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Has the slowdown in golf club membership begun?

How are the numbers at clubs faring in the face of cost-of-living and rising prices? The team at BRS Golf have revealed some interesting early figures

 

Membership numbers at golf clubs in the UK and Ireland are starting to fall – but the numbers of rounds played are continuing to thrive.

Figures from BRS Golf revealed that some 5.6 million member rounds were played in the first quarter of this year, but that the 1,500 clubs who used their services had cumulatively lost around 6,000 members over the same period.

In a GCMA Insights edition of the Golf Club Talk UK podcast, the company’s Kevin Murray said they had seen an increase of 400,000 in rounds – or nine per cent – on the equivalent period last year and 600,000 up on the final quarter of 2022. That was despite the wettest March on record for decades in much of the UK.

While rounds played remain way above pre-Covid levels, up 100 per cent on 2019 levels, the team at the tee-time providers have also been on the lookout to see if the cost-of-living crisis and rising prices would have an impact as clubs negotiated their annual subscription renewals.

Murray said: “Over the past few months, the entire nation has been gripped by cost of living and an energy crisis – prices rising, rising interest rates, you name it, it’s risen.

“Businesses right across the country have had to pass these costs onto consumers and, in the case of golf clubs, unfortunately that’s the members who have had to bear the brunt of any increases.

“Member subs have had an increase to bridge this gap, which comes at a time when inflation is already hurting people at home in terms of their own food and energy bills.

“And the first thing most people look at when they go to cut costs is, ‘what subscriptions have I signed up to when things were good?’

“Whether we like it or not, golf club fees are probably one of the largest subscriptions that we’ve signed up to.”

Murray said it was a little early in the year, and that a lot of clubs might still be extending grace and favour periods, or chasing subscriptions, and that the next quarter would provide a much fuller picture of the membership situation.

But, based on clubs that were BRS Golf members at the end of last year, registered numbers had fallen – with 53 per cent of those leavers coming from Ireland and Northern Ireland, 28 per cent from Scotland, 19 per cent from England, and Wales remaining static.

golf club membership

“In Ireland and Northern Ireland, there have been 18 clubs where their registered member number has decreased by more than 100 and 36 clubs who have lost more than 50 but less than 100,” added Murray.

“In Scotland, seven clubs have lost more than 100 and 21 more than 50 but less than 100. In England that’s 19 clubs and 30 clubs and the geographical split is pretty even between North and South.”

Murray concluded the numbers were much as they expected, with some clubs losing members but others who had added to their base.

“It’s not all doom and gloom, as such, but there are just signs that people are thinking twice about renewing memberships.”

Overall, revenue generated for GolfNow course partners came in at just over £2 million – around 21 per cent up on Q1 of 2022 – and just shy of 10,000 new golfers had booked tee times through the GolfNow website.

  • This piece also appears in the GCMA’s monthly Insights newsletter that is packed with expert opinion on matters relating to golf club management. Sign up to Insights for FREE here.
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Has your club suffered a drop in golf club membership, or are they still riding the post pandemic boom? Let me know with a tweet.

Steve Carroll

Steve Carroll

A journalist for 25 years, Steve has been immersed in club golf for almost as long. A former club captain, he has passed the Level 3 Rules of Golf exam with distinction having attended the R&A's prestigious Tournament Administrators and Referees Seminar.

Steve has officiated at a host of high-profile tournaments, including Open Regional Qualifying, PGA Fourball Championship, English Men's Senior Amateur, and the North of England Amateur Championship. In 2023, he made his international debut as part of the team that refereed England vs Switzerland U16 girls.

A part of NCG's Top 100s panel, Steve has a particular love of links golf and is frantically trying to restore his single-figure handicap. He currently floats at around 11.

Steve plays at Close House, in Newcastle, and York GC, where he is a member of the club's matches and competitions committee and referees the annual 36-hole scratch York Rose Bowl.

Having studied history at Newcastle University, he became a journalist having passed his NTCJ exams at Darlington College of Technology.

What's in Steve's bag: TaylorMade Stealth 2 driver, 3-wood, and hybrids; TaylorMade Stealth 2 irons; TaylorMade Hi-Toe, Ping ChipR, Sik Putter.

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