England Golf has commissioned a unique research project with Manchester Metropolitan University that has uncovered the positive impact that volunteers are having on golf.
By Charlotte Ibbetson
The research is the largest ever qualitative study of golf in the world, including 70 golf clubs, hundreds of golfers and five key types of full-time volunteers: Chairman, Lady Captain, Captain, Junior Organiser and Director of Greens.
In England, there are 2,000 golf clubs, 650,000 regular playing members and an estimated 50,000 core club volunteers. In the wider game, it is estimated that there are an additional 96,000 men and 52,000 women volunteering in golf in some way.
Why do people volunteer and what impact does it have?
The study revealed that volunteers had a lot of different motivations for getting involved. Giving back to the game or their club was just one reason, and there were plenty more that proved that volunteering is not only good for the game but good for the individuals too; spend time with family, make new friendships, develop their own skills and improve their own mental health and wellbeing.
What was even more encouraging to read is that these volunteers actively want to engage in developing their skills as volunteers. Whether that’s peer to peer learning or digital courses, the next stage of this initiative has to be for England Golf to recognise this and create a real structure of support for volunteers.
Whilst it is evident that there is a major diversity challenge within the so-called volunteer workforce, what the research did uncover are a growing community of ‘Transformational Change Agents’ – champions of innovation and culture shifts, people who embrace new ways of working as volunteers. This brings a new breadth of ethnicities and religion as well as equality of gender, class and sexuality to golf.
For me, I think what the research ultimately proved is that having a proper volunteering structure in place can only be a good thing in making the game more appealing and much more accessible. With adequate support, we can open up more opportunities, broaden the diversity of people involved in golf and truly strengthen the game. What impact could that have on retention and recruitment of people to the game? Surely, it can only be positive.
I had the chance to speak to Dr Chris Mackintosh, Senior Lecturer In Sports Management At Manchester Metropolitan University to find out his thoughts…
What is the role of volunteers at major tournaments and why they are key to their success?
Volunteers at major tournaments play vital roles from welcoming through to more technical roles including refereeing and ball spotting. They are often people that also volunteer in clubs and can give over 30 hours a week to their volunteer activity.
Has England Golf commissioned research to try and retain volunteers and attract new members?
England Golf first commissioned Manchester Metropolitan University to undertake research into golf volunteer recruitment and retention to establish the needs of the voluntary club membership in the country due to the role they play in delivering national policy. With an estimated 44,000 volunteers in clubs, a clearer theory-led understanding of this market will allow better working with clubs, improved support for volunteers and better playing opportunities.
Is there increased and improving support for female volunteers?
In our survey of volunteers in golf clubs of just over 2000 volunteers, we found 31% were female. This in itself is significant as more are being empowered to be involved in clubs in a wider variety of roles. The research did identify challenges for senior governance females and not one female in our interviews and focus groups from across 70 clubs was in the position of Chair of Greens. Support is improving from England Golf, but also many Club Chairman identified how female sections ran particularly efficient, friendly and well-managed sections.
How can people get involved and shape the future of the sport through local golf clubs?
The best way to get involved is to contact your local club, ask to try the game initially, but also establish how friendly they are. There is a growing competition for golf membership and volunteering for men and women is a definite way to stay socially involved, give something back whilst getting the benefit of physical and mental.