Northern Irish golf club membership has dropped 30% since 2004

You'd think golf would be booming in Northern Ireland thanks to Rory McIlroy, but you'd be wrong. 

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Rory McIlroy, Graeme McDowell, Darren Clarke. Royal County Down, Royal Portrush, Portstewart. You might think Northern Irish golf would be thriving with its major champion roster and golfing gems tucked away in its small pocket of land. But you'd be wrong. 

While the attraction for tourists of walking in the footsteps of legends on Irish Open and Open Championship tracks remains high, the same cannot be said for its mostly inland clubs. 

Some 20 years ago there were lengthy waiting lists to join many golf clubs in Northern Ireland, but according to the all-island Golfing Union of Ireland (GUI) - which represents over 430 golf clubs with over 170,000 members - there has been a 30% drop in membership since 2004.

When you consider Northern Irish golf is currently spearheaded by four-time major champion McIlroy, who was agonisingly denied the career Grand Slam this month, you would anticipate golf to be booming bigger than it ever has before.

Yes, it's a bit of a broken record these days, but it really is a case of time and money. 

The length of time it takes for a round of golf can reach close to six hours when you consider the time you leave and return home. Is it really worth it, especially if it's cold and chucking down with rain? A lot of that depends on how seriously that golfer takes their golf.

Throw in the increased yearly membership costs when a junior becomes an adult - in the case of one Northern Irish club Tandragree in County Armagh where costs rise from £75 into the thousands - then you begin to see why players start turning their noses away from the sport once hitting the age of 18, especially if they can't see themselves turning into the next McIlroy anytime soon. 

Tandragee's club professional Dympna Keenan, who also runs their junior section, says a thriving U18 membership is clearly important to any golf club, but it is not guaranteed to continue to the senior ranks.

"Good coaching and playing to a high standard is the safest bet that juniors will still be paid-up members into adulthood," said Keenan. 

What do you think needs to be done to improve golf club membership levels?