The State of the Game 2018 – Part 2

This part of the blog will cover that crucial middle ground of the game in England – Golf Club’s and Golf Club Membership.

Golf Club members are essential role in the health of the game in England – these are the people that play the most golf – that spend the most money on equipment – and that play crucial volunteering roles in the running of the game.

According to Sports Marketing Surveys, the number of Golf Club members in England fell from 874,397 in 2006 to 678,372 in 2015. There are stories in the media most weeks detailing the latest Golf Club to close, with the number of Golf Clubs affiliated to England Golf falling by around 30 to 1,926 in the 5 years to 2016.

Recent figures, however, suggest a slight fight back in the number of Golf Club members. So,as we enter 2018, what are the successful Golf Clubs doing, what problems have they addressed, and what is the best way forward?

Create a family atmosphere and services

In 2018 it is paramount that middle – ground Golf Club’s appeal to the whole family. Clubhouses should have the atmosphere of a coffee shop rather than a private men’s lounge. Club’s need to be proactive to achieve this – with the availability of fun based Junior and Ladies Coaching a key ingredient.

Access to the golf course also needs to be analysed. How do Clubs hope to attract working female golfers if 3 out of 4 Saturday mornings are booked exclusively for men’s competitions?

Girls Golf Rocks

Fit with Peoples Lifestyles

It is not rocket science to think that in order to make Golf Club Membership attractive, it needs to fit in with the modern families lifestyle. Successful Clubs all utilise the following:

  • Monthly payment options – not just the availability but to actively market the membership by the monthly cost.
  • A range of membership options – Flexible points based memberships where members only pay for the golf that they play can appeal, whilst Corporate, Country and Family memberships have also been a winner for many Clubs.
  • Social Media presence – Clubs need to invest time and take expert advice to fully utilise this massive opportunity to connect with members and potential members.
  • Quality Online Presence – A quality website and online booking facilities are essential to a modern Golf Club. Investment in professional photography and video is often the best value marketing there is.

Create a great management team and trust the professionals

Whilst many Members Clubs committees are filled with successful business people in their own right, the vast majority are not golf industry experts. The Golf Club’s that are currently experiencing increases in their memberships have employed well qualified people and trusted in the ongoing education schemes of the PGA, GCMA & BIGGA to benefit their Club.

A key business principle that all Club’s should consider is to maintain the value of their product and avoid entering discount wars. It should be remembered that the bottom line is that cash maintains the business rather than the race for playing or membership numbers. A particularly important ratio is green fee : membership rates. If this ratio becomes greater than 1:20 then the appeal of membership drops dramatically.

Utilise and connect with the local and golfing community

Those Golf Club’s that are on the Up have realised the importance of communities. Within the Golf Club, communities help to retain members – those people that feel part of a group will naturally utilise the Club more and gain value from their membership.

Connection with the local community – be that schools, sports clubs, businesses, military bases or a thousand other possibilities is a crucial part of the modern golf club’s success in marketing and revenue terms. The days where Golf Club’s view themselves as above the need for such networking have long gone.

Although Golf Club’s are naturally in competition with each other, Club’s are increasingly recognising the benefits of connecting with each other – this can be through reciprocal playing arrangements (adding value to memberships), buying groups to reduce costs or mutual training agreements for best practice achievement.

Consistent investment in the key areas

Investment is a non-negotiable – staff and main clubhouse areas are important but for most Clubs the key area will be the golf course – if members can see constant improvements taking place, then they are far more likely to be retained and for most aspiring members, joining a Club with a strong vision for improving the course will be very convincing.

Modern Governance

Particularly in members owned Clubs, the governance structure can often be antiquated – with decisions stuck for months by being bounced around various sub-committees. Successful Clubs manage to maintain strong governance whilst streamlining the decision making process by investing in their key personnel and trusting their judgement.

England Golf and County Golf Associations also have a key role to play in promoting and extending the benefits of Golf Club Membership. In my experience, these Governing Bodies have a long way to go.

Less numbers and far more diversity is required at the board levels – with many County Associations reluctant to merge Men’s and Ladies Unions – surely a crucial step in the diversity process. The ‘poll tax’ like affiliation fee system for funding these Governing bodies also needs looking at – the forced nature of these payments by members and Golf Clubs often in my experience leads to resentment and disengagement. In my own County, the Men’s County Golf Union does not even have a social media presence – how on earth does it expect to engage with its paying members! Golf Clubs need to press and lead this process of modernisation – it is in Counties where this communication system is open and positive that Club’s are reaping the benefits.

So, in conclusion the outlook for golf club’s in 2018 remains mixed. It is likely that some more of the weaker clubs will close. Whilst unfortunate, this is unlikely to reduce the overall number of golf members, who will relocate to stronger Clubs. Many Club’s have now put the necessary changes and building blocks in place to look forward in 2018 and beyond with great hope and expectations and combined with the developments at the entry level of the game outlined in part 1 of the blog, golf in England is in better shape than at any stage in the last 10 years.

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