How to Move Golf Clubs Into The 21st Century
GOLF still faces many challenges, not the least of which is how it can attract a younger audience and keep hold of those who have returned to the game.
Sadly, it is a sport that is still perceived by many as being stuck in the past and when you look at the average golf club website it is not difficult to understand why so many people still believe that.
However, there are many hugely progressive and forward-thinking individuals out there who have combined to produce some radical ways of attracting younger golfers and, crucially, keeping hold of them. I do not for one moment pretend to have all the answers (who does?), but I believe that if more golf clubs are brave enough to adopt some of the following ideas then it can only help to grow the game.
So, golf clubs of Britain, sit back, buckle up and take note:
It is time to dump the idea of a 12-month subscription. Let’s be honest - the vast majority of club golfers don’t play so much during the wet and cold winter months, so let’s see more monthly memberships that renew automatically. Players can opt-out whenever they want and are not obligated to pay for a year-long membership for access.
Why, oh why, are we so obsessed with seven-day memberships when most people who work can only play at weekends? A weekend membership is likely to appeal to younger men and women who work up to 60 hours a week. And, of course, a weekend membership would be cheaper than a seven-day offering, while having the added bonus of ensuring that your club in a busy all day, every Saturday and Sunday.
Almost every club in the land already does this. It is the perfect membership option for the retired golfer, who has time on his or her hands during the week but may not necessarily want to play on a busy Saturday.
Age Targeted Membership
An increasing number of UK golf clubs have already woken up to this one, offering reduced memberships to those in the 21-29 age bracket. One of the bonuses of such a system is that these individuals are likely to remain at your club as they grow older. And while we are at it, isn’t it about time that clubs had another look at what they charge pensioners? When people retire they have less disposable income, so why not look at reducing annual subscriptions for this category?
If somebody has been a member of a golf club for, say, 25 years, golf clubs should look to reward them with a loyalty package. This could be a reduced annual subscription or vouchers to use at the club.
There has been an increase in membership through organisations such as PlayMoreGolf (PMG), where individuals purchase a points-based package. And according to data provided by PMG, those members are spending an average £10 at their ‘home’ pro-shop before each round. PlayMoreGolf members are also spending an additional £197 on average per year upgrading their clubs, trollies, and GPS devices. The research was gathered from 1,200 of PlayMoreGolf's 14,000 members to understand their pre-round habits and secondary spending when playing at home. PlayMoreGolf is the UK's largest flexible membership offering and works with over 250 golf clubs in the UK. Whilst some clubs are looking to bolster the traditional member category, golf clubs are already reporting that course occupancy is returning to pre-pandemic levels. The challenge for clubs into 2022 is generating alternative revenue streams and generating sales in the club pro shop as well as through food and drink. Data released at the start of 2021 by PMG shows that members contribute more than £2m of food and beverage revenue at their 250 partner clubs, which equates to roughly £12 per round. PMG chief executive Alastair Sinclair said: “2022 is going to be a challenging environment for golf courses as we return to pre-pandemic levels in terms of course usage. For clubs to stay competitive they must welcome a wide range of players and look to utilise those who are willing to travel and spend money in their pro shop, restaurant, and bar. This is why flexible members are still an important part of the golf club eco-system.”
Open House Days
Throw your doors open and invite people to come along and see what you have to offer. Give them a free round of golf and have members on hand to tell newcomers why they should join your club. Get your pro on board too - maybe he can give some tips or free lessons during your open day.
For many golf clubs, visitors provide a form of vital lifeblood. So why not make them feel more welcome? If a four ball arrives to play at your club, why not give one of them a free round of golf? You know that when they have finished playing that they are going to be spending money on food and drink. Or give them some sort of incentive to return - again, why not free golf for one in four?
Change The Dress Code
I make no apologies for sounding like a stuck record on this one but it really is time to relax the dress rules. Young golfers want to be able to demonstrate some individuality - and that does not include Rupert Bear-style trousers. France allows people to play golf while wearing jeans - why on earth are they still frowned upon in the UK. And will somebody please explain to me why it is necessary for golfers to don polo shirts with collars? And let them wear trainers. Most pros now wear golf shoes that look more like trainers than traditional golf shoes anyway. This doesn’t mean that older golfers cannot continue to dress in the traditional manner. I am simply saying that it is time for rather more flexibility. The days when jeans are banned from the course and the clubhouse should be banished to the past - where they belong.
Why do so many golf clubs have such dreadful websites? This should not be an afterthought. For most people looking to a visit a golf club for the first time, a website is the first port of call. Your website should be all-singing, all-dancing. It should be modern and up to date, it should incorporate a hole-by-hole guide and it should be administered by somebody who knows what they are doing.
Make The Most of Smart Phones
Rather than banning mobile phones, we should be looking to make the most of them. Young golfers will want to book tee times online through their smart phones so give them a club app that allows them to do so. In this day and age, few people want to call the club pro to book a tee time. A booking app can also be used to tell people how much their green fee will be. You can even create mobile check-in which would allow golfers to check-in for their tee-time from the car park.
Clubhouses offer ready-made space but few clubs make the most of it. Put a golf simulator in the bar and organise competitions - this is a great way of getting people through the door at night and during the winter months. Organise quiz nights.
Get Them Eating Out The Palm of Your Hand
Almost every clubhouse in the land sells food. Don’t do this as an afterthought. Hire a good chef, somebody who can see beyond pie and chips. Offer a decent menu and take steps to encourage members to come back in the evening with their partners. Do a bit of research - ask your members what they want to see on the menu.
So, there are just some thoughts on what more golf clubs could do to ensure they thrive into this decade and beyond. Let us know if you have any further ideas!
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