubs urged to attract ethnic minorities

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The Independent Online

Britain's leading golf official has urged promoters of the sport to find more effective ways of attracting more people from ethnic minorities to the sport.

Peter Dawson, chief executive of the St Andrews-based Royal and Ancient Golf Club, argues that this is one of the sport's greatest challenges.

Mr Dawson's comments will be aired in a documentary on Five Live's Sport on Five tonight. The programme questions whether golf is making the most of having Tiger Woods, a man with African, American and Asian origins, at the top of the game, and finds that while more members of ethnic minorities are taking up the game, few want to join traditional golf clubs.

Mr Dawson says: "This is the challenge for golf; to be more welcoming to these groups, and it is certainly an area where the game could grow."

Jaz Athwal, chairman of the UK Asian Open Golf Society, said of many of Britain's private golf clubs: "I don't know what they're scared of. We pay full green fees and everything. I don't know if they think we're going to run off with the holes or there'll be a corner shop on every tee."

Mr Athwal's experiences illustrate the difficulties the sport faces in trying to throw off its elitist image. The Bradford-based former rugby league player was Britain's first Sikh golf club captain in 2000.

When he organises days at courses for his Asian golf society, Mr Athwal says it can be an uncomfortable experience. He tells the programme: "When we actually arrive you can see the pro or the secretary flicking through the book and thinking, 'Well, nobody's ordered a taxi and nobody's ordered a takeaway, so why have these guys turned up?' "

Statistics show that golf is growing in popularity; the numbers playing regularly have more than doubled over the past decade. But the number of people wanting to join golf clubs is in decline, and the average age of members is estimated to have risen from 51 to 59 in the past eight years.

Herman Lewis, who runs the Unitee organisation for Afro-Caribbean golfers, says: "I think it's down to the established culture of how golf courses are run. I know that many of my colleagues enjoy playing the game, but when it comes to off-course activities, don't find it that welcoming.

"Don't get me wrong, I am not saying it is completely racist, bigoted, etc, but some of these off-course activities are not that appealing."

From his office overlooking the Old Course at St Andrews, Mr Dawson is convinced that golf is becoming more enlightened. He said: "I think it has changed enormously in the last 20 years. I think golf clubs are driven by market forces because people are not joining in the way they used to. The clubs are being forced to open their doors through market pressure to the public at large in a far greater way than they did in the past, and that is excellent."

Woods rarely comments on issues of race, but told the programme that more needs to be done to ensure that when young ethnic minority players pick up a club they want to stay in the game for life. "That's the hard part," he said. "Once they're hooked, do they have an opportunity to continue and progress through the sport? Sometimes the answer is no, we need to have it so the answer is always yes."

"Golf's Challenge", 9pm tonight, Sport on Five, Five Live 909/693 MW

Iain Carter is Golf Correspondent for BBC Radio