The Hacker: Irish fairways take one and all but it's still a man's game in Wales

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The Independent Online

Like mugs, there's a hacker born every minute. In fact, according to the latest survey, the number of those deciding to take up golf may be growing at an even faster rate than that.

How many newcomers that amounts to worldwide I can't say, but in Europe, the Middle East and Africa they seem to be flocking to the fairways.

Not all beginners spend long in the hackersphere. Some proceed to a higher level of accomplishment quite quickly, some not quite so quickly and some of us not at all.

But it is comforting to know that golf's bungling brotherhood gets bigger by the day. It can only increase our power in the fight for a better deal. This, of course, was not the mainthrust of KPMG's annual Golf Benchmark Survey, published on Friday, which mainly concerns itself with measuring the business performance of golf courses throughout the areas mentioned above.

This is particularly interesting to those planning to take advantage of the golf boom which is generating big bucks in many places, not least in Dubai, where they are reaping margins of 32 per cent out of the game. This is less surprising when you learn that their golfing revenue is three or four times higher than their European counterparts.

Outside of the financial gains, golf's greatest success is in Ireland, where they have the highest participation rate among the population. Nearly one in every 15 people in Ireland is an affiliated golfer – that's seven per cent of the total population, compared with Scotland (5%), Wales (2.4%) and England (1.9%) which is a poor show.

As the birthplace and breeding ground of the game, you would assume Scotland was the biggest golfing money-spinner in these parts. They certainly make the most of the game, with Scottish courses averaging 34,000 rounds a year compared with 31,000 in England, 27,000 in Ireland and 24,000 in Wales. Yet Ireland makes more money out of golf than the other three and the survey classes them fifth highest earner behind Dubai, Portugal, the Netherlands and Spain.

The Netherlands is the surprise name in that list. The Benelux countries are among the busiest and best-performing in golf, and the Dutch are the leading lights in an area that in the past 20 years has quadrupled its courses and where the number of registered golfers had grown tenfold.

Most of the courses involved in the survey are in the privately-owned sector, where the profit motive is much more to the fore compared with the clubs owned and run by their members. The need for profits can lead to a different attitude. I once asked a golf club proprietor how wet his course had to be before he cancelled play. "When the water reaches the till," he replied.

There was one disquieting statistic produced by the survey. The average proportion of senior male to senior female golfers in clubs in Great Britain and Ireland is 63 per cent to 18 per cent. In Wales the figures are 73 per cent to 15.7 per cent, which is in embarrassing contrast to the area covered by Germany, Austria and Switzerland, where the figures are 51.5 to 32.5. Where would you have thought the highest number of male chauvinist old sods lived?