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New Members Flood Back To Golf - But Will It Last

By: | Tue 26 May 2020 | Comments

WHO would ever have believed that a pandemic that has claimed tens of thousands of lives might turn out to be the catalyst that revives club golf? If anecdotal evidence is to be believed, golf clubs the length and breadth of the UK are experiencing an unexpected boom, with new members queuing up to join the rush back to the fairways. And the really good news for the sport is that many potential new members are aged between 30 and 50. Could we finally be seeing something that will turn into a long-term trend?

The club game around the world has seen people walking away from the sport, with the average age profile increasing. The future looked bleak indeed. But no longer. Whether this is simply a blip or the start of something special remains to be seen. But it does mean that many golf clubs which have been starved of income can perhaps look forward to a brighter future.

Typical is Withington Golf Club in Manchester, which has told The Golf Business that it has seen about 100 new membership applications since lockdown restrictions were lifted, and Kirkistown Castle Golf Club in Northern Ireland, which is processing nearly 80 new members, according to its general manager, Tracey McDowell.

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With many people off work due to coronavirus, there has been a massive demand to play the game, and there is little doubt that the renewed surge has been partly caused by most clubs prioritising existing members over those paying green fees.

“We are now up to 100 new members since the lockdown restrictions were removed,” said Tony Longden, marketing director of Withington Golf Club. “When the restrictions were lifted we were ready with a promotion which we marketed ourselves,” (for a total cost of just £50).

“We have always promoted the club extensively on social media. Through the hard work of a few on our marketing committee we built up over 4,000 followers. We produce content that gets good engagement, all home made but professional in content and delivery.

“Like many clubs we had a challenging late summer and winter with the volume of water so the club decided to invest in the course, building new drains and water hazards to improve water resilience and playability. We have promoted these to our member database of anyone that has played through our website, social media and email. When the restrictions were lifted we were ready with a promotion which we marketed ourselves – total cost £50 pinned tweet.

“We now have a team of new member buddies set up to engage and welcome (virtually) and also help get handicaps so we keep these new members.”

Ed Richardson, the general manager at Broadstone Golf Club in Dorset, said the club had received more than 30 new membership applications in one week. “It has been the busiest, but also most enjoyable, week I have had in my working life,” he said. “Firstly, there has been such a sense of team spirit and cooperation from my own team of staff, but also the committee and the members. In addition to that, there has also been an unbelievable level of support from fellow managers, such a massive help.

“We’ve had upwards of 30 new membership applicants in a week. Most pleasing of all, just seeing the sheer enjoyment of people back enjoying the hobby / sport they so enjoy, and in the sunshine too, has been amazing. There was no politics, no moaning about slow play, or pace of greens, or the cost of a coffee, just enjoyable golf. I know it won’t last forever, but I am going to enjoy it while it does."

So is this a one-off?

Steve Peet, the general manager of Diss Golf Club in Norfolk doesn’t think so and believes that if golf clubs get it right we really could be in for a sustained boom. “It has felt a little bit like a race to the bottom with golf clubs during the last five or six years,” he said.“But people will pay to play the game if there is real value in it for them. Right now, people cannot play at clubs unless they are members, and we have seen people join up over the last week who have previously played independently.

“Memberships are the bedrock of a club’s income, so it is down to clubs to make it more attractive and beneficial for players. This is a big opportunity for clubs to change the way they operate, and be confident in their product. Clubs have a big value, particularly from a health point of view – both physically and mentally. That sense has only been heightened by recent events.

“Everyone here has followed the procedures and you can tell they are happy that the course is back open. It has been challenging as well, but we have dedicated staff. Currently it is just myself, my assistant and a couple of green keepers, which is keeping us busy. But all in all it could not have gone much better than it has so far.”

It is not just former golfers who are looking to rejoin clubs. Jo Edgley, the marketing and accounts manager at Burghill Valley Golf Club in Herefordshire, says the club is currently open to members only and some of their potential new members have never picked up a club before.

“We have had a strong intake of members which is more than usual and we’re hoping to get people back into the game,” she said. "We’ve had well over 20 new members in the last two weeks. I think for those who have never played before because of the lifting of the guidelines they are now giving it a go. Also we have those who are maybe coming back into golf and not played for some time. People are desperate to get out of the house and do something different.

“If you are a bit rusty it’s perfect for isolation as you could be picking the ball out of the opposite end of the fairway to your playing partner. It’s more dangerous walking around Morrisons than playing golf.”

Barry Anderson, managing director of Mannings Heath, has been particularly encouraged to see a fall in the age profile of new members. He said that the pace of play has picked up and believes that has helped to make the game more attractive to new members. The new players generally want to tee off at around 6:30am or 4:30pm, to fit in a game around their working day, he explained.

“This could be the start of a new type of engagement with golf after the lockdown ends; many members are planning to work from home, for two or three days a week,” he said. “They have proved to themselves that they can take time out for a healthy leisure pursuit in the working week and still get their work done. We are getting dozens of new enquiries each day. The number of members at Mannings Heath halved just before the lockdown; we are on target to replace and surpass that number very quickly. With gyms, swimming pools and other indoor places to exercise still closed and no date for opening, many people are choosing golf.

“Starting at just £325 for an annual membership, it is great value. In addition to the course, members can use a driving range, putting green and tennis court - and then all the facilities of the clubhouse when the lockdown is finished - two bars and a dining room, with meeting room available too.”

Mannings Heath is also determined to target youngsters, with club staff visiting local school and also offering weekend courses for children’s groups. Membership is free for children up to the age of 12, and £50 for those aged 13 to 17.

This is clearly a forward-thinking golf club that has put the needs of players first. We should all hope that this is beginning of a bright new future for this wonderful game ours.

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