Inflation is soaring, prices keep rising, but the conversation around the squeeze has largely been one way. So industry experts are saying its time for clubs to reach out to their members

Do members need to share the financial pain of golf club costs to help them get through the economic downturn? 

That was the question posed on the latest Insights podcast from the Golf Club Managers’ Association as a panel of experts considered how to negotiate the sport through a tricky upcoming golf club membership renewals season.

Host Leighton Walker was joined by GCMA chief executive Tom Brooke, Inicio Solutions managing director Simon Jones, PlayMoreGolf relationship director Brad Chard, and Fairway Credit’s sales and support director Nigel Stewart to look at membership pricing.

The quartet considered the tools clubs could use to minimise the stress amid a background of high inflation and a squeeze on leisure budgets.

“That’s leaving golf club managers and golf clubs now with some incredibly difficult planning ahead in terms of what they do with their business modelling and, in particular, membership pricing,” Brooke said.

“There are so many considerations. Do you increase your pricing in line with inflation and to keep up with cost of living and utility bills at golf clubs and risk higher than anticipated, or higher than planned, attrition rates or do you hold your pricing – going lower – and hope for higher than planned retention but then risk not being able to cover your costs?”

Walker said a club’s relationship with their members was key and asked the panel whether they needed them to “share the pain”.

“It’s all very well that members want to keep their subs down but, perhaps in these times, they’ve got to kick in and do their little bit as well?” 

Jones said: “Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock, we all know the state of the economy. Hiding [that] from a member at this point is pointless and it’s actually a bit devious really.

“You should be upfront and the communications that you’re putting out to your member, particularly in that renewal notification, should be really well thought through.”

cost of living crisis in golf

He added: “It should be talking a little bit about where the economic situation is because, let’s face it, under a 10-point per cent increase in subscription is actually a real team decrease in fees. That places the club at a risk.

“You should be communicating with a member on that front. Every club is different. This is a unique decision for everybody, whether that’s through AGM, committee meetings, or whether that’s comms going out to members prior to the renewal letter, it shouldn’t be a big surprise in that respect.”

Brooke said there could be a difference in the way these questions were handled depending on whether the club was private member or proprietary owned.  

“If it’s a private members’ golf club, where the member is a genuine stakeholder in that club, then having those conversations and saying ‘this is your club, we need your support to help us through these times and to continue providing the service we wish to provide you with as a member’ is possibly an easier conversation to have than in a proprietary environment where there is a single stakeholder or a group stakeholder looking to make profit from the operation and continuing to retain an income for themselves.

“So depending on the audience, and obviously the type of golf club you are, that conversation needs to take a slightly different tone.”

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  • 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.

How is your club dealing with the cost of living crisis? Have your golf club membership costs soared? Are you thinking about leaving your membership, or are you staying put? Get in touch with a tweet.

Read more on golf club membership costs and the cost of living crisis…

Steve Carroll

A journalist for 23 years, Steve has been immersed in club golf for almost as long. A former captain and committee member, he has passed the Level 3 Rules of Golf exam with distinction having attended the national Tournament Administrators and Referee's Seminar. He has officiated at a host of high-profile tournaments, including Open Regional Qualifying and the PGA Fourball Championship. A member of NCG's Top 100s panel, Steve has a particular love of links golf and is frantically trying to restore his single-figure handicap.

Handicap: 10.9

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