fbpx
golf format

Golf clubs: Don’t make the mistake of taking loyal members for granted

The pandemic has brought lots of new members and clubs are naturally concentrating on keeping them. But, writes Steve Carroll, they must not forget their loyal servants
 

I don’t need to stretch the memory back that far to remember when a round felt like millionaire’s golf. Within reason, I just turned up. I could set my competition tee times almost by clockwork – 9am, 9.08am or 9.16am. It was pretty much the same for years.

The introduction of an online booking system changed to that an extent. Then the pandemic blew it out of the water entirely.

Who among us wasn’t surprised by the massive participation boost golf received last summer? Clubs that had feared for their existence were suddenly flooded with applications. Waiting lists, unheard of except at the bigger venues, were once again being wheeled out – such was the demand.

A recent BRS Golf survey revealed 80 per cent of club respondents reported their membership revenues were up, with 35 per cent of those saying they had “increased dramatically”.

Against that backdrop, golf clubs are now focused on keeping their new arrivals for the long term. The same survey revealed the majority of clubs cited ‘new membership retention as the number one priority’.

Some clubs are looking to do that partly through altering the balance between member and visitor play. The theory goes that you prioritise membership, reduce the number of visitor times and charge more for those slots, thereby ensuring income remains constant.

So we’re talking about new members and we’re talking about visitors. Where I’m not seeing a lot of chat – at least in the channels where I roam – is about balancing the expectations of members who’ve been at the club for a length of time.

For it would be dangerous to take those players for granted simply because they’ve shown considerable loyalty in the past. They’re facing playing pressures unseen for decades.

The days of a proportion of members renewing their subscriptions for the status it brings, and occasionally popping down the club to hold court and have a cup of tea, are over.

Golf club membership now feels like any other leisure expense. People pay their fees and expect to utilise them.

The new, and very welcome, influx of players into the game over the last 12 months are definitely of this mind and they are putting new pressure on competition tee times that could soon be causing managers headaches.

Let me give you the example of my home club. In a recent midweek medal, 159 turned out to play. Grabbing a tee time has become an exercise in fastest finger first. Make the mistake of loading up the booking portal five minutes after launch and you’re hunting for scraps.

I’ve heard of clubs catering for well over 200 in a busy event and, as we all know, there are a finite number of tee times in any one day.

Why should this matter? I’ve been all over the place in the short time this season has been up and running. I’ve played at the day’s break and the early-afternoon. I’m flexible, happy to get a time, and it causes me no problems. That is not the same for everyone.

But for golfers like myself, playing in competitions is a vital part of why we are at a club. I’d estimate that, during the period between April and October, around 80 per cent of my rounds involve some kind of event.

I love my club, I’ve been a captain there and currently serve on the committee, but that loyalty is not unquestioning. If I ever found the demand on tee times became such where I couldn’t secure a competition spot, I’d consider my future.

What can clubs do? Demand is demand. Perhaps stalwarts like myself simply have to accept that exclusive use is over for the time being. If so, that’s a delicate job of communication to a group that have largely been used to playing when they want – and how they want – for some considerable time.

There are clubs that have taken the decision to stage competitions over two days to give everyone the best chance of getting out there.

It sounds like an easy solution but for those that like to cram their competition schedules – and I for one love a Saturday board comp/Sunday stableford combo – that’s going to require wielding an axe into traditional calendars.

And does that have an effect on committee funds? You’re getting more players for one event but perhaps fewer than if there two and, therefore, less revenue?

There are no easy answers and it’s a good problem to have, right? One we could only dreamed of just a year ago. As one respondent to the BRS survey said: “Golf in England has been handed a get out of jail free card – it is up to us to use it wisely.”

But while the focus will naturally fall on ensuring those who’ve made the trek across from cricket and rugby, or whatever they previously played, remain avid players and fee payers it would be folly to do that at the expense of those who have kept clubs ticking over for the previous decade.

What are your club doing to reward or retain loyal members? Let us know in the comments below, or you can tweet me.

Subscribe to NCG

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.

Latest Posts

PGA Championship third round Morikawa Schauffele

PGA Championship

15 players sit within five shots after PGA Championship third round

By

Read full article about 15 players sit within five shots after PGA Championship third round
Shane Lowry 62

PGA Championship

So close! Shane Lowry equals men’s major scoring record

By

Read full article about So close! Shane Lowry equals men’s major scoring record
cognizant classic prize money

WITB

What’s in Shane Lowry’s bag?

By

Read full article about What’s in Shane Lowry’s bag?
scottie scheffler arrest

PGA Championship

No body cam footage of Scottie Scheffler arrest, says Louisville mayor

By

Read full article about No body cam footage of Scottie Scheffler arrest, says Louisville mayor
pga championship sunday tee times

PGA Championship

2024 PGA Championship Sunday tee times: Round 4 groupings

By

Read full article about 2024 PGA Championship Sunday tee times: Round 4 groupings
PGA Championship

PGA Championship

PGA Championship: Everything you need to know

By

Read full article about PGA Championship: Everything you need to know
PGA Championship saturday tee times

PGA Championship

2024 PGA Championship Saturday tee times: Round 3 groupings

By

Read full article about 2024 PGA Championship Saturday tee times: Round 3 groupings
Ludvig Aberg PGA Championship missed cut

PGA Championship

Which big names missed the cut at the PGA Championship?

By

Read full article about Which big names missed the cut at the PGA Championship?
Harry Hillier PGA Tour Americas 59

PGA Tour

Harry Hillier Cards First 59 In PGA Tour Americas History

By

Read full article about Harry Hillier Cards First 59 In PGA Tour Americas History