To say that amateur golf in Scotland has been slow to adapt to change is putting it kindly. But where the rise of the nomads, the Equality Act, the credit crunch and repeated faltering reform efforts have failed, perhaps Covid-19 will finally be the shock that thrusts the sector into a meaningful if seriously belated overhaul.

Unconfirmed reports earlier this week suggested that The Open – set to be held in July at Royal St George’s in Sandwich, Kent – could be cancelled, leaving the UK’s premier golfing competition uncontested for the first time since 1945.

READ MORE: Coronavirus in Scotland: NHS Glasgow Louisa Jordan hospital hiring emergency workers

R&A chief executive Martin Slumbers countered on Thursday by saying that his organisation is “continuing to work through our options for The Open this year, including postponement”.

Despite his efforts to leave the door open, it is difficult to imagine the final in the annual series of the world’s four major golf tournaments will go ahead as currently planned. It will be an unfortunate additional financial blow to small and large businesses throughout southeast England.

But for all that golfing tourists and high-profile tournaments inject into the economy, it is members’ clubs that still form the backbone of the industry, and they are in grave trouble at the moment.

We are now into the second weekend of enforced course closures, which have come at that time of year when clubs are normally gearing up for the new season.

Members of those where annual subscriptions are due are questioning whether it is worth paying, but clubs that have already collected this year’s fees are also under acute pressure as the coronavirus outbreak has wiped out other vital income streams.

Cash-flow concerns prompted Sport England to announce earlier this week that it is making £195 million available to clubs to help see them through the crisis. The package of measures includes grants of up to £10,000, £55m to fund “new and innovative ways” to keep people active, and a £115m rollover of current funding into 2021/22 to give partners “long-term certainty”.

Not surprisingly, golf clubs in this country are hoping that sportscotland will follow suit in making additional money available through Scottish Golf, the governing body for the amateur game.

At the moment, sportscotland is pointing all clubs and community organisations in the direction of existing business support schemes that have been rolled out by the Scottish and UK Governments during the past three or so weeks. The problem for many golf clubs is that the rateable value of their land and buildings exceeds the £50,999 cutoff to be eligible for the £25,000 grants available to retail, leisure and hospitality businesses hit by the pandemic.

It is an intractable catch-22, and there is no doubt that a number of the country’s remaining 550-odd members’ clubs will be felled by Covid-19.

Few have any reserves worth mentioning, as they were already scrambling to survive the seemingly inexorable exodus of golfers from club membership to the ranks of the “nomads”, who find it better value to pay as they play. Since hitting a peak in 2006 – a couple of years before the financial crisis that sounded the first serious alarm for golf clubs – Scotland has been losing an average of about 6,000 registered golfers annually.

It is a far cry from the situation at the turn of the century, when many clubs still enjoyed the luxury of hefty joining fees and considerable waiting lists. There was no need to market themselves, with applicants often made to feel they weren’t really wanted.

That mindset continued to dominate even as commercial circumstances changed, leaving potential newcomers to the sport cold. Attitudes towards dress codes, women and juniors on the course are still today too reminiscent of those found in a gentlemen’s guild of the 1950s, as clubs have largely failed to help themselves through any significant attempts to adapt or modernise.

The Equality Act that came into force in October 2010 should have addressed some of these issues, but here again, the impact fell short of revolutionary.

READ MORE: Calls for resignation of Scotland's chief medical officer Catherine Calderwood after 'non-essential' visit to second home

With few exceptions, golf clubs still consign women’s competitions to weekdays, leaving the weekends free for men’s events. This means that women who work – and thus are more likely to have the money to pay membership fees – often struggle to play on weekdays and are also blocked out of significant prime weekend time when the course is given over to men.

That kind of equality is a tough sell to those on the outside looking in. By effectively alienating half of the potential adult market, it becomes twice as hard to bring enough new people into the game to sustain membership levels.

With the number of female golf club members stubbornly stuck around the 12-15% mark, Scotland’s amateur governing body has been keen to stress the need for clubs to become more female-friendly. But even its own efforts to amalgamate the former men’s SGU with the ladies’ SLGA to create the current Scottish Golf were a protracted, frustrating affair that only finally got over the finish line in 2015.

Since then, its relationship with affiliated clubs has been patchy at best. Too many club managers are of the opinion that they get no value out of £14.50 that they hand over to Scottish Golf on behalf of every member each year, and remain suspicious of the governing body’s ulterior motives.

There are numerous examples of the breakdown in this relationship, the most recent being the backlash against the software system that Scottish Golf is promoting to all clubs in advance of the new World Handicap System (WHS) that is meant to come into play this year.

Even pre-coronavirus, clubs were worried that this would incur additional costs against their already strained finances.

Under chief executive Andrew McKinlay, Scottish Golf has insisted that the new software will be a “game-changer” in tackling membership declines. But if reports are to be believed, representatives from the governing body have failed to appear when invited to attend meetings and face questions from clubs concerned about the new system.

It is difficult to conclude anything other than the fact that this is a dysfunctional relationship, which is alarming given that already considerable difficulties have multiplied exponentially amid the current pandemic.

If any extra emergency support is eventually forthcoming from sportscotland, it can’t be used as a bailout to simply see golf clubs through to a return to a previous status quo that was already broken. The downward trend was well-established before the onset of Covid-19, but too few clubs were willing to make the fundamental changes necessary to adapt.

For its part, Scottish Golf must not act the callous dictator in the crisis that is currently playing out. The quality of the governing body’s engagement with its affiliated club members has to improve.

Much if not all of the existing rule book on operating and funding amateur golf clubs in Scotland is overdue for the shredder. Not all will make it to the other side of this crisis, but those that do will find that the landscape has finally shifted to such a dramatic extent that the old ways simply won’t work.