Sports Marketing Scotland seeks to put a focus on a wide spectrum of sports in Scotland, and today’s interview does just that. Scotland is the home of golf, and today’s interview is with Ed Hodge, the PR and Media Manager with Scottish Golf. He gives us an insight into his role, plus answers the question on what he believes golf needs to do to increase it’s appeal with the masses.
If you could introduce yourself and outline how you got into the Scottish sport industry?
I’ve had a passion for sport and writing since an early age. That continued through school and onto the University of St Andrews, where I graduated with a modern history degree in 2000. I did work experience at my local Perthshire newspaper, the Strathearn Herald, before I left high school in Crieff and was also sports editor of the student newspaper, The Saint, during my Uni days. I guess a career in journalism / media was natural for me, given my late grandfather, Ian Nelson, was a journalist for 66 years, almost up to his death aged 89 in 2009. He was a great inspiration and I recall many family holidays to his home in Yorkshire, when he latterly worked for the Northern Echo, battering out stories on his old typewriter and phoning in his copy. Previously he covered the west coast beat for the Daily Mail and got very close to sporting figures, as was possible in those days. He always spoke highly of golfers like Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer when he reported from The Open Championship at Troon or Turnberry.
My first job was as a reporter with the Rangers News in 2000, which was a fantastic experience, even for a St Johnstone fan! I then progressed to a sports writer role with Teletext in Glasgow – who remembers the three paragraph ‘lego’ pages (!) – and then back into print media with Capital City Press freelance agency, based in Edinburgh, for six years, mainly covering football, golf and rugby for the national papers. I enjoyed all those roles but at some point wanted to mix my love of golf (many of my family gave me the golf bug and I’ve played since I was about 10) and writing, hence joining the former Scottish Golf Union (SGU) in 2011 as PR & Media Executive. That was a hugely exciting time for the sport with The Ryder Cup taking place at Gleneagles in 2014, among other events. The SGU amalgamated with the Scottish Ladies’ Golfing Association in October 2015 and I became PR & Media Manager for the new organisation, Scottish Golf, soon after.
Can you give an insight into the reasoning behind the amalgamation? How has the merger affected your role?
The amalgamation was vital for the sport in Scotland, notably in terms of providing greater leadership to our clubs and players and projecting golf as a modern, inclusive sport with a positive image to attract more players and resources into the sport, from commercial sponsorship and government. It was a long journey to reach amalgamation and the game does face challenges, but there is excitement and optimism for the future as one organisation.
In terms of my role, we obviously have more events to cover during the season but the biggest benefit is our ability to now promote the sport as one. I’d like to think we have already raised the profile of the female game, as ultimately it’s about attracting new players to golf, male and female, and encouraging them into club membership. Scottish Golf has the biggest club membership base of any sport in Scotland, with over 220,000 members. Our website now has a dedicated Member’s Clubhouse as we seek to promote the benefits of membership as much as we can, in doing so supporting clubs.
Tell us how a regular day goes for you with Scottish Golf, and what your role entails?
Every day is different! Ultimately, our vision is to lead clubs, develop champions and provide the opportunity for everyone in Scotland to play golf, with a focus on the following seven key goals: Stronger Clubs, More Golfers, Quality Coaching, Winning Golfers, Outstanding Events, Excellent Governance, and Strong Partnerships.
For me, a typical day can involve media enquiries, staff enquiries, website work, social media posts, writing press releases and news stories, contributing to Global Golf Post online magazine or Scottish Club Golfer magazine, assisting clubs at various levels, working at events across the country, carrying out interviews for our new Scottish Golf Radio Show (hosted by Alan Tait) and arranging filming and photography. It’s never dull! It can be hard to switch off in today’s 24-7 media world, but I’m lucky to be working in a sport I love. In today’s media, you are also learning all the time!
Can you give us an insight into what goes into working with the media to promote the sport of golf, and our golfers, in Scotland?
I’d like to think I have strong relationships with the golfing media in Scotland. At amateur level, we are fortunate to still enjoy good national print media coverage of golf, as I know there are bigger challenges south of the border. Golf writers such as Martin Dempster (Scotsman), Nick Rodger (Herald), Steve Scott (Courier) and Jock MacVicar (Express), who is still going strong at the age of 79, have a great passion for the game and are regular visitors to Scottish amateur events, while the team at Bunkered magazine also cover the game well. I try to work with as many media outlets as possible, and we have built good contacts in recent years, notably with Sky Sports and Global Golf Post online magazine. Our annual Scottish Golf Awards night, typically attracting 650 guests and raising valuable charitable funds, is also an occasion the media enjoy. I also work closely with colleagues in other organisations to raise the profile of golf and promote the game as much as possible.
The Get into Golf initiative is a great one, calling on familiar and not-so-familiar names to try and change some misconceptions people have around the sport. Can you explain the overall aim of the initiative, and the role you’re playing in promoting it?
Through Get into Golf, we are encouraging adult beginners into the sport in a structured coaching environment with social benefits. Over 120 clubs are now delivering Get into Golf for adult beginners. We are looking to encourage those new to the game – or who perhaps played as a youngster and had to give it up for work and family commitments – to pick up a club and get back in the swing. We have enjoyed a successful media campaign, partnering with the Daily Record, in recent months and went on ‘tour’ with Get into Golf Live, going into shopping centres across the country to encourage new players. We have seen benefits of this year’s campaign at a number of clubs already, with new golfers coming through their doors. We also promote Get into Golf as much as we can on our social media platforms.
How well do you feel that golf, and Scottish golf organisations in particular, have adopted the use of social and digital media?
Golf clubs tend to have the reputation of being old-fashioned and not forward thinking, but those times are changing. Using the services we offer, notably through our team of Club Development Officers and the Management Development Programme, golf clubs are now very business-like in their approach. Social media is a big part of that as it’s a free marketing tool for clubs to utilise. It’s great to see now over 220 Scottish golf clubs using Twitter (over a third of clubs in the country), while the majority have Facebook accounts. I think clubs can still do more to use today’s social media to their advantage and we assist them all we can, as we have held seminars across the country in recent years and featured articles. Scottish Golf now has over 22,000 followers (Twitter and Facebook combined), while we have recently launched a dedicated Instagram account and promote club and other activity on our YouTube channel. We also have a presence on LinkedIn, often advertising jobs available at golf clubs in Scotland (a free service for clubs on our website), so we are working hard to support clubs across social media.
‘Jewel in the Glen’ is a book you’ve written on the Ryder Cup coming back to Gleneagles in 2014. What kind of impact did this huge global event have on the level of interest in the sport across the country? Can you reveal as whether Scottish Golf put plans in place to capitalise off the back of events like this?
Growing up in Perthshire and playing my junior golf at Muthill and Auchterarder, Gleneagles held a special mystique. It was a fantastic experience to then caddy as a teenager at Gleneagles, work in the Golf Office and maintain the relationships I have at the resort to this day, with the book ultimately a lifetime dream. Gleneagles won the right to host the Ryder Cup way back in 2001 and the 13-year lead in time for the event allowed the excitement and profile to steadily build. Through the national junior programme ClubGolf, established as legacy of Scotland’s staging of the Ryder Cup, we are introducing thousands of youngsters to the game each year in schools and clubs. Annual ClubGolf camps, mass participation events and the 2014 Junior Ryder Cup at Blairgowrie have all helped inspire. ClubGolf has introduced more than 400,000 children to the game since 2003 with over 300 clubs currently delivering the programme.
In general, are you of the opinion that innovations need to be introduced to make golf more appealing to a wider audience? If so, what would you like to see introduced?
In competition with so many other leisure pursuits nowadays, golf has to work harder to welcome new faces and maintain its current membership. People also have less leisure time than in previous years so four or five-hour rounds can be difficult for some. Golf is adapting and there are numerous initiatives across the UK helping encourage new players, notably shorter forms of the game such as 6-hole and 9-hole golf, although I’ve played 9-hole golf all my life! The health benefits of golf are also being promoted more than before, while famous faces are also big golf fans. What do Niall Horan, Justin Timberlake, Jessica Alba, Gareth Bale and David Beckham have in common, apart from being famous? They all love playing golf to relax, stay in shape and enjoy great times with friends and family.
Golf week ⛳✔ pic.twitter.com/iCaDjA5Eqp
— Gareth Bale (@GarethBale11) July 21, 2016
2016 is a huge year for the sport of golf, with it returning to the Olympic Games in Rio. How big an opportunity is this for the sport, and can you reveal how Scottish Golf is planning to capitalise on it?
Although there has been negative media coverage given the number of leading male golfers who have opted not to go to Rio, I think golf can still enjoy a successful showcase at the Games. It’s the biggest stage in sport, after all. Working with partners at The R&A and Team GB, we are promoting golf in the Olympics as an organisation. Team GB announced a fantastic golf side (during The Open at Royal Troon), with Justin Rose, Danny Willett, Charley Hull and Scotland’s own Catriona Matthew, who has achieved her ambition of qualifying for the team in the latter stages of her career. We’re particularly delighted for Catriona, who remains a fantastic ambassador for golf in this country. Our ClubGolf camps this summer have also had an Olympic theme, so clubs are getting behind the Rio excitement too.
Are there any other organisations, at home or abroad, that you admire for what they’re doing at the moment and can take inspiration from into your own role at Scottish Golf?
I admit to being a sports obsessive so the majority of my web searches are based around golf and football, usually St Johnstone! I love the digital work at the European Tour, who are seeking to promote their ‘stars’, namely their players, via different means. The online and social media work from The Open team at Royal Troon was also fantastic. It’s interesting the way sport websites have evolved and continue to develop, and it’s always useful to learn from other sports. I like the feel of our website, www.scottishgolf.org, just now, but you can never stand still in today’s world and we have plans to improve it further.
As well as working for Scottish Golf, you’ve got a huge interest in football, writing ‘Our Day in May’, a book giving the inside story on St Johnstone’s Scottish Cup triumph in 2014. What’s your thoughts on the Saints’ 2015/16 season?
For a number of years now, it’s been a brilliant period to be a ‘Saintee’, going back to Owen Coyle’s days before Derek McInnes returned us to the top flight in 2009. The work of Tommy Wright and Callum Davidson has been superb in recent times, with our day in May on 17 May 2014 the obvious highlight – a first national trophy success in our 130-year history! What a day that was; one I’ll never forget. Last season was another success with the players rallying brilliantly to finish fourth and just miss out on a fifth straight year of European football. It really has been an incredible few years and a huge reason for it has been the quality of our managers and a squad of talented players that seems settled every season. Each year there is a core of familiar faces with fresh signings added. For St Johnstone to have finished in the top six the last five seasons in a row is frankly remarkable.
The Saints have one of the lower average attendances of clubs playing in the Scottish Premiership. In your opinion, how well are the club engaging with young and new potential fans in and around Perth?
Saints are consistently singled out for our lack of fan base, which is unfair. Yes, we used to pack in regular 10,000 crowds when I first started following the club in the late 1980s and early 1990s, but these are changed days in terms of the economy, the product on offer across Scottish football and the competing factors now for people’s (often limited) leisure time. For the size of the population of Perth and in comparison to other clubs of our size, I actually think we do OK – even though of course you would like to see more people coming along. We had 15,000 fans at the Scottish Cup final in 2014 so that tells you everything. Saints are doing all they can to attract more fans and are doing great work within the local community and beyond. They work very hard at it. I can now take my two children into the Ormond Stand for just £15 for the three of us! Bargain!
What pieces of advice would you give someone looking to carve out a career in the sports industry?
Gain experience, even unpaid. Be patient, enthusiastic and build up your contacts. Above all, work hard.