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What Is Happening With Your Golf Club Membership

By: | Thu 11 Feb 2021

IT has been a challenging time for golf clubs the length and breadth of the land - to say the very least. This time last year they were making plans for 2020, oblivious to the chaos that lay ahead. And then came March and the Government’s announcement that the country was to be locked down. Everything had to be thrown out the window. It was back to the drawing board as golf clubs were forced to close their doors.

When the all-clear was given for a return of sorts, many golf clubs found themselves in a position they hadn’t been in for many, many years - booking systems could barely cope with the demand as golfers who had been starved of their favourite game raced to return to the fairways. The demand for tee-times was enormous as we got used to initially playing in two-balls. And new members were knocking down their doors.

Many golf clubs found themselves in a position where they were full to bursting point and had to turn people away. Others set up waiting lists. Some even decided to reintroduce joining fees. It was an extraordinary time. It seemed that the salad days were back to stay. But the global pandemic had other ideas. After a glorious summer we were told that restrictions were being reintroduced and, as we stand, courses are closed for business across most of the UK once again. There is some hope that we will be able to play again at the end of March, but nobody is holding their breath.

So, 12 months on, golf clubs once again find themselves with their plans for 2021 in chaos. This is the time of year when subscriptions are renewed, but with no golf being played, how is that going to work? 

To understand more about the current situation, we ran a short snap survey which was completed by 600 avid golfers to find out about their plans and membership for the coming year, below are the latest findings.

We asked if you had received your 2021 membership renewal yet?

  • 45% had received membership renewal for 2021.
  • 58.6% said costs remained the same.
  • 9.8% saw a cost reduction.
  • 31.6% said the cost of membership had increased.

Unsurprisingly, those clubs who have chosen to increase their subscriptions have not found too much favour from their members. “I find it extraordinary that my club has increased fees at a time like this”, was a fairly typical response. Others reported that the increase in membership gained last year meant their club has been able to keep subscriptions at the same level.

Golf Club Memberships

Will you be renewing your golf club membership in 2021?

  • 89.8% planned to renew their membership in 2021.
  • Of the 10.2% not planning to renew, 1.8% planned to stop their membership with 8.4% saying they may join a different club. 

Whilst the 8.4% could be seen as a worrying sign for some clubs this could actually be seen as a positive. Previous unpublished data from Golfshake surveys in 2016, 2018, 2019 and 2020 identified a slightly different situation with on average 79-84% of golfers being happy with their club, 2-5% considering stopping or weighing up the situation, and on average 11-15% considering moving to a new club.

And the fact that only 1.8% said they plan to stop playing can also be seen as encouraging. When memberships surged last summer there was a fear within the club game that it would be a flash in the pan and that many people who had either returned to the game or took it up for the first time would walk away. Based on the evidence of our survey, this does not appear to be the case.

Your reasons for renewing were varied, but hardly surprising:

“If members do not renew there may not be a golf club to return to, and most fair-minded golfers realise this.”

“I love playing in competitions so it is a must for me.”

“My subs start from January 1st and I have already paid. The club has announced that we will not have to renew again until April 1, 2022, so we get three free months.”

“I am disappointed that there has been an increase in my fees but it has been a crazy 12 months.”

“We will be paying a similar amount to last year but our membership will be adjusted to make up for the months we have missed and the difference will be put on our cards for use in the bar.”

But it’s not all good news, with a number of you having taken the decision to go from seven-day to five-day membership.

"I might drop from seven-day to five-day membership. The club has grown from less than 400 in 2019 to 640 at the end of 2020 so just popping up for a few holes on a late weekend afternoon is no longer possible with the course being fully booked all day.”

"I will be going from a seven-day member to a five-day member - this is partly down to cost but also because some of my playing partners are going elsewhere.”

Others have different reasons for considering their membership:

"Our subscription year starts on April 1. I paid up like a lamb last year despite there being a lockdown. I was fed up when new members joined in the summer and only paid pro rata and did not have to pay for a bar card either. I will be mega fed up if subs rise this year. The only reason I don't look for another club is that we are on the doorstep - and I would have problems with my county membership - which is important to me.”

“The cost and condition of the course will determine my decision.”

“I have not been happy with the club for some time and the lack of attention to maintenance means it is time to move on after 28 years.”

"It depends on what the renewal cost is, and also what our course decides to do. Nobody has told us if our memberships will be extended by the same amount of time that the courses were closed. Also, I'm on the waiting list for another club."

"Senior members fees have been increasing over the last couple of years to eradicate the difference between adult membership fees and senior fees. That’s why I’ll be paying more this year.".

“My club has done nothing to justify rejoining. I will be joining another local club that is more expensive."

Golf Club Members

Is your club offering any form of compensation or reduction for the time you haven’t been able to play?

  • 59.5% said no and 40.5% said yes

Most of you said that you were still waiting to hear your club’s plan, but the fact that nearly 60% of you said that you have not yet been offered compensation for time lost is surely a cause for concern. And for many of you it could be a deal breaker.

“My golf club has not offered any compensation. I am disappointed that there is nothing being offered to members in way of compensation or additional services."

“I am disgusted, but they don’t care if you stay or leave. They have plenty of members and a waiting list."

"The club has not told us anything. Their communication has been awful throughout the whole lockdown. Nobody knows what is happening."

"I was disappointed when the club said they initially weren't going to compensate members for the lack of playing time/access to the club. Other memberships I hold such as the gym immediately postponed payments upon commencement of lockdown and showed leniency upon reopening. After a large influx in members during the summer the club now has a waiting list so have the upper hand - if you don't want to continue paying for your membership there are plenty of people willing to take your place. Thankfully there have been many course improvements taking place during the lockdown period which alleviates some of the irritations of paying for something I can't use.”

Thankfully, many clubs have been proactive.

"I pay monthly and the direct debit has been suspended until the course reopens."

"They have moved renewal date back 3 months, so effectively 3 months free and held fees at the same price as last year."

“My club has extended the membership year by a month, kept fees the same and refunded 4.9% on to the bar card, which equates to £50 for a seven-day member."

“They have provided £30 to spend in the pro shop or at the bar instead of suspending membership.”

“We have been given range vouchers and guest vouchers.

“We have been given a reduction of £100 and the planned increase of £50 cancelled so it is an effective saving of £150.”

“We have been credited £75 on our cards which can be used in the bar or towards competition fees."

"We were offered a month's credit for February (lockdown came too late for January's direct debit to be altered) and subsequent months if things continue as they are. I elected to keep paying our membership as a) we were able to and b) we wanted the club to be able to continue with planned expenditure/work that would be to our benefit in the longer run.”

Have you been asked for any form of levy to help your club survive?

  • Only 6.3% said yes

And this was an issue on which you were all agreed…

"No club should need a levy to survive. I'm sure they will all have used different schemes, grants and low interest loans available from Government etc."

"This was voted against by the majority of members."

"We’ve been asked if we could give up our refund to benefit the club."

"We have been asked for the same amount for 2021 as for 2020 despite the lockdown - I believe the lack of increase is our form of compensation and quite the opposite of a levy."

"The club has had more new members than normal, and this has put the club into a better financial position so no need for a levy."

“Our club just blocked booked tee times to sell to pay and play visitors, many of whom didn’t even bother to turn up.”

Have/were you offered a deferred payment in relation to your membership?

  • Of the 72.6% who could answer, 27.4% have not had a renewal yet. 
  • Only 21.4% said they had been offered this.

Golf Members

Has your club’s use of email communication and social media improved during lockdown?

  • 61.8% said yes

It is encouraging to learn that most of you believe things have got better but there is quite clearly still room for improvement.

"Golf clubs need to learn to be more communicative with their membership, especially in these times when people are struggling and would just like to know more."

“Things have improved very slightly but this is a missed opportunity to engage more with members.”

“It has grown worse if anything - no information and no justification for ridiculous decisions.”

"There's always a steady flow of emails but it’s been a mixed bag regarding their usefulness."

"Communication has been terrible. We got an email saying that if we didn't pay by the end of February, we'd have to rejoin as a new member and incur a new joining fee and the increase in fee for a new member."

"Absolutely awful communication. We got some messages early saying the course was closing but that was it. Nothing keeping us informed etc.".

“I cannot fault my club. We've had excellent and clear communication every step of the way. Sensible decisions presumably made by management and committees in consultation have been promptly circulated. Examples would be a) a decision to stop some club competitions after the end of the November lockdown so that there would be more casual tee times for members. b) For the brief period we were in Tier 4 the club were taking 4-ball bookings for each tee time but splitting us into two 2-balls playing 9 holes each.”

We also asked if you had any further feedback in relation to golf club membership and your views were varied but mostly supportive of the clubs to which you belong.

"I feel the club/membership relationship is misunderstood. The members are the club and it is up to them to ensure survival. If that means full fees (or higher) are needed then members, if able, should pay up. The alternative is widespread closure of clubs and courses which will inevitably result in higher fees anyway due to reduced supply."

"Most clubs are busy, but they need to look after their core membership for when times get back to normal."

"Clubs offering compensation will pay for it later down the line. Everyone can see what is going on around them and should understand that to survive you need the loyalty of your membership."

"Despite the reduction in availability to play I believe it is important to continue to support my local club. Looking to getting back out there and that is only possible if the club knows its membership will continue to support them.”

"I’m happy to continue to pay my membership because the club will need the revenue. When I am playing regularly I get plenty of value from being a member. The owner has agreed to credit the lost months in any case. But I am happy to continue membership to help maintain the financial stability of the business."

"You have to take the rough with the smooth, it is not the golf clubs' fault they have had to be closed. If you want a golf club to survive you need to support it."

"Don't ask what the club is doing for you, but what you can do for the club. At the end of the day it is your club. Golf clubs have suffered along with every business. The bills still have to be paid whether the golf course is open or not."

"I have enjoyed being a member as the club has good systems in place for booking golf and managing my membership. It is certainly an improvement on my old club."

“It is important for members to support their clubs at this time, if they can afford to do so. Membership fees are the club's only income."

“Membership has expanded by 60% compared to 2019. Practice field under Covid-19 has to be booked and range has remained closed, making practice/working on my game difficult. The game has become less fun and flexible as booking everything is required for Covid compliance. Hopefully some spring sunshine will enhance my interest in playing.”

"Although the situation is not the club's fault, neither is it the members' fault. Both parties will suffer, but I think it is important that the club show some loyalty to their members, as most members do for their clubs, and some form of reduction on the subscriptions would instil a lot of confidence in the club, and encourage not just renewal of subs but an increase in reputation, which could in turn, entice new members.".

"If people want clubs to reopen they need to support them. It may be hard but a pandemic is not the fault of the club and if it’s been run the right way then it should survive."

"It was always safe to assume that clubs would provide members with priority for playing during the Covid crisis. However, membership has increased to such an extent that there are not enough tee times. When will clubs learn that you cannot just keep taking money?"

It has been an unimaginable period for everyone, and golf clubs (like all businesses) have been impacted. Consumers are questioning what they are paying for, but loyalty is a significant factor within golf, something that remains apparent and will endure, but some members will likely be forced to make difficult decisions in the weeks and months ahead as the game seeks to successfully emerge from this crisis.

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Golfers Are Optimistic About Future of UK Golf Clubs

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

Tags: Memberships industry insider Green Fees Golf Clubs daily picks Covid-19

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