England Golf Survey Presents Optimistic Picture for Memberships
SO IT turns out that it is not all doom and gloom at England’s golf clubs after all. There has long been a perception that the game at club level is in freefall, but England Golf’s biennial survey of 426 clubs around the country would indicate that is not the case at all.
In 2016, the average club membership was 460, but that has now risen to 484, which is the highest it has been for six years and is the first time in more than a decade that the results have shown average golf club membership growth, suggesting that measures to increase participation are finally bearing fruit.
The clubs that are enjoying the greatest success are the ones who have taken the most innovative approach to tackling the perceived decline. The Golf Club Membership Questionnaire may not be the snappiest title but it does show that 38% of clubs in England have shown an increase in membership and that the people who are joining are playing more often.
However, when you look more closely at the figures you will discover that the biggest increasing in participation numbers comes among those aged 65 and over. In truth, that should come as a surprise to nobody since these are people who have retired and suddenly find they have time on their hands. In many cases it is people returning to the game at the end of a hectic working life but the encouraging thing is that many of them are men and women taking to golf for the first time.
The key to the game’s future wellbeing, however, is to find a way to encourage growth among younger players. And the clubs that are doing best in this regard are the ones that have adopted the most forward-thinking approaches to membership.
Finally, golf clubs are offering more categories of membership and nearly every type is now seeing an increase. You won’t be surprised to learn that seven-day membership is still by far the most popular category but the clubs showing the most growth are the ones that have adopted tailored packages that offer some flexibility. Rather than charging a flat rate, some clubs now offer different types of membership. Not everybody can play 52 weeks of the year, so why not give them the chance to buy a package that covers, say, 20 rounds of golf?
Options include flexible, points–based memberships for those who simply don’t have the time to play a lot of golf, corporate packages which provide opportunities to network, academy/trial memberships for those getting into the game and student/intermediate offers to enable younger people to manage the cost of a significant outlay. There is an increasing move towards different rates for different age groups.
The survey found that more than 3.7 million people in England played on a full length course in the past year and more than 2m play at least twice a month.
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One of the biggest areas of growth is in adventure golf (we used to call it crazy golf) - incredibly, more than 6m people have played adventure golf in the past 12 months, and an increasing number of traditional golf courses now offer it as an option, even though some committee members may continue to choke into their gin and tonics at the very thought of it.
‘Clubs which are successfully growing their memberships have much in common,’ says Golf England.. ‘They know the importance of a warm welcome, they cater for a range of different needs, communicate regularly with members and visitors, and develop their facilities to broaden income streams and become part of the local community.’
There is a misconception that the cost of membership has driven many people away and discouraged others from taking up the game, but this survey would appear to contradict that. The average adult membership has gone up by more than £40 during the past two years, with the average price of full adult membership rising from £857 in 2016 to £901 in 2018. Senior and intermediate memberships have risen more, by an average of £50, but it doesn’t out people off.
"This could reflect the effects of golf’s health benefits, helping people to play and stay members for longer. Recent health research carried out by England Golf and partners has highlighted the benefits of golf on players’ physical, mental and emotional health,” says Golf England. "Over the past decade the overall decline in club membership has been well documented. But, at the same time, the number of independent golfers and leisure golfers has grown and they enjoy opportunities to play outside the traditional 18-hole format. Innovative clubs are reacting to the evolving market with flexible memberships, academies, fun golf formats and by improving the off-course experience.”
There is still much to be done though. It seems bizarre that in this day and age, when almost all of us have smartphones and laptops that only 63% of golf clubs have an online booking system.
Abbie Lench, England Golf’s head of club support, said: “While it’s true that some clubs have closed during the last 24 months, it’s also a fact that new facilities are being built and other clubs are investing in redevelopment projects to diversify their business and generate additional income streams. Golf is the fifth largest participation sport in England and we are seeing that clubs are increasingly ready to evolve to meet their customers’ needs and to remain relevant.”
Perhaps the biggest area of potential growth lies in the women’s game and it is surely no coincidence that the R&A has just launched an initiative designed to attract more girls and women to golf. The success of the likes of Georgia Hall and Charley Hull in the professional game can only help.
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