David Joy: Clubs need to be professional
Joy, who has led the organisation that runs amateur golf in England for the last seven months, revealed to delegates at the Golf Club Managers’ Association’s national conference at the Hinckley Island Hotel in Leicestershire that English golf clubs have collectively lost 169,000 members in the last decade. He said that if the next ten years saw a similar decline then several golf clubs would go under.
To address the problem, England Golf has developed a nine-step plan to stabilise and reverse the decline by 2017, and then attract 750,000 new members by 2020. However, David Joy needs some golf clubs to adapt in order to bring this about.
“I know a 28-year-old who wanted to join a golf club and approached two in his locality,” he said. “The first had an £800 joining fee which was just out of his price range, but they wouldn’t show any flexibility on this – even refusing to spread the payment of it over a few years.
“The second club interviewed him, but the panel was so condescending during it that he refused to join the club.”
Joy added that an England Golf survey of 1,700 ‘nomads’ – golfers who are not members of clubs – found that 60 to 70 percent of them were interested in joining a golf club, but were put off because of poor value for money.
“They’re prepared to pay £300 to £400 a year and only play a few times for that,” he said. “They’re not interested in paying more for unlimited golf as it doesn’t suit their lifestyles. That’s why flexible memberships can work.”
Joy stated that golf clubs can be positive about their futures if they give customers what they want.
“There are still a million people in England playing golf at least once a month, and 2.3 million people playing quite regularly,” he said.
“We also know that 20 percent of clubs are growing at the moment – all clubs can grow if they get it right.
“Sixty percent of people who quit golf club membership could be prepared to join a club again if they are communicated to in the right way within six months of leaving.
“One of the problems is that golf is seen as a game for old men, even by current members.
“Many clubs need to change. Eighteen-hole competitions put people off because they take too long, but as club competitions are superb for member retention then why not think seriously about nine-hole club competitions? Attract more women to your venue – Leamington Spa Golf Club ran coaching sessions on their driving range for women, and this led to more than 30 of them joining the club.
“Too many clubs also have too many good golfers on their committees, making decisions that suit themselves, for example making the courses too long to play by putting the tees too far back.”
David Joy, who said that the relationship between English golf clubs and England Golf could be better, added that the two both want the same thing.
“In Sweden they have a central database of members so they know from their data why memberships are in decline, and that forms their strategy.
“We don’t have that so we don’t know exactly what the problem is – it could be a retention or a recruitment issue.”
Also speaking at the conference was Barry Hill, the secretary at St George’s Hill Golf Club in Surrey, who warned golf clubs not to let seemingly minor issues spiral out of control.
“I know of two golf clubs that recently had a small issue with their pro,” he said.
“In the first the pro wanted a one-year extension to his contract that was about to come to an end, and in the other the pro wanted some contractual changes. In both cases the board at the clubs refused. And in both cases the pro then whipped up a storm with the members, who called an EGM which removed those boards from office.”
Social media expert Andy Poulton was also on hand to advise golf clubs on best practice.
“Unhappy customers will moan about you on social media whether you are on there or not,” he said. “But if you are on there it’s a great opportunity to turn a moaner into a lifelong customer.
“Social media doesn’t have to be run by golf club managers. If you trust your staff with your business then you should trust them to update your social media. At one golf club I know, they set up a subsidiary Twitter account specifically on the state of the course that their greenkeepers update. It’s a great way to communicate.
“Plus, in 2014 50 percent of all web access will be on phones or tablets. So you must now have a mobile-friendly website.”