Alistair Dunsmuir: A third way in the joining fee debate?3rd June, 2012 by Alistair Dunsmuir
Few things in golf are more divisive than the issue of joining fees, but when a debate gets going about the topic you might be surprised at how creative golf clubs have been at tackling the problem.
And, for 90 per cent of clubs, it is a problem. In 2006 more than two in every three golf clubs in England charged an entrance fee to join. Within the next four years, as members of clubs left in their droves and many were not replaced, a quarter of all golf clubs in England abolished them. Many of the, now, minority of golf clubs that still charge one have reduced it in the last few years as well.
I used social media last month to debate the issue and, unsurprisingly, there was a lot of passion on both sides.
‘It’s very simple,’ said one golf travel agent. ‘Members paid a joining fee and this funded course and clubhouse improvements which keep the club viable. It would be unfair if new members walked into the club and just paid the annual sub.’
‘I would not consider joining a club that charges an entrance fee,’ stated a keen golfer with an opposing view. ‘That’s not how you command loyalty, which should be established by a well-maintained golf course.’
On the one hand, existing members who paid a joining fee do not want to feel that they have lost out, plus the levy can be a lucrative income generator and a good way to prevent members from leaving. On the other, it actively discourages golfers from joining at a time when clubs need them the most.
Fortunately, there are solutions.
‘My club waived the joining fee but charges a one-off levy for bar and restaurant credit for new members,’ said one club member. ‘This seems acceptable to all.’
‘I only pay joining fees to clubs that have reciprocal deals with other clubs so I get heavily discounted green fees with them,’ added a golfing enthusiast.
‘We still have a full joining fee but offer a ‘buddy scheme’ where groups can join together and split it,” added a manager.
‘My club has one,’ stated another golf club member. ‘But you can pay it over a number of years by direct debit.’
Probably about a quarter of golf clubs have considered abolishing their joining fee in the last year or two. The above quotes show there can be a third way.