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Are club members now playing too much golf?

As new figures reveal the demand for tee times is as strong as ever, a popular industry podcast asked whether the numbers could usher in a conversation about membership structures

 

Do clubs need to look at different membership options to combat the demand for tee times on their courses?

As new figures from BRS Golf revealed member and visitor participation remain sky-high following the Covid pandemic, an influential golf industry podcast asked whether clubs should look at member numbers and have “conversations about membership types” if the increases continue.

Appearing on a GCMA Insights edition of the Golf Club Talk UK podcast, BRS Golf’s Karen Moss and Kevin Murray revealed 2023 is set to break the record for the highest number of rounds played by club members in the UK and Ireland.

The company, which provides tee booking services for more than 1,500 clients, processed 7.3 million member rounds between July and September this year and nearly 21 million member rounds in the year to date.

Those figures are six per cent up on last year, 17 per cent up on 2021, 22 per cent on 2020 and an astonishing 93 per cent up on 2019.

In terms of visitor spend through Golf Now, September was the sixth successive month where more than £1 million in course revenue was generated with a total of 356,000 bookings, and 737,000 rounds played, so far in 2023. That number is 14 per cent up on the same time last year.

Podcast host Leighton Walker asked how much further those numbers could keep moving forward unless clubs can increase membership numbers.

He said: “Are we just seeing people playing more and more? Do we think that clubs might start to now look at member numbers as being something that needs a little bit more focus and attention?”

“Are people having trouble getting on their own golf course at times? Are we in that nice point at the moment where everything still works but, if these numbers keep moving forward, does it become an issue?”

Moss replied: “I think it’s going to open up conversations about membership types as well – clubs having more insight into who’s actually playing the most rounds, who’s getting the most use out of their membership.

“Because it might be a case here for more seasonal-style memberships for some people rather than year wide so that everybody gets use of the course and there’s a good balance between member and visitor play.”

golf tee times

Are surging tee-time bookings a Catch-22 for golf clubs?

Murray added: “You’ll probably find that with golf clubs that have multiple membership categories those who pay the least play the most.

“There was one golf club in particular and whenever they did some analysis of their tee sheet and those who played it was all people who were retired and on the over-65 membership subscriptions.

“They were booking the tee times seven days in advance, when they became available – the same tee time and playing every week.

“I can’t remember what the average price per round was when they broke it down but they’ve started to alter their member subs based on the back of that. The over-65s might get a bit of a shock when it comes to membership [renewals].”

Moss said BRS Golf looked every year at the average rounds played per member and, last year, saw an increase in the number of rounds played per person. She added this would probably be the case in 2023 as well.

“I would bet it is,” said Murray. “Then it goes back to pressure on the tee sheet to get people out, to get people seeing value in their membership.

“But if you’re going to ask any greenkeeper in the country, do they want their golf course to be filled all day every day? Not one of them would say yes. You’d struggle to guarantee the quality of the golf course in the golf season if you can’t keep working on it.

“It’s a bit of a Catch-22. It’s hard to say no to a new member but, at the same time, is a potential current member annoyed that the greens have been hollow-tined in the middle of July?”

You can listen to the Golf Club Talk UK podcast by clicking here.

  • This piece also appears in the GCMA’s new 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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Now have your say

What do you think? Are the pressures on tee times from members becoming too great? Have you found it tough when you book tee times? Let me know by leaving a comment on X.

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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