Golf clubs are becoming more professional
The most comprehensive survey into British golf has suggested that the financial decline of the last few years is starting to slow down.
The biennial England Golf Golf Club Membership Questionnaire 2012 has found that there has been a huge increase in golf clubs that are trying to recruit corporate golfers, one in four clubs are seeing a rise in membership numbers, social networking is now used by more than a third of all golf clubs for marketing and just one in three clubs charge a joining fee.
The previous survey in 2010 discovered that a strong majority of English golf clubs were reporting overall drops in membership numbers and just 17 per cent of clubs were seeing a rise. Today, just half of clubs are experiencing membership falls (and that rate has dropped from 26 members per year to 23), and a quarter are seeing an increase – at an average rate of 26 members per year.
Probably the biggest trend since 2010 has been the rise of corporate memberships; 35 per cent of golf clubs now offer this scheme – more than double the number just two years ago. There has also been a sharp rise in the number of golf clubs that now offer flexible membership categories, typically in which golfers pay a discounted annual fee and then pay reduced green fees every time they play. This category has also nearly doubled in the last two years, but still nearly 90 per cent of clubs do not offer it. In addition, there have been significant increases in the number of clubs that offer five-day (excluding weekend golf), social, student and intermediate (typically for people aged 19 to 27) memberships.
Another significant trend in the last few years has been that of the joining fee – today just one in three clubs charge one, a drop of 10 per cent since 2010. Twenty years ago almost all golf clubs had an entrance fee. The average joining fee for those clubs that issue one is £805 for an adult male and £788 for an adult female.
In order to attract new members, the most popular initiative is membership incentives, which nearly two-thirds of all clubs now offer. Sixty per cent of clubs provide coaching taster sessions, a rise of seven per cent since 2010, and 40 per cent of clubs utilise open days.
To reach out to potential new members and visitors, 82 per cent of clubs market themselves on the internet, and 36 per cent of clubs now use social networking for marketing.
The research also found that almost every single golf club in England now has vacancies for members – on average at 132 per club, meaning that English clubs could cater for a quarter of a million new members, a far cry from 20 years ago when most clubs had waiting lists. In fact, today, just 13 per cent of clubs have a waiting list, slightly up from 2010, with, on average, 33 people on each one.
However, the poll, which was completed by 777 of the 1,941 golf clubs affiliated to England Golf, found that long-term trends of decreasing memberships are still continuing. In 2006 there were 743,556 male members of English golf clubs and 126,648 female members. Today there are 652,121 male and 109,564 female members.
The average English golf club has 478 members, a drop of 1.7 per cent since 2010. Of that 478, just 56 are below the age of 30, and of the average club’s junior members, 90 per cent of them are boys. The cost of membership at an average golf club is £752 for an adult male and £756 for an adult female – England Golf states that the figures are now so close because of the Equality Act.
“Golf clubs in England are more accessible and inclusive than ever before,” said an England Golf spokeswoman.
“Without doubt, the golfing environment in England has changed significantly with some golf clubs under financial pressure and experiencing challenging times. However, from a participant perspective, golf is now more accessible and inclusive than it ever has been and therefore we as an industry have a product which could be in demand if packaged correctly. We believe that golf can reflect societal change and we can attract new golfers and members.
“Competition for leisure time and money is high and golf clubs should examine what they are offering their customers to support recruitment and retention and whether it actually meets their requirements. Golfers want a high level of service, family opportunities and ultimately value for money and these results provide areas to consider which may be impacting upon what a golf club offers.
“Clubs are becoming increasingly flexible and customer-focused as they strive to attract new golfers and to recruit and retain members.
“More clubs are doing away with specific demands around junior playing standards and course restrictions, demonstrating that under 18s are increasingly seen as an integral part of the club.”
Richard Flint, England Golf’s development manager, said: “These are very difficult times for golf clubs, both in terms of the economy and overcoming the effects of the wettest summer for 100 years. But, it is encouraging to see clubs responding to these challenges in creative and imaginative ways and putting their customers at the heart of everything they do.“