The Reasons Golfers Joined Golf Clubs in Record Numbers
This has been a uniquely challenging and uncertain year, but in the face of these unforeseen and unprecedented times, golf has experienced a seemingly unlikely boom period, following a prolonged spell of declining memberships and drop in participation.
It has led to many concluding that 2020 was the Summer of Golf.
England Golf declared that over 20,000 new members have joined golf clubs this season, a figure that is potentially conservative, with a significant number of clubs reporting an average of 50 or more new members, a ratio that could put the real national figure closer to 100,000.
Adding further credibility to that higher estimate, when extrapolating data from the Golfshake August Survey, 13.1% of the club members who had responded stated that they had joined a club since lockdown.
Ultimately, it's clear that the game has seen an unexpected level of growth, but the question for the industry to ponder is why did so many join golf clubs this year?
Change in Circumstances
Once loosened restrictions permitted the return of play following the spring UK lockdown, golfers were provided with an opportunity to play more frequently, something made possible by the change in working practices and lifestyles due to the impact of the pandemic.
The Golfshake Survey highlighted that golfers had played more, 36% saying that they did, with only 25% stating they played less. Working from home and having more time on their hands, golfers were able to accommodate more rounds, with many other activities continuing to be restricted, making hours spent at the golf course a reasonable option. Additional circumstances such as being on furlough contributed to many golfers playing more frequently.
"I knew I was going to be playing more golf as I was furloughed and so it worked out cheaper to take a membership as they were doing a discounted rate."
"They were trying to expand the ladies section and I thought it would be easier to make friends."
"First time I have had the extra time to play twilight mid-week as working from home and membership finally makes financial sense!"
"It is something that I had been looking at for some time as family life is starting to calm down with my children getting older and not demanding as much time from me. Lockdown has further eased this by working from home and had more of a desire to get out of the house to relax. I was a nomadic golfer before this."
"Playing twice a week now, it makes financial sense. I’ve joined the Altonwood Group with the option of playing four different courses, so I still get variety. Also like being a member, sense of belonging."
Importance of Golf – Physical, Wellbeing, Social
These difficult times have underlined the many benefits that golf can offer in terms of improving physical and mental health, a topic that we explored in the recent feature Golf Is More Than Just A Game - Why It Should Remain Open. There are many reasons why we play golf, and what makes the game important to people, factors that are required now than ever before. These comments emphasised that point with regards to taking up membership.
"Friendly club, local to where I live, and lots of friends play there, including my son."
"I went with a friend, the clubhouse was welcoming, they gave me an offer if I joined today, I gave them my card and joined."
"Need space do my own thing for mental health."
"I needed to get out into the open air more for my mental health."
Golf Prospered With Restrictions in Effect
When golf returned in May, the game was among the first activities permitted, which made it an increasingly attractive prospect for those who weren't able to enjoy other sports.
"Because of cricket restrictions, I still needed to be active and golf was the obvious answer."
"Access to golf clubs was difficult post-lockdown, so joining was the only way I could play regularly. Since golf was one of the first sports allowed back it was the only way to get out and exercise. I was a member in the past, so the process was easy and they offered me a pro rata rate for the rest of the year."
"Golf is one of the few things we can do relatively easily initially without too many restrictions in place. When you're out playing you can almost forget we're in the middle of a pandemic which is great."
Discounted Membership and Special Deals
Encouraging independent golfers to take up membership is a major challenge for clubs, something that we have explored in detail on Golfshake. It's clear that a notable proportion, around 50%, are completely happy with the nomadic golf lifestyle and have no interest in joining a club.
However, the other 50% are open to the idea should the product available suit their requirements. Indeed, with clubs looking to take advantage of the circumstances, 46% of the golfers who stated they had joined a club since the pandemic said that they had been offered some form of discount.
"Wanted to play more regularly. Difficulty getting a tee time. Local course has a good lifestyle membership package. Had more time now I’m working from home
"Three-month offer, which suited the summer holidays and work situation. Membership has never (and probably never will) work for me.
"I want to play more golf and wanted to be part of a club. The flexible membership offered was a cost-effective way of becoming involved."
Tee Time Availability
Clearly, a major driving factor in the increase of memberships was in response to concerns around tee time availability, a topic we analysed in the article Why Tee Time Access is Golf's Biggest Challenge This Autumn.
Limited tee time access - particularly in the early months of summer - pushed a large number of golfers towards joining a club. Some of them had already been considering membership and took the plunge, whereas others simply had no choice if they wanted to play regularly.
"Was already considering and once we missed all April playing, I wanted to ensure tee time availability and have time to play twice a week to get value."
"To be able to get a tee time as all the early tee times were being taken up by members as members can book 7 to 10 days in advance with non-members only 4 days in advance."
"Increasingly difficult to pick up visitor tee-times at a reasonable rate and my favourite local(ish) golf course had a really good deal on 5-day membership. Plus, a friend of mine had also joined and he invited me."
"Restrictions in obtaining tee times."
"I wanted the ability to play golf at a time that clubs were restricting access to non-members. I joined using the PlayMoreGolf points scheme."
"I was previously just a pay-and-play golfer, but when restrictions were eased, the courses around me were members only, so in order to play this year I had to consider a membership. The deal I got was fantastic value."
"Lack of tee time options elsewhere/increased prices. Get to play with friends and more time on my hands (twilight rounds, etc)"
Retaining these new members will be an objective for clubs, something that will require a careful balancing act and may not appease everyone, but any longer term retention will be a net gain. However, as noted above, a large segment of golfers are content with their nomadic status, and there are a rising number of flexible options for them to take advantage of, a subject we explored in the feature Popular Alternatives to Traditional Golf Club Memberships.
2020 was the Summer of Golf, but what the outlook will be in 2021 is a fascinating prospect.
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