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Evidence That Golf Has Sustained Its Boom Popularity

By: | Thu 03 Feb 2022 | Comments


There has been a great deal of data on the health of the game and the latest comes from the Hillier Hopkins 2021-22 Golf Club Report, produced with the help of 72 members golf clubs and 27 proprietary clubs across 10 regions.

Matt Bailey, a senior manager at Hillier Hopkins, said: “We all hoped when looking at last year’s survey that by the time this year’s survey came around, we would be talking about Covid 19 as more of a past event. But alas, it is still around and impacting the world. Thus, the themes impacting golf clubs are much the same this year.

"The good news for golf clubs is that golf appears to have sustained the popularity that it felt the boost of early on in the pandemic.

"It has been a strong year for the sector, with 79% of members' clubs and 88% of proprietary clubs reporting growth in the year."

The evidence suggests that the boom is continuing, with 60% of clubs now having a waiting list, a proportion that has increased drastically since before the pandemic with only 22% of clubs having one in 2019. And 34% of clubs have either increased or reintroduced joining fees in the year.

Bailey continued: “The concern amongst some clubs that membership numbers would fall again once people could go back to their normal leisure pursuits post pandemic has thankfully not come to light.

"This is due to the popularity of golf generally but also 87% of members clubs and 92% of proprietary clubs were willing to change their rules and regulations to modernise highlighting the recognition that clubs need to look to the future and maintain their strong memberships.

"40% of clubs are now offering a flexible membership which has helped attract members in a time where ongoing economic uncertainty making a financing facility attractive to existing and prospective members.

"One of the challenges for clubs with a full membership and waiting list is to optimise their member categories. Clearly maximising the number of full, highest subscription members would maximise the clubs’ income, but does that lead to issues with course capacity and difficulty looking further to the future by limiting younger members on lower subscriptions?”

Golf Boom Continues

Pandemic Impact

The report confirms something we already knew, namely that the age profile of golf-club membership remains a concern, with clubs recognising that attracting and retaining younger members is key for the long- term success of clubs.

Many courses have seen benefit from reduced traffic while the courses were closed which has left courses in good condition for existing and new members. Managing members expectations and maintaining the quality of the course will be key going forward.

During the lockdown there were many predictions of doom and gloom but the good news is that most golf clubs are now seeing a significant increase in spending on course and clubhouse special projects.

Bar and catering income has suffered due to Covid-19, but there have been improvements since the lockdowns have ended with staff numbers going back up to deal with demand. There has been more focus on opening hours to balance cost control and member satisfaction. Hopefully, without further disruption, clubs can look forward to a positive year for their clubhouse income. Rising staff costs and staff retention issues are key concerns for clubs, but also whether the clubhouses are seen as social hubs for the members.

The Challenges For 2022

The challenge again for 2022 is maintaining the success that many clubs have seen, keeping members happy and looking ahead at ways to improve their facilities whilst exercising caution over the financial implications of this with the short-term future still relatively uncertain.

Doug Poole, Chief Executive of the UK Golf Federation, says: “We have supported the Hillier Hopkins Survey for some years as it is a unique opportunity for proprietary and commercially operated golf facilities to see how they perform alongside private golf clubs. The 2021/22 report is no different and shows variations in catering income which is interesting but overall both have performed well with membership being strong and waiting lists for membership returning to our industry."

Here are some of the headline numbers from the Hillier Hopkins report:

  • 83% of members’ clubs still have a dress code, compared with 92% in 2021.
  • 49% of clubs have at least 600 members but almost 70% of those are aged 50 and over.
  • 80% of clubs are planning to increase their annual subscription, with 94% of proprietary clubs planning an increase.
  • 79% of clubs have reported growth in past year - this is the highest level for six years.
  • Almost 90%, up from 69% last year, of member clubs are prepared to adapt rules and regulations to modernise.

Visitor green fees at member clubs have increased by 10% from 2018 - midweek up from £51.18 to £56.54 - 10.5%; weekend up from £55.73 to £61.33 - 10%. At propriety clubs, midweek fees have risen from  £35.40 to £36.08, while weekend fees have actually fallen, from £43.80 to £42.47.

They have seen a staggering 14.5% increase in society 18-hole green fees since 2018, up from an average £50.42 to £57.75. In that same period, golf clubs report that costs have risen by more than 10%. It is interesting to note, however, that with proprietary clubs, society rates have actually fallen.

  • 32% of propriety clubs have waiting lists
  • 94% of propriety clubs plan to increase subs next year.

There were some surprising findings. For the second successive year, head greenskeeper renumeration packages fell, with the number earning in excess of £50,000 falling from 29% in 2019, to 24% in 2020 and to 21% in 2021. It may also come as a surprise to learn that 39% of members clubs do not employ a steward. And only 64% of club pros are on a retainer of more than £2,000 per month; this compares with 71% in 2020.

Encouragingly, the number of members clubs who offer flexible membership has also increased for a second successive year, rising from 27% of members clubs in 2019 to 36% last year and 40% in 2021.

But work still needs to be done to attract more women and juniors - 75% of club members are men.

Analysis

Golf is a game that has struggled to move with the times so it is encouraging that although most members clubs are planning to increase their annual subscriptions they are also looking at ways to make membership more attractive and affordable. 

However, the most surprising finding in all of this is that at a time when money is once again pouring into the game that proprietary clubs have continued to recognise the importance of visitors and societies and have barely increased their green fees over the past two or three years. Has this been your experience? If you run a society, have you found that members clubs have priced themselves out of the market? 

Many clubs justify the increases based on the fact that they now have full memberships but they may be playing a dangerous game because there is absolutely no guarantee that the present boom will continue. 

If you class yourself as a nomadic golfer, let us know if you are still made to feel welcome at clubs that were happy to take your money before the pandemic.

Hillier Hopkins: 2021-22 Golf Club Report


Related Content

10 Things Golf Clubs Must Do in 2022

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