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How Could The Cost of Living Crisis Impact Your Golf

By: | Fri 10 Mar 2023

It has been a fascinating period for golf in the UK. Following years of apparent decline, the pandemic brought with it an extraordinary and unexpected boom in participation figures as people new and old turned to the game for much-needed exercise and social interaction throughout those most challenging of months.

However, now that we have gratefully moved long beyond those dark days of lockdown, attention is fixed on what 'normality' could mean for the sport in 2023 and beyond.

That picture has been undoubtedly clouded by the uncertainty surrounding the ongoing cost of living crisis, which has seen a dramatic rise in energy costs, food prices, and an increase in other associated expenses. 

Just how could this situation impact your golf this season? That was among the leading concerns that we saw raised by the many respondents to the most recent Golfshake Survey, who have questions and worries regarding the state of their club membership and wider green fee costs.

The Rising Cost of Golf

Given the difficulties facing all businesses at the moment, including golf clubs, the impact is being felt by the consumer, which is something that many comments we received noted:

"Obviously concerned about fees going forward with the current financial situation."

"Concerns regarding the increased membership costs for 2023. All sports facilities need government assistance in dealing with ever increasing running costs, especially in heating costs in clubhouses and greens sheds over the winter months."

"It’s a shame that after COVID the majority of golf clubs seem to have increased costs significantly for both membership and as a visitor."

"Some courses need to be mindful of green fees as the cost of living increases. I’d rather pay a reasonable price for a round of golf and spend more in the bar after for food and drink with friends."

"Pricing beginning to go too high again, cost of living rising, golf clubs need to be careful, they were winners in COVID, don't take advantage of your members."

"Too expensive to play golf now, fees, petrol, equipment."

"Cost of a round gone up considerably in Ireland, making it expensive to play any course other than your own."

"The cost of golf in France is ludicrous and must deter so many younger people from playing."

"Clubs have become greedy due to the pandemic and increased member numbers. They now have inflated prices, haven’t necessarily improved conditions and many who previously welcomed visitors now don’t want you. With the increases to the cost of living, they may see memberships reduce and they will the first to try to attract previous customers back."

"It's on a knife-edge. People think it's back in a healthy position but we're two years on from the COVID boost, people are struggling financially and clubs have decided to raise annual subs to cover increased costs. This year and 2024 could be interesting."

That final comment is perhaps the most intriguing, recognising the context of recent years but also the situation facing venues in 2023 and beyond as they seek to find a challenging balance between meeting operating costs but without putting off members and visitors.


Impact on Golf Clubs

It feels like everything has increased; energy, fuel, food, and those rising costs have clearly impacted many clubs, as golfers themselves have noticed that ongoing maintenance and services have declined in recent months.

"Clubs need to be careful to weigh up the amount of members to keep the funds up to pay for the maintenance that needs to be done to keep the course at a high level, against having too many members that they are not able to get tee times when they need, and the higher foot traffic causing more damage which in turn costs more to maintain."

"The very large increase in players after the first COVID lockdown will recede as the cost of living rises rapidly and the ability to undertake other pursuits returns to normal. My club was greedy and maxed out tee slots by pairing up but kept gaps at eight minutes resulting in slow play, The existing membership was sidelined in favour of making money with cheap deals and numerous societies block booking. This may come back to haunt the owners."

"I have seen maintenance at my club reduce to core areas and lots of trees and few bunkers removed to increase speed of play. The game should remain challenging yet enjoyable for all. Course design is key to this."

"Cost of running clubs has resulted in catering company leaving. Club will stay open but our green fees and matches will be hit hard."

"I am very concerned about how the cost of energy will affect my golf club subscription fees for the coming year/beyond and ultimately the viability of our golf club."

With the cost of membership subscriptions rising across the country aligned with inflated green fees, golfers will expect a greater quality of service, something that will prove to be even more expensive to deliver under the current financial pressures.

Green Fee Increases

Despite the growth in club memberships, many golfers (including a sizeable percentage of the Golfshake Community) simply enjoy the freedom of paying as they play, being nomadic and venturing to different courses. Arguably, this group lost out most of all during the pandemic, but the consistent rise of green fees may finally bite some venues.

"The doubling of green fees since 2020 is driving me away from golf."

"Some clubs may struggle with member renewals and should take care to not drive visitors away with unrealistic green fees."

"Concerned about the rapidly increasing cost at many courses. Would like to play more top courses but the cost is so restrictive, even on winter rates. Would like more twilight golf options and offers to play top 100 courses at special rates occasionally."

"The costs of pay and play have increased substantially at some courses I’ve played during COVID, to the extent I no longer go to them. It will be interesting to see if prices reduce again with the cost of living crisis."

"Golf clubs ripped us off during and post-COVID restrictions by increasing prices as the demand to play increased. I have responded by playing courses still offering reasonable value for money - and I have found that such venues are often much more enjoyable to play! With the cost of living crisis hitting hard, I hope golf clubs will now be forced to return green fees and membership costs to a more acceptable level."  

"I don't understand why so many golf clubs retain high visitor fees over the weekend after 12/1pm in the summer months when often courses are hardly used. Surely offering a deal of say £100 for a four-ball is better than no one playing as the costs are fixed and likely players will spend in the bar as well."

Such is the complexity of running a golf club, there is a balance to be found between both members and visitors as the demand to maximise the needs of the core membership is essential, but the potential income from travelling groups and societies is a huge boost for any business in the industry.

Concern That Golf Will Become Elitist Again

Ultimately, given the increased costs facing both members and visiting golfers, there is a perception among some that the game is returning back to an elitist stereotype that it has worked so determinedly to shed.

"Golf is getting back to the good old days of a rich man's sport, my club are putting their subs up 12% and only 12 months ago added 6%. 18% in 13 months is completely unaffordable!"

"Very worried that the game is going to suffer and return to the old days of being only available to the wealthy. Clubs are pricing themselves out with higher membership fees and visiter fees."

"Getting too expensive - it will take the game away from the average golfer if not careful. Golf should be for all, not just the wealthy."

"Golf is in danger of returning to being only affordable to the relatively well off. Green fees were notably more expensive last year and this trend is only going to continue this year."

"Golf clubs penalise golfers the older they are, perhaps making the assumption that most senior players are financially secure. This is presumptuous in the extreme, maintaining elitism in golf which is such a loss to the sport."

Golf becoming unaffordable for more people would undermine many of the significant efforts that have been made to address the decline in participation that had been seen previously.

It's been a hugely difficult winter for so many of us, both households and businesses, but as we enter the brighter months of the year, hopefully some pressures will ease and golf clubs will successfully find a balance between providing value to their members and visitors, as this game - as we all experienced during the worst of times - can offer so much positive light and support to the health and well-being of golfers.

What do you think? post your thoughts and feedback on the Golfshake Forum: https://forum.golfshake.com/

Tags: Survey industry insider GOLFERS Golf daily picks

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