The One Thing Golf Clubs Should Be Doing Right Now
This has been an extraordinary time for club golf, with most having seen an increase in membership, some having introduced waiting lists and a few bringing back joining fees. If you are a club member you are unlikely to get much out of £1,000 a year when it comes to your annual subscription.
So with everything looking rosy in the garden, you would expect UK golf clubs to have stepped up to the plate when it comes to the way they treat and communicate with their members and golfers in general. Given all the platforms that are now available - email, Twitter, instagram, WhatsApp, Facebook etc - there really is no excuse for failing to keep in touch with members. Right? Well, if the results of our recent survey on this subject are anything to go by, it would appear that our clubs still have a great deal to learn.
A total of 650 of you took part in the survey, focused around golf club communication - 80% were club members and 90% were over the age of 44. So we are talking about a sizeable and representative response to a subject that clearly exercised your minds.
Of the golf club members, 88% received regular communication from their golf club, with 96% of that communication coming via email, 19% via Facebook and 14% of clubs using a combination of texts and WhatsApp to keep in touch with members. Just 7% of clubs in our survey still use letters or the phone to communicate with members.
On the face of it, the signs appear to be pretty encouraging but there was some worrying feedback. For instance, one respondent told us that the only time he ever hears from his club is when his membership is due for renewal.
Martin Slumbers, chief executive of the R&A, recently told ScoreGolf: “Consumer is king these days. Golf clubs, on the whole, are seen as not to be selling a product people want. People want a family experience or a friendship experience. They don’t want to be constrained by rules. That seems off for someone in my position, but they want more free form.
“I do think a lot of our sport has missed this generational change of how people want to enjoy their recreational time. A lot of the Topgolf and similar things fully understand that and they’re providing a product people want to buy.
“Golf, like everything, must evolve and must adapt. Standing still is not an option.”
Slumbers also said clubs need to be more professional when it comes to collecting data.
“Data is the most important thing in sport,” he said. “How you communicate with your fans, spectators, and your clients is data driven. I’m always amazed at how few clubs when you go and play have your digital data and how few are communicating with you. If the game is going to attract, we have to be businessmen and we have to focus on how we communicate with our potential customers.
“The biggest criticism I have of the golf business, whether that’s of ourselves as golf federations or media, is that we are very good at talking to ourselves. We invite people to play golf who already play golf. We write stories for people in magazines who already play golf. If you step back and think about that, how the hell do you grow the pie if you’re only talking to people who already play?”
So back to our survey. We asked you to rate the communication from your golf club from 1 to 5 being - very poor, poor, average, good, very good - the average rating was 3.59 out of 5 in between average and good. However, just 24% said communication was 'very good’.
We also asked if you were ever asked for feedback from your golf club and it is quite clear that this is an area that needs improveing - we saw a 33% split for those stating they were 'never asked for feedback', 'sometimes' and those that said they were 'asked for feedback'. So it seems that all too many clubs simply take it for granted that when they send out subscription renewal letters they expect members to cough up without question, and without any explanation as to why subs may be increasing.
What happens when a golfer leaves a golf club
Most golfers will move from one club to another at some point. There could be a multitude of reasons for doing so - moving to a new area for work, looking for a change of scene, fed up with your current club. We asked if you had ever been asked to give a reason for leaving a club. Bearing in mind that, until the initial lockdown ended, many golf clubs were struggling for members, it is a source of real concern that only 25% of those who had moved clubs had actually been approached and asked why. Clearly, if a club doesn’t know why members are leaving then it cannot address the issues that may be causing this.
Here are just some of your responses to this question:
"During my golfing career I've left two golf clubs. Both times I tendered my resignation but never even received a reply. One of them even cancelled my login details to the club site and booking system before my membership had expired. An email written on this prompted my facilities to be restored but no correspondence via email, phone or anything."
"About 10 years ago I left my club for a year. I don't believe that the management at the time gave a hoot - or even realised that I had left."
"I've left three and I have never been asked why."
"I have never been asked, but I have always given a reason.”
Do new golf club members feel they are welcomed into the club
We also asked golfers who had joined a golf club in the past 18 months to provide feedback on whether they felt their new golf club had gone the extra mile to make them feel welcome. Whilst 45% stated yes, a worryingly high 32% said no and 23% stated 'sort of'. If clubs are to retain new members it seems pretty obvious that they should be going out of their way to make them welcome.
It should come as no surprise to any of us that there is a clear divide between clubs that are doing well on this front and others who are not.
The following represents a cross-section of responses from new members who have been welcomed.
“All new members are offered an hour lesson with the pro and existing members have been welcoming in both competitions and in and around the clubhouse."
"Has always been a very friendly, unstuffy club - that and the quality of the course were my main reasons for joining."
"I have been made most welcome from all sectors of the club."
"The club is very proactive in encouraging members to socialise.”
“My club kept me informed throughout the Covid restrictions and we get regular updates on improvements to the course."
"I feel that the staff try really hard to please."
“I have been made to feel welcome by my fellow members and especially by the captain and vice-captain."
“My club has improved its communication with members in recent years.”
But for every club that is doing well on this front, It is obvious from your feedback that there are many others who still have work to...
"The club has done some basic stuff but it has been the actual members and groups within the membership who have gone out of their way to make new members welcome and encourage them at take part in competitions and events."
"The club is not interested in you unless you are in certain categories of golfer.”
“There has never been much of a welcome. It feels more like a cash cow."
"Club personnel have made me feel welcome but the members have not.”
“I always feel members are a long way from being the first consideration but I like the course so put up with it."
"I feel those of us who have joined on a points basis - and there are many of us - are only tolerated because of the money we pay. We have no say.”
“The club pro could do much more to be friendly and welcoming. You never know, golfers might actually feel like buying something from him if he was more friendly and took time to get to know you a bit and ask about your game or be aware how you've done in competitions."
"The club really didn't do anything to welcome me or several friends who joined at the same time."
“I have been a member for five years and with Covid, like a lot of clubs, they are trying to cash in on golf’s new popularity. They now have too many members to manage and the members are suffering because of it."
The whole point of this survey was to attempt to discover whether communication is a priority within the UK’s golf clubs. The evidence suggests that, for many is still isn’t.
Reflecting on our annual Golfshake surveys over the past few years, only around 83-88% of existing club members say they are happy at their current club. That may seem like a high percentage, but there is no getting away from the fact that is also means up to 17% of club members are not happy with the clubs to which they belong.
We will cover more from this survey shortly, focusing on how visitors to golf clubs are made to feel and they experience they have, but from the above data and golfer feedback it is clear that if there is one things golf clubs should be doing right now - then it is the very simple task of communicating.
How well does your golf club communicate with the existing members, potential members, visitors to the club or even the local communicating that may use the club facilities in some way? Let us know in the comments below.
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