By Ian Ransom
MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Golf Australia (GA) are looking for a new CEO in the wake of long-serving boss Stephen Pitt’s resignation on Tuesday as the national governing body grapples with a major restructuring that pressured their bottom line.
After 11 years in the role, Pitt will depart later in the year having overseen a transitional period that brought a number of the country’s states and territories under the GA umbrella.
The “One Golf” model, which is intended to promote economies of scale and operational efficiencies, contributed to a A$1.4 million ($940,000) loss in the 2018/19 financial year.
“The last 12 months have been difficult at times, particularly in terms of our financial performance and I take responsibility for last year’s result,” Pitt said in a statement on Tuesday, two days after the women’s Australian Open.
“I am of the firm view the new One Golf structure is the right one for our game and will deliver significant dividends in the future.”
While the restructuring has brought most state bodies into the fold, the nation’s most populous state, New South Wales, and Western Australia have declined to sign on.
The states that have joined have offloaded expenses to GA but retained some assets and cash, including interest payments, GA Chairman Andrew Newbold told Reuters.
“In essence, the merging of the balance sheets will happen when the states have confidence in the new structure and we’ve got to earn that confidence,” Newbold said.
“Things like increased sponsorship, increased investment in golf development, all the reasons why we exist — we need to get some runs on the board around that stuff.”
Newbold said GA had made inroads into boosting corporate sponsorship and would report better numbers in 2019/20, without breaking even.
Like many mature golf markets, Australia is suffering a decline in fee-paying club members as the sport battles to attract a younger, time-poor generation who have more leisure options than ever.
The sport counted half a million club members in Australia in the late 1990s but that figure has slid to 383,613 in 2018/19, down 1.6% on the previous year, GA figures showed.
The professional tour has also been under pressure with several tournaments folding in recent years and the flagship Australian Open struggling to lure golf’s biggest names.
Despite the challenges, Australia continues to produce contenders on the elite circuits with Masters winner Adam Scott and Marc Leishman in the men’s top 20, and 23-year-old Hannah Green claiming a major at last year’s Women’s PGA Championship.
Newbold said given Australia’s position both geographically and financially, the priority was boosting the grass-roots rather than paying appearance fees to big-name players.
“Really our focus has got to be getting more people to play the game,” he said.
“The whole game needs to be modernized and we need to pursue different forms that are more attractive to young people.
“Whether that means shortened games or six-hole games, we need to be looking at these options.”
(Editing by Peter Rutherford)