In a way, Menai-Davis is right: you never read positive news about golf. Instead, you see stories about clubs banning hoodies, or jeans, or women; you read how 73 per cent of clubs charge a standard playing membership cost of over £1,000, a figure that will only rise; or you see photographs of golfers idly playing in Oregon while a wildfire rages behind them; or you read about how Donald Trump has issued a statement to let people know he has hit a hole-in-one; or how Gareth Bale keeps launching terrible-sounding golf-themed bars; or how it’s Prince Andrew’s favorite sport.
‘What you don’t hear is about how much golf can benefit people in inner-city communities, or people with disabilities, or people who struggle with social isolation or low energy, and golf’s uniqueness in allowing people to gently see their development, without overexerting themselves, and getting in the fresh air,’ Menai-Davis says.
‘We’re told golf is this, golf is that, but we send second-hand clubs to poor communities all around the world, we have events for disabled children and their carers, and we’ve got every race, religion, profession in that bar next door. It can be the most diverse, constructive game available – if you do it right.’
The Shire might be doing things right (it is worth pointing out that despite the laudable charity work and lack of stuffiness, an adult membership at the club, which gets you golf plus various benefits, is still £1,900 per year, according to Menai- Davis), but others aren’t, and they’re still making money.
‘It’s true – if they’re a successful business, they’ll be reluctant to change. However, the average age of the members at some of these old-fashioned golf courses is so old, they’ll need to regenerate to get a new crop,’ Menai-Davis says. Unsurprisingly, his family have seen the business grow, and now have several courses opening in London.
‘You need a willingness to change, and some just won’t. That new generation has different values, so if you want new, young, different people to get into golf, you need to be welcoming, environmentally friendly; you need to think of the local community, have a soft play, represent where you’re from, and be a benefit to them. It’s not hard.’
We are being eavesdropped on. Cos and his friend, Sam, have been listening in, nodding occasionally, giving ‘eh, not sure about that…’ looks every once in a while, and enjoying their green tea.
‘We could go to any course around here, they aren’t all that different, it’s just how they’re run. There’s one up the road where it’s a rich area, the manager’s a prick, the club is old school, it’s not welcoming, I’d never take my kids there,’ Sam says.
Cos nods. ‘If your phone rings here, you can answer it.’ This doesn’t seem like groundbreaking generosity, but apparently it is. ‘If it ranks in the other one, you’d get a big telling off.’
Sam fiddles with a Lotus biscuit, then pockets it for later. You’ve got to get your £1,900’s worth somehow.
‘People need to respect the place, we don’t just want anyone wandering in, but it’s not ridiculous here. Some places just won’t move with the times.’
Whether it intends to or not, golf has a diversity issue, as well. It may be a sport that can be played by anybody, but it doesn’t tend to represent everybody. One of golf’s many perversities is that Tiger Woods, his greatest ever player, has described himself as ‘Cablinasian’ (Caucasian, Black, American Indian and Asian), but 25 years after his first major win, many people from ethnic minorities still feel uncomfortable at races.
One survey of BAME citizens in 2020 found that 92.4 per cent felt golf was either not inclusive at all or observed that ‘some people like me are welcome but it is rare’, despite 25 per cent stating they’d be ‘very interested’ in trying it.
Both Sam and Cos are Greek Cypriot, and – not being white British – used to be in a minority at other clubs. ‘This one’s easily the most cosmopolitan place we’ve been. You get every nationality, Indians, Greek, Chinese, you could be anything. And I won’t name drop but you get some famous people, too.’
(Forty-five seconds later, he tells me these are former footballers Jermaine Jenas, Andy Cole and Rio Ferdinand, plus DJ Trevor Nelson. Not quite a galaxy of stars, but at least they’re not pale, stale, or a senior royal desperately avoiding jail.)
Menai-Davis, like his dad, is an optimist, on and off the fairway. Golf has given his family their livelihood, but the fact its fiercest critics consider it not just a good walk spoiled but morally unjustifiable, means it might need to take a short look at itself before the next round.
‘In 20 years or so, I think we’ll see fewer golf courses, but better golf courses,’ he says. ‘The ones with an older demographic, who don’t consider their impact, won’t survive. The ones who do will need to reflect the times.’
On St Albans Road, The Shire’s land starts right where countryside begins – I can see a horse, anyway. ‘Hertfordshire: The county of opportunity’ reads the last sign before you set foot deep in golf country.
An opportunity is what golf has arrived at. First, it needs to work out who it’s for.