Do Golf Clubs Still Need Visiting Golf Societies
IT SHOULD, perhaps, come as no great surprise that one of the side-effects of the boom in club golf we are currently experiencing has been an impact on golf societies.
Once seen as the bread and butter for many clubs the length and breadth of the land, the huge increase in membership and playing numbers has seen societies being made to feel less welcome.
Green fees have increased, as has the cost of accommodation, food and drink, and there is far less availability according to the results of the recent survey we conducted into society golf.
More than 400 of you responded - 55% society organisers and 45% society members only. And a number of concerns emerged, mostly around increased costs and availability.
The geographical split was 43% in the South, 18% Midlands, 18% North, 8% East, 13% wider UK.
It emerged that 49% of society golfers will only travel up to 60 minutes for a society golf day, while 51% would travel one-two hours from home, with 12% prepared to travel up to three hours.
Most society golf days consist of a breakfast followed by 18 holes (37%), while 27% have breakfast, golf and meal, 14% have golf and a post-round meal. Just 13% only play golf and 9% have some variation which may mean just coffee and golf.
We asked: how much did you pay on average for a society package rate in 2021:
- Less than £20 - 5%.
- £20-£30 - 21%
- £30-£40 - 34%
- £40-£50 - 24%
- More than £50 - 16%
We asked: on average, how much did you pay to attend a society event in 2021?
- Less than £20 - 9%
- £20-£30 - 20%
- £30-£40 - 30%
- £40-£50 - 25%
- More than £50 - 16%
We asked organisers: how do you feel the average society package price has changed during the past three years?
- Increased by £5-£10 - 57%
- Increased by £10-£20 - 22%
- Increased by more than £20 - 5%
- Same - 17%
- Decreased - 0%
And we asked the same question to society members:
- Increased by £5-£10 - 53%
- Increased by £10-£20 - 18%
- Increased by more than £20 - 3%
- Same - 25%
- Decreased - just 1 person
It emerged that 72% of society organisers will try and negotiate the price.
A total of 30% of society organisers are planning more events than normal, with 62% saying no, and 8% saying they might.
A total of 24% of society golfers plan to play more than normal, 58% don’t, with 19% saying maybe.
As always, it is your feedback that informs us best - and you had plenty to say.
"Some courses expect full payment well in advance. We will not use these courses. Some are hard to contact by phone and require email requests. It is hard when there is nobody to talk to. I expect to pay a deposit but not the full amount - and the problem is that initially it comes out of my bank account.”
It seems that many of you have experienced the same thing.
"Costs in the South East have increased dramatically. Mostly this can be accommodated and negotiated but the real problem is the deposits some clubs are now requesting. In the past, £100 deposit per event was the norm, now clubs are asking for between 25% and 50% up front with a couple even wanting full payment in advance. How do clubs expect a society organiser to stump up more than £2,000 for an event that may be nine months away when there's no realistic way of being able to confirm final numbers that far in advance?”
"More clubs are demanding deposits for each person attending so we are being asked to pay bigger deposits in advance. Some courses have effectively blocked us from booking since Covid because they only class society bookings as those taking food and want a minimum number that is greater than we can guarantee. And many are making phone booking difficult in a general move to online booking."
There is a perception that golf clubs are now actively discouraging societies by pricing them out of the market.
"Golf clubs are getting greedy since Covid, We have decided not to do our usual 10 events this year as clubs are asking for final numbers earlier which is difficult but also pricing has gone up too much. Just two Sunday drivers now but even that is problematic as they want final numbers three months in advance or loss of deposits which is not realistic, There is no bargaining anymore."
"All clubs have increased prices, some more difficult to deal with than previous. Some clubs not responding."
"Golf clubs are charging way too much for golf societies. Without the societies visiting then golf clubs will not have the additional funds other than their member subscriptions. If they charge too much, then societies will stop visiting them and the course will suffer from a lack of additional investment funding. Despite what members think, societies bring in a valuable source of income that existing members cannot provide. Also, societies tend to play at off peak times when courses tend to be less busy and tend not to interfere with members. Golf clubs should consider reducing society fees in order to attract more societies and larger groups. The costs for some members of societies is starting to be prohibitive and those that cannot afford to join a club due to increasing membership fees are being penalised."
"I play in a long running work golf society and speaking to our orgainser some of the courses have increased prices dramatically, even for events which were previsionally booked last year. One course said there would be a small increase for this year, but that turned out to be over £25 a person and wouldn't budge on price for us."
"Even when booked a year in advance costs have gone up. You can only have set packages that normally double the cost. And it’s pay or you don't play - the clubs don’t care! Also most clubs are now afternoon only for societies, it’s getting harder to to book other than municipal courses!”
"Most societies raise money for charities and were relied upon to bring revenue to clubs during quiet times. Clubs have taken advantage of the popularity of golf by putting prices up. It's a shame they forget societies help them keep operating.”
"Our association has disabled members who need a buggy for the round, not a luxury but buggies are becoming more expensive than the golf. It would be nice if golf clubs would reduce the buggy costs for disabled golfers."
It’s not all doom and gloom though. Many of you are now shopping around and discovering that there are still bargains to be had.
”In 2022 we’ve had to be more imaginative about venues as popular hotspots such as Bournemouth have rocketed. We’ve booked Aberdeen for one tour but the monster courses (Cruden, Trump, Murcar, Royal Aberdeen) are pricing themselves out, all wanting about £150 for a green fee - we’re playing the likes of Newburgh and Peterhead instead at about £50 a head."
This is a real concern for most golf societies. Of course the cost of living has increased but your perception seems to be that the cost of golf days and golf breaks for societies has gone up by way more than the cost of living.
"Prices have risen considerably in 2022. In previous years my aim was to keep the cost of our golf days below £50. This year I have admitted defeat and am trying to keep the cost below £55. Single room supplements have also risen substantially."
"Prices have sky rocketed and most courses wouldn't be able to survive without the societies so they should be looked after better with the prices."
"We have not been able to secure a day or the prices have become prohibitive at some of the courses we used to play, or they want full payment in advance (up to six months). Therefore the organiser has booked cheaper venues, which means I won't attend some events as I don't think they are good value for money."
"All aspects appear to have increased - green fees, food and buggy costs. We are definitely looking at clubs with lower costs while trying to maintain golf course standards.”
Interestingly, a number of you have highlighted the cost of buggy hire, pointing to the fact that it is cost-prohibitive in many cases, especially for anybody who wants to hire a solo buggy, as well as for disabled golfers, for whom a buggy may well be an essential rather than a luxury.
“Many courses have taken themselves out of our price band, which means they are losing the business of 20+ golfers at a time when they are usually quiet. It also means we have less choice in where we play our societies."
"Societies are being squeezed out. The available times have been reduced - mainly to an afternoon tee-time when nobody else wants to play - and prices have gone up . Generally they want our money but only on their terms."
"Before Covid we would get bacon rolls, golf and a meal for £38-£45. Now the cost is roughly the same but no meal afterwards."
Another common theme is how much more difficult it has become to find golf courses who are willing to accommodate societies.
"Availability has been the issue in recent months."
"Society golf is great but the opportunities have diminished as memberships at courses have rocketed during Covid."
"There are a lot of clubs that do not allow societies at weekends which limits where we can play."
"With the increase in membership at some clubs, society days are harder to arrange and I fear the cost may rise substantially this year."
"We have noticed this year that some clubs are not accepting societies due to increased numbers of members and their difficulties securing tee-times."
"We found that although most clubs were welcoming a few of the clubs visited had some members who don’t want golf societies."
"We have been discouraged from playing at certain courses because they would prefer not to meet our requests."
"Courses are becoming harder to book because of the number of members. And the days of cheaper green fees are long gone."
It is clear that many courses have decided to prioritise the needs of their members.
"Courses are trying hard to attract society golfers, but with full memberships, balancing the needs of the members is more important to them, and only can offer limited time to societies and nomad golfers."
"It has been more difficult to find dates this year, courses are quite rightly looking after their members with tee times.”
In the past, golf society organisers found that they could haggle with clubs and resorts for a better deal. Your experience is that those days are gone.
“It’s just a case of pay the price or go somewhere else."
“There is not a lot of negotiation to be had by clubs these days - the blue chip clubs are all full."
"We always discuss the overall package and loyalty. Sometimes it works sometimes it doesn’t but we still book. And sometimes we part company."
"If the price is higher than expected, I try to find ways of reducing the cost, including exploring alternative venues."
“Negotiating the price now is a non starter! Prior to the pandemic, clubs welcomed you with open arms. Now they don’t want to know.”
However, it seems there might still be strength in numbers.
"Understandably over the past two years many golf clubs have prioritised their members over golf societies which has made organisation difficult in order to find the right package. We have been historically lucky to have a wealth of golf courses in the Surrey/Sussex area but with some clubs closing down, and some others limiting society traffic, it has been a challenge to move out of the customary rotation of courses. I am fortunate to play in three societies, with each one quite different in its membership and approach to the others. The main society entices over 50 people out for summer events. These numbers allow for some purchasing power when negotiating green fees, tee times and food and drink. Another of my three is a pub-based society which might see a dozen golfers out at an event, with higher handicappers and a more leisurely approach to competition. This doesn't allow for the same benefits when facing recent restrictive logistics, and can be reflected in the price that is charged to players. It is a very fine balancing act for society committees to roll out an annual schedule which reflects value for money whilst visiting new courses and finding premium tracks at a bargain price.”
There are still some bargains to be had, especially if an overnight stay is involved.
"Overall the value of an overnight stay is unbeatable, especially at some of the big name resorts, however, certain venues seem to be profiteering with bar snacks and beer prices, or anything outside the package."
In conclusion, it is obvious that the market for golf societies has changed hugely. Our advice is that you should shop around as there are still bargains to be had. And don’t be afraid to ask for discounts.
But societies themselves remain hugely popular, as we explored in our new feature article 5 Reasons Why Golf Societies Are Great.
What do you think? leave your comments below (Comments)