The top trends of 2013
5. Flexible memberships are on the increase and are working
As clubs are increasingly competing to secure members, some in recent years introduced flexible packages, also known as golf credits, associated memberships and pay as you play memberships, which typically involve golfers paying a discounted annual subscription to be a member of the club, and then reduced or free green fees for a certain number of rounds they play.
Golfers have shown demand for these products as they are more suited to some people’s lifestyles, but the majority of golf clubs still do not offer them, particularly because they run the risk of members paying less, or an unknown amount of, money throughout the year, rather than one fixed sum that entitles them to unlimited golf.
But that now looks like it is changing. In 2013 several clubs, including even The Belfry and The Oxfordshire, introduced the scheme, and it’s difficult to find a venue where it hasn’t been a success.
Haywards Heath Golf Club brought it in the spring of 2013 and by early September, the club had recruited 39 new members to the category. The Altonwood Group, which operates five golf clubs in England, also went down the flexible membership route, in which revenues covered the cost of implementation in less than 12 weeks. Panshanger Golf Complex said the scheme, introduced this year, brought in over £12,000 during the summer months and led to people who had previously left the full membership scheme rejoining the club.
4. Despite the recovery, many clubs are continuing to struggle or close
There’s no doubt, that with better weather and a slightly improving economic picture, golf clubs had a better 2013 than they did 2012. But that doesn’t mean that the industry is no longer in a critical condition.
For example, Cambridge Golf Club, Fairthorne Manor Golf Club and Bassingbourn Golf Club are just some of the bigger named golf clubs that closed down in 2013, and many others continued to report large losses. Allerthorpe Park Golf Club was also placed into liquidation, as was Inchmarlo Resort and Golf Club, although the club’s nine-hole course was later reopened. As one member of Lothianburn Golf Club, a 120-year-old venue that closed down in 2013 after seeing its membership drop from more than 820 to 270 in the last nine years, put it: “Other clubs must adapt – or face dire consequences.”
3. Many golf clubs are now more than just golf clubs
A previous trend noted – spending by golf clubs is on the rise, but the money is not going into the course, rather on non-golf revenue generators.
This became very clear in 2013 when Wentworth Club, one of the world’s most iconic golf clubs, announced that it was no longer a golf club.
“We have more members here now who don’t play golf than do,” said Julian Small, chief executive, who revealed that the club had posted huge profits in the previous year thanks to strong demand for its spa, and tennis and health club offerings.
“It is far more than a golf club.”
Several clubs have tried to follow the Wentworth model by trying to entice visitors via a non-golf offering. Clubs this year used their driving ranges for fireworks displays, separately branded their restaurants and have even constructed holiday lodges to sell or rent out, for example.
One person who’s concerned about the way the industry is heading is Sandy Jones, chief executive of the Professional Golfers Association (PGA). He said: “There was a spell when every golf club thought they should have a squash court. But where are those squash courts now? They are indoor driving ranges. Let’s focus on what we do – golf – not diversification.”
2. Attracting women is now seen as crucial to a recovery
Gregg Patterson, one of the most sought after speakers at golf events, summed up the state of the industry in 2013. “Only 17 per cent of golf rounds played in the UK are by women,” he said. “Women are the growth market for golf.”
The problem for the UK is that golf clubs are failing to tap into that market. The country now has fewer female golfers as members of clubs than Germany, despite having four times as many golf courses and being known as the ‘home of golf’.
The USA is so concerned by its low level of female participation (which is proportionally three percent higher than in the UK) that a programme was launched in 2013 to evaluate golf venues on how female-friendly they are, based on course playability, customer service, golf course amenities, facility amenities and golf programmes.
Several British clubs are trying to tap into the potential too. For example, Sheffield International Venues (SIV), which runs four golf clubs, now provides affordable and social coaching to women. BGL, one of the UK’s largest golf operators, has also abolished dress codes, developed free coaching, introduced adventure golf for children and revamped its coffee offerings, to reflect more what can be found on the High Street. “We now have a lot of mothers who drop their kids off at school and then turn up at the golf club for a coffee and a chat with each other,” said Colin Mayes, BGL’s CEO. “We then try to get them into golf.”
1. Golfers want, and are finally getting, a faster game
For centuries golfers have complained that the people in front of them are going too slowly, and in 2013 something was finally done about it.
First, a survey at the end of 2012 found that more than a fifth of golfers are put off playing the game because of other slow golfers, and that 90 percent of golfers do not want their rounds to last more than four hours.
Then the United States Golf Association (USGA) brought in a raft of measures to ‘identify challenges and solutions regarding pace of play’, including better use of data, a ‘pace rating’ system, on-site assistance at golf courses and analysis of green-to-tee walks and course layouts.
Not to be outdone, Peter Dawson, chief executive of The R&A, urged golf clubs to offer something to customers that doesn’t take a long time to play, even if this means that the course has less than 18 holes.
By the summer, the issue had become even hotter. A number of television adverts, featuring the likes of Clint Eastwood and Tiger Woods, were made, urging people to be quicker when it comes to playing golf, and Troon Golf, the world’s largest owner of golf courses, implemented the ‘Troon Values Your Time’ programme which communicates a pace-of-play standard to golfers, gives priority tee times in the morning to quicker golfers and offers education to golfers regarding which tees they should use, how long they should prepare a shot for, where to drive golf buggies on the course, how long they should look for lost balls for, what to do while others are putting and so on.
Crown Golf, the UK’s largest golf operator, then went a stage further – it trialled a programme whereby golfers download an app that tracks their round. If they play too slowly then the pro is notified in the shop, who then alerts a marshal to visit the golfers in question.
As the year ended, the USGA announced it had made two new videos to educate golfers to play more quickly.
It’s an issue that is finally being addressed.