The Professional Golfers' Association is putting pounds 100,000 towards the National Golf Week, which will take place on 21 to 27 April next year. Sponsors will help fund free lessons for newcomers at centres around the country, some targeted specifically at women, businessmen and juniors.
"We have to take the initiative to promote the game and stop the erosion in the numbers taking up golf," Sandy Jones, the chief executive of the PGA, said. "Interest in the game peaked in 1987 and in the last decade there has been no real growth. People say they are inhibited from coming to the game because it is technically difficult, expensive, time consuming - and there is a `snob' factor. It is a game of tradition with a perception of elitism."
While many members' clubs have full waiting lists, 30 per cent of proprietary clubs, many built in the wake of the Royal & Ancient's call for 700 more courses at the height of the golf boom in the 1980s, have capacity for play. The figures, Jones said, are mirrored in the United States, where 11 million took up the game between 1988 and '93, but 10 million gave it up. Eighty per cent of newcomers gave up within the first year of playing.
The National Golf Week has the backing of Nick Faldo, who next week launches his own junior series, but not the four home unions. The amateur bodies did not take kindly to Jones recently saying that sticking a "private" sign outside golf clubs was inhibiting newcomers.
"We spent two years trying to convince people to come in on the idea," Jones said. "There are 23 bodies involved in the administration of golf in this country, but someone needs to take responsibility to promote the game. We have the support of the R&A."