Funding for junior golf a key issue for the game, says departing North Harbour chief
Funding for getting children into golf is one of more important issues facing the game, says Andrew Leventis who is about to step down as the head of the North Harbour golf district.
Leventis has been the executive officer of the North Harbour Golf Association for the past 10 years but finishes at the end of next month. North Harbour, known as Harbour Golf, represents the northern region of Auckland.
Leventis said while the game remains popular it does not have large income streams to help promote golf at the grass roots.
“We are the most played sport in New Zealand but compared to other sports’ nationwide school programmes we do not have a lot of traction,’’ Leventis told Golfer Pacific.
“It does obviously come down to a funding issue. The sport does not have the major income streams other major sports have and in certain ways golf is a difficult sport to deliver.’’
Leventis said beginner facilities are also a key issue, especially in Auckland.
“I know that in the works is a nationwide youth programme driven by our major bodies that has clear pathways into playing golf at a course. This will need to be supported by appropriate beginner facilities though, something that Auckland struggles with.’’
Funding is always a concern and Harbour Golf was no different.
“There is so much Harbour Golf would like to do but the money is just not there currently. However, steps are being taken to try and get more traction in the development of the game.
“North Harbour will be splitting my role into two different paths, one to focus solely on the playing of the game (tournaments/programmes/golf development/club junior programmes and pathways) and another role to focus solely on the administration.
“This will essentially mean the golf operations or golf development role will be able to wipe their hands of administration of the association and focus entirely on getting out and promoting the sport.
“There is also currently a focus group made up of North Harbour and Northland golf board members looking at possible synergies/amalgamation of the district which might also result in more opportunities and traction in the promotion and administration of our sport.’’
Some people say New Zealand has too many golf courses but Leventis said that is not the case in Auckland.
“I can only speak on behalf of the greater Auckland area, but the short answer is no, in my opinion. There are not too many courses, especially given the continued growth in Auckland,’’ he said.
Auckland’s burgeoning population would continue to put huge demand on land for golf courses but Leventis said consideration had to be given to golf courses with a difference.
Leventis previously worked in the United States for the Texas Golf Association in Houston where he said there was a variety of golf facilities.
“I think the major issue lies in the fact that there are a lot of courses that offer a very similar product/options/facilities compared to other courses. In my experience in Houston there was such a broad range of golf facilities, from four-hole courses for beginners (and used for junior programmes), mid-level club and completely public golf courses (some of which were among the best courses I played) and very high end exclusive courses.
“I think as Auckland continues to grow their will be obvious need for some clubs to re-purpose the service/facility they offer to meet the market. Just recently I was told a club in Australia (which was formerly a very expensive private club) now no longer offers membership and is now a complete public facility and apparently doing very well.’’
Many golf clubs are struggling for membership numbers but that is simply a sign of the times with a swing towards the casual player, Leventis said.
“The dynamics of club membership and the market it needs to meet have changed so much in the last 10 years.
“The demand for golf is apparently on the rise, however the traditional seven-day club membership is no longer as desired by most golfers/consumers compared to what it once was.
“The game has certainly become more causal in that consumers want to play a host of different courses, when it suits them, and with different requirements. That is just the way it has gone.
“Some may argue low green fee deals have caused this but in my opinion there is more to it than that and that is why you see so many different membership options categories around these days in an effort to be more appealing to the casual player.
“Certainly in most cases it is the clubs that have done their best to meet the market and been creative in their options and what they provide that have managed to hold their own over difficult recent years.
“But there is a fine line between the amount of options in membership categories, what you offer the casual player and not cannibalising the full playing categories that often pay most of the bills. It is a very interesting and sometimes controversial topic and what is right for one club’s situation is not often what is right for another. But most clubs are not in any position to completely ignore the casual market as it continues to grow.’’
Leventis, 38, will next year move into a different field as a commercial and industrial broker for a property sales and investment company but will remain a keen golfer.
“I have played golf since I was 12 and it is my main sport and hobby.
“I have played representative golf for my club and Auckland Golf at junior development level. I just love the game, I try and play a couple of times a week and am enjoying my golf now more than I ever have as I don’t expect much these days. I still have the odd decent round in me but it is more about just winning a round of beers now.’’
Leventis said it was time for someone else to take the reins at Harbour Golf.
“I have thoroughly enjoyed my time working in the industry. I have met so many great people that share the passion for the sport. I am going to miss North Harbour Golf so much but the time is right for a fresh approach to take the sport and our association into the future.’’