What Does The Future Hold For Nomadic Golfers
SO WHAT does the future hold for golfers who are not members of golf clubs? With courses still closed across most of the United Kingdom and the future looking pretty uncertain for us all, does the nomadic golfer still have a future, or will life become more difficult for them?
With membership numbers currently booming, the first thing that non-members are probably going to have to face is that it could be more difficult than ever to find tee times that suit them. Or to find tee times at all.
There is already clear evidence that when the first lockdown came to an end last year club members struggled to get out on their own courses. This was hardly surprising. Having been deprived of the game we loved for 12 weeks, most of us couldn’t wait to get out and play again.
Unsurprisingly, many clubs decided that their members had to come first and shut up shop for visitors, and that clearly played a huge part in the boom in new membership that quickly followed.
But there will always be a hard-core of individuals who decide that they don’t want to join clubs. In these difficult times, many cannot afford to pay annual subscriptions. And many others simply don’t want to be tied down to playing the same course again and again. Being a nomad offers them the choice of playing where they want, when they want. Or at least it did.
So when golf does come back what will that mean for non-members? In our most recent survey it was clear that non-members are thinking long and hard about this, with three key areas of concern to them: being able to get a tee time, what tee times will be available to them and how much those those rounds are going to cost. This was a typical view:
"Because of lockdown, I believe that courses will be packed when we are allowed to return to golf. Golfers who have not been able to play will be eager to get out and play again, and there is likely to be a lot of newcomers too, as people have more money to spend having had nowhere to spend it. For a 'nomad' like me, this unfortunately means courses will most likely charge higher prices for green fees, as they try to take advantage of the 'boom'. For me, the challenge is to try to play as much golf as I can, without being ripped off and paying over the odds for courses that are not worth the price. (After the 1st lockdown, I paid ~£30 for a green fee on a municipal course and the fairways were overgrown!)"
It seems pretty obvious that clubs will once again prioritise tee-times for members who have paid subscriptions despite not being able to play. The demand for those tee-times will be enormous. And that means the nomadic golfer is going to find it very difficult to get on to any course.
Whether this is going to lead to yet another boom in membership remains to be seen, and in any event many clubs have now closed their doors to new members. For the first time in a generation we are seeing the introduction of waiting lists and, in some cases, joining fees.
At the end of the first lockdown in 2020 we conducted a survey that showed 40% of nomadic golfers were considering joining golf clubs, while 9% indicated they definitely would. Previous surveys showed that about 16% of non-members had shown an interest in joining clubs and our most recent survey, completed by a small number of non-members during the winter months, showed that 22% planned to join a club this year.
Things are changing. In the past, nomadic golfers favoured an alternative to traditional club membership, listing affordability, value for money, variety of courses played and seasonal availability as reasons for preferring not to join club, this may change in 2021 when they face the reality of getting access to their favoured courses.
In our recent survey, Feb 2021, we asked non-members what they thought golf would be like for them in 2021, and a common theme emerged:
"I think it will be worse than ever, it’s very difficult for non members to get a reasonable priced round of golf in at the best of times.”
"I'm not sure as I keep hearing stories that club membership has increased substantially during the pandemic and that this could affect how clubs perceive non-club golfers.”
“I believe it may be more difficult and certainly more expensive. Many courses that used to take open fairways cards no longer do so and other courses where you simply phoned to book have handed over bookings to an independent company. If you book online then cannot play for any reason your money is gone. Other courses that used to give age concessions no longer do so and in some cases to play there means paying double the pre lockdown price.”
"With the emphasis on providing members with as many benefits as possible to retain members and encourage new members I believe that there will be less opportunities to enjoy playing at good courses and at reasonable times.”
"Lack of availability of tee times once lockdown is over.”
"I imagine green fees will rise at many courses, especially if demand is high like last year.”
"Access to courses and getting tee times worries me this year and I feel after the 12 months we have had that joining a golf club could definitely benefit me."
But there were still the positive views and different parts of the country, with different levels of population density and abundance of courses will each have their own level of demand.
"Really good as golf clubs need miscellaneous income, so they look to attract non-members to fill empty tee times. Even when clubs go members only, they soon begin to realise after a week or so that members are not filling all the spaces, so they begin to open up to paying guests. So, it's all good and we are happy to give over valuable cash to help clubs in need.”
"I first thought you may struggle to get on the course but some will question the value of membership as the courses keep closing it will probably balance out.”
"The same as before, members get priority over bookings, but clubs will need to cover costs lost in the pandemic closures so will be looking to fill tee times as much as they can. Even during the pandemic, I've been out on golf courses as a visitor and had no other players around me, so the course has had very little usage during week days. Clubs will need visitors in some respects more than they need members."
With an estimated 1.8 million golfers who are not members of clubs it is quite clear that the sport needs to find a way to connect with them and not treat them as second-class citizens.
As we have said, many nomadic golfers may still not want to be tied down to a club and have always been happy to pay green fees. The big question is, when this lockdown finally ends, will they still be able to do that? Watch this space...
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