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Some Golf Clubs Act Like They Don't Need Visitors

By: | Fri 17 Dec 2021

ONE of the more surprising findings from our recent survey was that it has emerged that although golf clubs are open to visitors, a large number of non-members are actually finding it difficult to get a game.

There are two main reasons for this:

1. Most clubs are full and have few tee-times available.

2. With the days being shorter, clubs struggle to cope with the demands of their own members, never mind being able to offer tee times to visitors.

It has been widely reported that UK golf clubs are enjoying a boom but there is no guarantee that it will continue and it certainly won’t do so if golfers are not made to feel welcome. Much will depend on the way clubs treat existing members and, crucially, those who could become members in the future.

There are two different types of golf visitor. There is the golfer who lives locally and picks and chooses the courses they want to play. 

And then there is the golf tourist, an individual who has been in seriously short supply over the past couple of years because of travel restrictions introduced due to the global Covid-19 pandemic.

A Visit Scotland study in 2017 revealed that golf tourism was worth £286m to the country, supporting 4,700 jobs. This represented an increase of £60m in less than 10 years. 

At that time, 47% of Scotland’s golfing visitors travelled from overseas to play golf in Scotland, with golfers from North America making up the biggest share of the overseas market, representing 30% of all overnight visitors. Those are pre-pandemic figures, of course, and it will be some time before we see overseas visitors coming anywhere close to these levels again.

This means it becomes even more important to welcome the casual visitor.

Golf Club Visitor

We asked: Do you feel your golf club markets itself well to visiting golfers? It is pretty clear from the responses that non-members are not considered to be a priority.

These were some of the replies:

"No need to currently. Full membership and a waiting list.”

"Must be doing something right as we have a waiting list.”

It is a mistake for UK golf clubs to assume that a waiting list means they are doing everything right. In fact, our surveys would indicate that much work still needs to be done.

"The membership is FULL so it must market itself well.”

A full membership does not prove that a course has marketed itself well. There are lots of factors that come into play. For instance, if there is no other nearby course then it stands to reason that your club will not be short of members and may believe that it doesn’t actually need to market itself at all.   

"Given an increased membership our club has deliberately scaled down visitor numbers to look after its members first and foremost."

"Yes, but I wish they wouldn’t. Tee times are scarce enough as it is."

"We attract a lot of visitors but looking to control the visitor levels to ensure our growing membership have sufficient tee availability."

"I feel my golf club is more traditional and doesn’t use social media too well, but then as a member, do I really want too many visitors?"

"We do not set out actively to attract a high number of visitors."

"Having increased the price of a round by nearly 50%, the plan would seem to be fewer visitors at increased prices equals same out of revenue."

Actively discouraging visitors may turn out to be a short-sighted policy. Why? The extra income they bring in boosts club coffers and helps to keep subscriptions down. Visitors pay a green fee and, almost without exception, will spend money in the clubhouse on food and drink. And if they enjoy their experience they will come back - and they will tell others. It is a difficult balancing act but it is one that most golf clubs need to get right.

"Visitors are only allowed with members.”

I just don’t get this one, and it is more common than you may think. It is basically golf clubs saying that they don’t trust visitors on their course. Worse than that, it is telling visitors that they are not really welcome. There is a course in Suffolk that shall remain nameless that has a flawless car park for members and what amounts to a ploughed field for visitors. What message is that sending out?

"They don't get us in the magazines or on websites regularly but then again I have heard full-time members say they don't want visitors at the club.”

Does this sound like a golf club that you would want to visit? No, I didn’t think so!

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