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The 20 Biggest Issues Facing Golf Clubs

By: Golfshake Editor | Thu 14 Mar 2019

Following the recent 2018 Golfshake Survey and analysing the data, and comments left by over 500 golfers who completed the survey, we have delved into the biggest issues that golf still faces in 2019. 

Before we look at the 20 Biggest Issues faced by golf, it should be noted that the game is generally more accessible than it ever has been with greater opportunities and welcoming initiatives being made available for those looking to take up the sport.

1. Cost of Golf and Membership

During the last several years, greens fees and particularly memberships have continued to be deemed good 'value for money' when compared to previous eras. However, the recent survey showed a slight shift in this perspective and the following comments were noted, with the course conditions being something that we will come back to:

Club membership is too expensive for a once a week golfer and very difficult to get Saturday or Sunday tee times.

Some clubs are living in the past, they have not got up-to-date with golf course maintenance but they still want to charge premium prices, if they want to charge premium prices they should make sure that what they offer justifies what they are charging and adjust their prices to suit, we all want value for our hard earned money.

The following comment identifies a great area for golf clubs to instill loyalty from the golfers who choose not to be members:

Courses ought to have some kind of scheme where if non-members keep returning they have a rewards system. Discounts/freebies etc.

2. Shift in Modern Society

Time, time and time is a common theme around a number of issues which affect playing in a society that has changed considerably during recent decades with the rise of technology. Although this is a general statement, it does highlight a few potential other issues faced from the modern day climate.

Golf has declined because of the economy and working weekends, young people have not taken up golf because of cost and computer games it has nothing to do with dress code and changing rules.

3. Slow Play

This was a major theme running throughout the survey once again. Is it time for courses to look at what they do with the tee time intervals or ensure they have marshalls on the course? These three comments highlighted that.

PACE OF PLAY is a crucial area that has to be addressed - ANY round taking over four hours just is unacceptable and rightly continues to drive customers away.

Better marshalling for a better pace on the golf course, slow play destroys the rhythm and so enjoyment.

Slow play, money grabbing clubs pack in four balls at weekend eight minutes apart whereas if their membership offers were more flexible they'd be less reliant on green fees.

We also thought this was a rather interesting comment and maybe time to ensure we don't push the idea of a four hour round.

Four hours should be removed from all score cards as many appear to consider such a slow pace acceptable and even a target to be achieved.

4. Etiquette and Attitudes

Reading through the comments, it would seem more needs to be done to educate new golfers taking up the game, and arguably also time for a refresher from existing golfers.

We can all take note from the following:

I feel the the etiquette in golf is failing with some people being allowed on courses who haven't a clue about letting people through, slow play, raking bunkers, positioning their trolleys in readiness for the next hole slowing play down, unprepared pitch marks the list goes on. Not sure of the introduction of the 54 handicap is going to help this cause.

The one thing that needs sorting is those that believe it's another person's job to rake bunkers.

Let's get quicker. I know its not a sprint but, more courteous behaviour on course such waving groups through, shouting fore.

5. Venue Food Options

Another complaint that could provide revenue opportunties for golf clubs was around the accessibility of catering and the opening and closing times. Additionally, are clubs doing enough when it comes to the quality and dietary options?

Standard of food at most clubs is appalling. I need a gluten free diet and most clubs have no idea about special diets. Clubs could attract non-players with better food and facilities.

6. Dress Codes

This was definitely an area of less concern than in previous surveys, but it was still noted in relation to access to clubs and events in smart jeans, which are often seen to be smarter than some golf attire, and trainers which are often required due to health issues.

7. Self Promotion

Are clubs doing enough to promote their product especially in the digital era? We've written a full article on how golf clubs can utilise technology and digital platforms to help their business.

8. What is Golf and to Who?

In a world that is becoming more divided, this continues to be one of the biggest issues faced by golf. Golfers of contrasting ages quite clearly want a different product, club and non-club members also make that choice for specific reasons, and there slowly appears to be a divide in courses.

Big divide between good and bad courses in terms of green fee price and condition of course. Certain members only clubs are completely out of the question and charge far too much for a non member round when their course is empty.

9. Course Conditions & Weather Affects

This is an area we have recently covered in an article focused on - Is This How We Grow the Game of Golf? Are golfers happy to pay full price for a product that is only at its best 70% of the time. The feedback from the survey addressed green fees, but this is something that will also be questioned by club members. It will only continue to become a bigger issue for golfers when 'value for money' continues to be more important, particularly as the game competes with other pastimes such as gym memberships.

Prices should also reflect changes in weather and course conditions.  ery wet, icy conditions etc should be recognised and green fees reduced.

When playing other club's, green fees should be reduced to reflect adverse conditions on course. Greens maintenance, temporary greens, closed holes etc.

Clubs don't inform you of course conditions and this can seriously spoil your enjoyment of the game with poor greens or temp greens as I played in September this year, happy to take your money over the phone or apps.

10. Junior Golf and Family Access

If this issue was tackled successfully it could help to address many other concerns for the game. How do we get more juniors, parents, 30-45-year-olds and women playing golf? How do we target these demographics? Could it be through group coaching, shorter forms of the game, multiple facility access, taking golf directly to schools?

All clubs seem to have an ageing membership. They really need to try and entice the twenty, thirty and forty year olds to become members. These are the ones that will introduce their kids to the game.

Golf needs to develop a mini version for juniors, which can be played in 1-2 hours, but is similar enough to full golf to be encouraging to progress. We also need better ways to practice than traditional driving ranges, particularly in winter.

11. Society Costs

Whilst green fees and memberships have continued to be seen as 'value for money' throughout recent years, one area that we have been suprised to see are the concerns of the society golfer, which is often not viewed as being quite the same value. This is a great opporunity for golf clubs, especially given that society golfers are more likely to visit the clubhouse before and after a round.

I like to see clubs offer competitively priced society packages. My society are always keen to visit other clubs.

I organise a society and find that clubs charge more than that offered for a single round .

No food available on most courses after 3pm, I play with a society of 12 to 16 golfers, most would eat after a round, instead of offering food we are often reminded to drink up and go home as the bar staff want to go home.

12. Course Popularity

This isn't an issue seen by all golf clubs and arguably a nice problem to have. But are some golf clubs just too busy which long-term will be to the detriment of memberships and repeat visits? If you are paying a premium price for a product you want to be able to access on your terms and overcrowding is often the root cause of long rounds!

I know clubs need to pack in as many players as possible, but most clubs do not allow enough time between tee off times and do not police them so people tee off early or late and get bunched together early in a round which is one of the reasons for a lot of the whingeing about slow play.

Golf Societies seem to be more important than club members.

13. Too Many Golf Clubs

Golf has gone through a big shift over the last 15 years with a declining audience of golfers resulting in course closures throughout most areas in the country. If there are too many clubs then we certainly hope that this will soon level out and closures will become less widespread.

14. TV Coverage and the Pro Game

Should more be done to get tour coverage back on the free-to-view TV channels to encourage access and participation for all?

Very unhappy that all golf coverage is confined to Sky. I think it's no accident that golf has become less popular, and less people now play, since it moved off BBC or other free to view channels.

The money they earn is shocking. But I do understand that these guys are good at what they do and have spent their lifetime practicing to be at the top of their game. I just don't see money at grass roots level

15. Handicaps

This is always a divisive subject. With the WHS (World Handicap System) just around the corner, this could be a great introduction for the game of golf, hopefully!

I think the current handicapping system needs reviewing. It is based on the best scores you achieve, so you are punished with a big cut if you have the odd really good round, making it much more difficult to produce further low scores, until your h/c creeps up again. A rolling average over say 10 rounds, would be more indicative of your current level of performance.

I am worried the new handicap system will slow the game down.

16. Cost of Golf Equipment

Several comments noted the cost of golf club equipment, accessories and clothing. When compared to the views around golf courses, this is a difficult area for golf to address. Every golf equipment brand can now take advantage of modern technology, manufacturing and innovation to enhance and develop their products, and with increasing inflation (30% in the last ten years) these price rises can be justified compared with a decade ago. However, on the golf courses don't neccessarily take advantage of a product that is able to innovate and evolve, so it becomes harder to justify those price adjustments. In fact, based on research, we found that green fees are now less expensive than a decade ago.

All aspects of golf are becoming increasingly unaffordable again. Green fees, equipment, lessons, membership and golf breaks all became value for money again approximately 5-7 years ago which increased participation. However, with the increasing demand, the prices have been increasing.

17. Golf is Hard

How do we retain golfers trying out golf for the first time? Considering how naturally challenging the game is and the difficulty honing of a swing, not to mention the rules and etiquette, there is much to overcome.

18. Welcome/Hospitality

This should be something delivered from the top and throughout all aspects of a golf club in a world driven by customer service. The experience and welcome will go a long way in any visiting golfer's memory. We particularly liked the comment below in terms of clubs promoting and hosting 'Visitor Days'.

I still find some clubs intimidating and the professionals often are not as friendly or welcoming as they could be.

How much I enjoy a course can be hugely influenced by my welcome at a golf club and the friendliness of staff - pro shop/bar/green keepers - also the other golfers affect one's state of mind and sense of enjoyment and relaxation.

Maybe more golf clubs should actively promote 'Visitor Days' or packages where visitors are made welcome with a bacon butty etc and round of golf and maybe a discount if they play a certain number of times.

19. Accessibility Prices

Not something we fully monitor, but one theme that came through was the rising cost of buggy hire. Does this put off golfers who need a buggy from playing, and could the use of more buggies speed up play as suggested in the comment below?

Buggy hire extremely expensive, if you could have a twilight round discount why not make the buggy cheaper - after work two balls in the summer would take 1.5-2 hours, I can get around alone in 2:15 on many courses.

20. Time

This is probably the number one issue faced by golf in 2019 and over the last several years. We are all seem to have less time in a world vying for our attention through 24/7 working, social media, technology distractions and with golf seemingly taking longer to play, the impact of time is going to be a critical issue in future.

Very important to allow people to play 6/9/12/18 holes as they feel like doing and facilitate pricing accordingly. All new courses should be designed in loops of 6 or 9 holes and the opportunity made available to play 6 or 9 holes at certain times and be charged accordingly. Existing courses should offer and publicise 6 or 9 hole options more. Not everyone wants to spend all day at the golf course, or can afford full green fees regularly.

We hope you found this article interesting, and that it rasied ideas and suggestions for the challenges facing the game, many of them raised by regular golfers themselves. You can see our full series of 2018 Golfshake Survey based content within the Industry Insider Section.

What do you think? post your thoughts and feedback on the Golfshake Forum: https://forum.golfshake.com/

Tags: Survey industry insider golfshake

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