Non-Club Golfers React to Tee Time Availability & Green Fee Prices
Golf is now back across the UK, ushering in stories of unprecedented demand, packed courses, an influx of new members joining, and restrictions on tee time availability in light of safety measures. Looking to explore just how the experience has been for golfers - specifically non-members - Golfshake launched a survey to canvas the opinion of those who do not have an attachment to a club. The survey ran from May 20th to May 25th.
929 golfers completed the survey, which comprised of 48% in the South, 21% in the North and 17% in the Midlands - the other 14% related to areas outside of England. The survey respondents were made up of 15% under 44, 58% aged 45-64 and 27% over 65 from an audience of avid golfers who play at least 30 times per year (47%).
Who Has Played?
Despite issues around tee time access, which we analyse further below, it was pleasing to see that 61% of golfers had managed to play golf at the time of the survey. But it wasn't all smooth with several comments noting the difficulties:
"Easy. Travelled almost to the opposite end of the county to find a course open for visitors though."
"As a non member it was nigh on impossible to get a tee time, especially at courses I play regularly."
"Initially had problems getting through on phone. Booked for a second round at the time of playing first round and whilst preferred times are not always available, I'm just happy to be playing at the moment."
"One club was allowing you to book for next week as you finished your round, another said you could only book up to four days in advance. a third said just turn up and join the queue."
"Tee times are further apart which is fine and appropriate. All local courses are only letting members book times. So I am happy just to get a game and I don't mind playing off peak / twilight to be able to do so. I have now joined my wife's club (as a playing social member) which will allow me to play weekday afternoons."
"I regularly play one of about 10 courses. About half are not yet accepting visitors. Two or three are open to all but they are really heavily booked. Three courses accept visitors in the afternoon and are easier to book."
"Most clubs in my area are members only at present. I booked up my first 18 back fine at a local club that takes visitors but now tee times are as scarce as tickets for Glastonbury. I am now only seeing a few tee times available a week ahead and a few last minute cancellations popping up daily. There is another club an hours' drive away that I can play at as a visitor but only after lunch on working days."
At the time of the survey, 39% of non-club golfers in England had not yet played a round of golf, of which only 36% in the South hadn't, 40% in the North, and a slightly higher 44% in the Midlands stating they had yet to play a round of golf. The higher percentage in the Midlands potentially highlights the lack of tee time availability and of actual courses open, which was evident with some delaying their opening date, and venues such as The Belfry (June 1st) still to open.
General comments related to not playing were from those taking a cautionary approach:
"Don't deem it safe yet."
"Waiting to see infections rate come down or an antidote."
"Letting the stampede die down."
"Waiting for the initial frenzy to calm."
However, analysing the reasons why golfers had yet to play, this was significantly due to the following factors:
- Unable to secure a tee time - 31%
- Still self-isolating or restricting activities - 24%
- Lack of time due to work or other commitments - 23%
- Given up golf for the time being - 5%
- Cost factors - 1.5%
Tee Times In High Demand
The above data highlights the difficulty in securing tee times, largely due to the limitations in numbers who can access per day, something that may be set to continue for some time.
We were also quite surprised to see that 5% said they had given up golf, but that could be explained by the wider unprecedented circumstances and impact on the game.
"At the moment it’s just too difficult to arrange. Also, the restrictions around playing (e.g. limited to a two ball) isn’t that appealing."
"Without the social aspect of four balls and clubhouse facilities, golf is a little soulless, much prefer to practice until things get somewhere near what it was!"
"My plan this year was to join my local club and work on my handicap. This would have meant more golf, but with the lockdown all bets were off...as it eases I will review and join the club if possible."
Here at Golfshake, we continue to monitor the availability and tee times from our own Live Tee Time Search Tool and there are slowly more clubs making some tee times available to visitors, along with venues such as The Belfry imminently.
"Not been able to get a tee time."
"Finding it difficult to book as members seemingly have priority at all times. Where there might be availability they tend to be very, very early and green fees are high compared to a summer ago. Very frustrating."
"Much busier than normal, mostly due to golfers who are normally at work."
"All courses too busy. Private clubs only allowing members."
"Unable to get a tee time at my local clubs due to members only policy."
"I have tried but the vast majority of clubs in the area (all except three) are giving members priority and not advertising availability on GolfNow."
"Can’t find a non-member tee time anywhere decent. The ones I can are poor standard or really late in the evening."
"Cannot get a booking for a tee at a suitable time (ie. not 7am and 5:45pm) at courses I usually use."
"Very difficult to get a tee time, members only and the courses try to get you to join so you can play."
There have also been reports of issues in accessing tee times. 43% of the survey respondents booked a tee time through a club website or a tee time service, 36% simply phoned the club/pro shop, and 17% had a friend book for their two ball.
"I have played twice but on both occasions booking the tee time was difficult. One was online booking only and the site kept crashing and the other was telephone booking only and nobody would answer the phone."
"Booking sites are hard work. Most of the tee times are already greyed out. When you're working full time it's hard to book when everyone else is off."
"Due to the unprecedented demand the website kept crashing and when we arrived, we were double booked with another player. I'm not blaming the club though, the initial demand on the system was incredible."
Have Green Fee Prices Increased?
Another area of concern for unattached golfers is the apparent rise in green fee prices due to availability and obvious 'supply and demand'. The survey audience on average would usually pay £20-£25 per green fee (33%), although golfers in the South tended to pay slightly more - £20-£30 (60%) - compared to those in the Midlands and North who paid £15-£25 (74%).
However, when asked - How did the green fee price reflect what you normally would pay? - only 64% said the same, with 33% saying they had seen a £5-£10 rise in green fee prices and 3% stating an increase over £10. Analysing the data further, this seems to be more of an issue in the South, where only 60% of golfers stated that they paid the same as normal, with 37% stating they paid £5-£10 extra compared to 26% in the Midlands and 30% in the North. Comments clearly noted this:
"I have played and found that the price has gone up."
"I can understand the reason for any increase in green fees and I am happy to pay the small increase."
"Courses are cashing in. Can’t blame them really."
"But since the price has now risen from £23 to £38 as most courses locally are fully booked."
"Disgusting really, had I of known the price I most likely would not have played! And believe you me I love golf!"
"Price was fair but course was in much worse condition so an increase wouldn’t have been justified."
"If courses do not try to rip visitors off to make up what they have lost, I know one that has raised green fees by £8, so my playing partners and I have said we will not go back there."
"I am refusing to play at clubs that have cynically increased their prices (too much). My local course has increased from £25 to £40. From what I can see on their booking website, many others are also choosing to play elsewhere (or not play at all)."
Obviously, this all comes down to supply and demand with tee times being the hottest ticket in town for golfers whilst there are restrictions still in place, although this is set to change in England from the 1st June. This could therefore have a knock on effect with prices returning to normal whilst golf clubs look to maximise green fee revenue alongside balancing the needs of members.
Opportunities For Golf Club Membership And Golf In General
The above highlights the challenges that golfers and golf clubs face during the coronavirus pandemic as we slowly look to return back to some level of normality, but equally there are opportunities especially when it comes to golf club membership, a subject we have covered many times before. 10% of those completing the survey stated a clear 'yes' to joining a club with a further 32% stating that they may look to join a club.
Furthermore, of those completing the survey, 34% of golfers stated they hoped to play more than normal now that golf was back, with only 10% stating they would play less. Clearly this represents great opportunities for golf in general whilst there are obstacles to overcome, and balance the availability of golf for all, but with the forthcoming introduction of fourballs that could ease slightly. In terms of playing more and joining a club this was something highlighted in several comments:
"Absence makes the heart grow fonder!"
"I usually play through the winter and early spring so lots of time to make up. Also working from home means I can play an evening round."
"A local golf club is offering a membership deal which is too good to miss and I would like to support the club. I always try to buy all my golf equipment from pro shops if possible. I have been a club member in the past."
"I won’t join until lockdown is eased more as I was thinking of joining a club before lockdown as I’m relatively new to the game and want to join a club to meet other golfers and take part in the roll ups and improve."
"We managed to get a tee time but my regular playing partner is now a member so booking will be better. I will also be joining, but they have suspended the DD facility at present."
There were also two additional comments that stuck out during our data analysis. How many clubs out there are offering preference for key workers who may not be presently working from home and have restricted time for golf? Similar to other services and facilities, should golf look to support the key workers during this time?
"I'm a key worker so I have been working pretty much non-stop. However, I finally managed to get a tee time tomorrow at a course 1.5 hours away."
"I would like to play more, but am an essential worker so I am still at work and can only play at weekends."
And finally with fourballs set to return in England, these golfers may start to see a new normal that isn't far from the previous reality.
"With the current Covid restrictions lifted, obviously there was an influx of people wanting to play, would think things will slowly return to normal and booking will be back to some normality."
"Most clubs do not have available tee slots for non-members, even when trying to book one week in advance. Finding slots for 8-10 members of our society, i.e. Consecutive five x two balls is almost impossible."
"Many clubs are turning away much needed cash by just letting members book. I understand they should have preference, but don’t make it difficult for others or your course will be empty!"
Those are the thoughts of non-club golfers on how their return to the game has been since restrictions were lessened, a mixed bag, but it will be fascinating to see how this develops during the summer, once the UK hopefully moves through the phased return from lockdown.
If you are an unattached golfer, please let us know your feedback on booking tee times and your thoughts on golf resuming.
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