There’s lots of talk about golf clubs struggling for members, but recent statistics suggest participation is actually increasing year on year. Do you predict this will increase again in 2018 and what else do you think is needed to help drive further participation?
There’s no reason the size of golf crowds won’t continue to increase this year. One of the most encouraging moments of 2017 was the record-breaking crowd at Royal Birkdale for the Open Championship (235,000 people attended, which is the most ever for an Open Championship in England). Watching the crowd on television as the drama unfolded was fantastic!
There’s a record crowd every year at Wentworth Golf Club for the BMW PGA Championship and last year was no exception, while we also saw 70,000 people turn up to watch the British Masters at Close House
A lot of people clearly love to play and watch golf – but to improve upon the number of people playing, golf clubs have got to shape their memberships to suit the changing lifestyles of their members. There will be people who only want a weekend membership because they work full-time and so can’t play from Monday to Friday. These people should be allowed to have a weekend-only membership.
Conversely, there will be others who might prefer to play on a weekday after work because they have family commitments. These people should be offered a twilight package for through the week, or a family membership.
There are a few golf clubs which have started offering ‘lifestyle’ memberships for modern day golfers, like Temple Golf Club in Maidenhead. This is the way forward as it means people aren’t paying several thousand pounds a year for a seven-day membership which they don’t really want, and will be more inclined to visit the golf course and keep their membership.
Tiger Woods is targeting a major win in 2018. Do you think an injury-free Tiger could still mix it with the top players in major competitions?
As long as Tiger stays healthy and keeps progressing as a golfer, I don’t see any reason why he can’t compete with the best golfers out there. Whether or not he wins a major remains to be seen, but he’s obviously got the talent to do it.
I watched Tiger at the Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas and he played with Justin Thomas in the first round – I think Justin was very surprised by how far Tiger was hitting the ball. Justin is right up there in terms of long driving and Tiger was hitting it past him, seemingly effortlessly.
There were 11 players on that field that were in the world’s top 20 and he finished ninth having not played for a year. That just shows the class he’s got.
If he can play in enough tournaments to become competitive again, I’ve got a hunch Tiger could win a major. He’s got to where he is today because he’s driven and his mind works better than anyone else’s under pressure, and that’s never going to go away.
His swing now looks more in control, balanced and rounded than it has in the past. He doesn’t seem to be forcing it and he’s got his club head speed right back to where it was.
As you know, 2018 is a Ryder Cup year. As it stands, there are a number of rookies chasing a place in the Europe team. Who do you think will make the cut?
I’d expect the likes of Tommy Fleetwood, Tyrrell Hatton and John Rahm to make the cut. Thomas Bjorn would not like to face the Americans without those three players.
On the periphery, I think Paul Dunne’s got a good chance, having won the British Masters last year. He’s experienced the pressure of playing in a major and he played well at St Andrews as an amateur. Shane Lowry is another possibility – I think it’s about time he made a Ryder Cup team. A golfer I really rate who’s broken through recently and could make the cut is Eddie Pepperell. He’s also one to look out for.
It would be good if one or two Frenchman made the team, just to garner local support. I’d imagine Thomas Bjorn will be monitoring the performances of several French golfers, such as Victor Dubuisson and Alexander Levy.
How do you fancy Europe’s chances at the Ryder Cup?
I think it’s going to be tough. The American Ryder Cup team has had two objectives in recent years, one of which was to win the Ryder Cup back after their defeat at Medinah, which they did. The other objective was to win the Ryder Cup back in Europe.
Players like Jordan Speith, Dustin Johnson and Justin Thomas are all young players who will have watched American Ryder Cup teams in years gone by be dominated by their European counterparts. They won’t like that – it’ll hurt them – and so there’s going to be a strong passion to win the Ryder Cup in Europe.
Having said that, the big advantage Europe have got is that this year’s Ryder Cup is being held on a course that the players know. The Albatros course at Le Golf National has hosted the French Open for many years, so many of the team will be familiar with it.
Often, the Europeans have played on courses that have been a qualifying event for the Ryder Cup and part of regular tournaments. For instance, the K Club, the Belfry, Gleneagles and the Valderrama Golf Club.
Given the talent within the American side, Europe will need all the advantages they can get and knowing the course will certainly help.
With the anchor putter being banned in 2016 and the R&A and USGA banning green-reading materials by 2019, what else do you think could be clamped down on in 2018 and beyond?
We’re already seeing a clampdown on the armchair busybodies, with the news that calls made by TV fans will no longer be taken into consideration from 1 January 2018. Another big change which will come into effect by 2019 is the time limit on searching for a lost ball. This is currently at five minutes, but will soon change to two, which will improve the flow of the game.
In general, I think the culture of golf needs to change. For all that there are a lot of golf clubs where slow play is frowned upon, some golf clubs have this culture of “couldn’t care less” and don’t place much of an emphasis on playing without delay. For example, some golfers go into the club after nine holes and forget to come back out, which has a knock-on effect on the whole day.
One of the chief reasons behind slow play is the introduction of corporate golf. Say there are 50 people at a club – most of the corporate golfers are in no hurry to go home. They’re being entertained and see it as a day out. The members are playing behind these people and so have no option but to play at the speed of the corporate golfer. The corporate golfer therefore needs to adopt a less selfish attitude. Ideally, they should be aiming for four hours to complete a game, not five.
Rory McIlroy had a disappointing 2017 by his usual high standards. Do you expect him to regain his major-winning form in 2018?
To be fair to Rory McIlroy, he had some health issues which affected his performances. But at the same time, he didn’t play too badly at the majors, even if he didn’t win any. I’m sure he’d be the first to admit that his consistency over the season has been poor – this time last year he was number two in the world, and right now he stands at number 11.
That’ll be why he’s playing a lot of golf at the start of this year, because he’s not happy with where he sits in the world rankings. I’m pleased he’s taking this approach, as it shows his determination, and I really hope he gets back to where he belongs.
Rory defines his seasons in terms of his world ranking and success at the majors, so he needs to win one in 2018. It’s not as if there are any technical flaws in his game, he just has to be more competitive and play a lot more tournaments.
Hopefully you enjoyed reading Bernard’s golfing predictions for the year ahead! If you’ve got any predictions of your own, leave a Comment below or Tweet us @golfcareUK and we’ll retweet the best responses!