Scottish golf: how digitalisation is changing the game for players

By Laura HuttonBBC Scotland
Golf goes digital
George Ballantyne is coming to terms with going digital

"There's nothing worse than a soggy scorecard. Now, all I have to do now is wipe the screen of my mobile when it's wet."

George Ballantyne is 73 years old and is exactly the kind of golfer that clubs have in mind when they rebuff any notion of digitalising aspects of the game. And yet, after a sticky start, he has embraced the introduction of technology.

During his regular rounds at Ranfurly Castle in Renfrewshire, Ballantyne now records his scores on a Scottish Golf app - a world away from when he first joined a club in 1960.

"At first, I was pressing all the wrong buttons and lost my scores," he says. "It was a bit of a distraction having to take your glasses out 18 times a game and you have to make sure your phone is charged.

"Initially, it seemed a bit too advanced but with some practice and patience it's quite manageable now."

What is the app?

Launched in early 2019, the free app allows players to book tee times, enter competitions, submit scores and follow live leaderboards, as well as follow course maps and use GPS to measure distances.

Since then, around 130 Scottish clubs have become part of it, with the same number again registering their interest.

What are the benefits?

It is not compulsory for clubs to adopt, but those using it - such as Ranfurly Castle near Bridge of Weir - have been impressed by the effect it has had.

"Before, you'd have to go into the pro shop, get your scorecard, sign in, input your details, then wait for it to be done in reverse order at the end of a game," says former captain David Stewart.

"With the app, you've got everything you need at your fingertips."

It also gives clubs another weapon in their battle to attract a younger group of players, whose lives are lived through their mobile devices.

"The majority of members have embraced it but, like anything, there's always going to be people who love it and people who will categorically not use it," Stewart adds.

Why is now an ideal time for it?

Shops, cafes and pubs have all encouraged - or even demanded - cashless payments since Covid-19 impacted, so why should golf clubs be any different?

And why swap grubby scorecards and share pencils, when it can be done on each players' own phone?

"It's meant less admin volunteers in the clubhouse at any one time, plus it's safer because it means we can avoid contact by being paperless," Stewart says.

Why might it not be for everyone?

Golf goes digital
Largs golf club has not enrolled the app and does not plan on doing so anytime soon

While some clubs are convinced by the benefits, others remain sceptical.

Largs Golf Club have opted out, with club manager Jim Callaghan explaining that the age profile of their membership - around 60 years old - means getting involved "wouldn't make sense".

"I know you've got to move with the times but there are members who don't have a mobile," he adds.

"We don't think it would be fair to ask them to get to grips with a digital system on a device they don't have access to."

What does the governing body say?

Scottish Golf acknowledges and understands that viewpoint, while emphasising the importance of enabling players to "consume golf on their own terms", be they young or old.

"In the modern era everybody consumes things digitally one way or another, so why should golf be any different?" a spokesperson says.

"There will be golfers who wish to still experience golf in a way they always have and it's important that their needs are also still met.

"However, we know that the younger generation are increasingly reliant on mobile phones and it is important that we encompass their lifestyle choices for the future of the game."

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