Golf Has a Chance to Grasp That May Never Come Again
AS GOLFERS flood back in huge numbers, the issue that seems to be exercising most people right now is whether or not visitors should be welcomed to our courses.
Many members’ clubs have taken the decision to ban people who pay green fees. In many ways this seems counterintuitive, although it is easy to understand why it is happening. Members have paid their annual subscriptions but had been denied the opportunity to play since March 23. Many, but not all, clubs have extended membership by two months. Some have offered refunds. Others have steadfastly refused to do anything for their members - those are the clubs that will surely pay the price in the months that lie ahead.
So here is the thing: with clubhouses firmly closed, and likely to remain so until July at the earliest, clubs who refuse to allow visitors are receiving no additional income. Not a penny. We have heard of several who plan to issue levies on their hard-pressed members, something that has not gone down terribly well.
Most clubs want to reward the loyalty of their members by allowing them to enjoy their courses again - and they are doing so in vast numbers, having been starved of the game for so long.
But how long can that continue? It seems to me that they are cutting off a crucial revenue stream at a time when they need it most. And let’s not forget that non-members are just as keen to get back out there as those who pay an annual fee. There are many reason why men and women choose not to join golf clubs - some don’t enjoy playing in the winter, some relish the challenge of playing different courses rather than being restricted to just the one, others struggle to give the time commitment, while others cannot afford the financial outlay.
Just like the rest of us, they have been in lockdown all these weeks, many having been furloughed. Just like club members, they find themselves with time on their hands and they want to get back out there and start playing again. Just because they are not club members it does not follow that they are lepers who don’t understand the rules, who will not replace divots, repair pitchmarks or smooth over the sand in bunkers.
Many pay-and-play courses are council-run - several have closed their doors for good, while others remain shut because council staff have been furloughed.
A trawl around Twitter indicates that most clubs are waiting for things to settle down before allowing visitors to return, although many will start to welcome guests from next week provided they are accompanied by a member.
This would appear to me to be a golden opportunity for the game of golf - one that needs to be grabbed now, and with both hands. Surely it is not beyond the wit of man for golf clubs to allocate, say, a two-hour slot every day for visitors?
There will be occasional golfers who feel that this is the perfect time to start playing more regularly. Remember that club memberships have fallen through the floor in recent years, with the age profile continuing to head in the wrong direction.
Many people remain baffled by the rules of the game and by the dress code. They believe it is a sport for the elite, played by the elite - and shutting the door to them really does nothing alleviate that feeling. But we have a chance to get a whole new generation playing the game if we handle things correctly - and telling them that they can’t play is NOT the way to do that.
This is a time for clubs to offer attractive packages for potential new members. I note on Twitter that there are moves to cash in on demand by reintroducing joining fees, but I would urge clubs not to do this. Give people an incentive to join, and that means reducing annual subscriptions, offering 15 months for the price of 12, offer free membership to under-16s, offer attractive family packages. It is not rocket science. Get new members into your club and you begin to solve your income crisis.
We have a chance that may never come our way again - don’t blow it.
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