GolfLincsUK - incorporating Golf Club Marketing.Org

Section 7 - Marketing Your Club - The Membership Dilemma

Section 7 - The membership Dilemma


7.1.  If there is one topic about which Club Management Committees have agonised above all others, it is the membership issue. A few have successfully tackled the problem, but the majority have failed to grasp reality. There are too many memberships available at a time when, world wide, there is a real decline in the take-up of membership. In the UK, 100,000 fewer members over some 10 years with an attrition rate exceeding 4% represents a major decline. The whole face of golf has changed dramatically over the last 30 years or so. TV publicity in particular has taken the sport from a pursuit for wealthy gentlemen, to a sport that is within the aspirations of a much wider section of society.  This has made the golf club an attractive proposition for businessmen looking for an investment.  Combined with an hotel, a bowling green and an attractive club house, golf clubs are a good investment.  Had the number of clubs and therefore the number of membership opportunities remained constant, the older traditional clubs would have been in clover. However, the fast growth of new clubs with their business ethics and more user-friendly approach to the sport has not only catered for new golfers, but has also offered opportunities to existing golfers to move to a club or playing profile that is more suited to their requirements.  The reality is that membership subscriptions have continued to rise at a time when green fees have reduced. Realistically, if you are a weekend golfer who can play for £20 or less as an alternative to an £800 p.a. subscription, financially you are almost certainly better off not joining a club. Of course, club members know that there are additional benefits from being a club member, but if you have never been a member, they will not be apparent to you. Moreover, in the tighter financial circumstances, in some clubs those benefits are declining as the belt is tightening.


As a consequence of the changes, most traditional clubs have suffered to some extent. Those that have not will do so in the future. Get your marketing on track and your chances of improving recruiting will be greatly enhanced. Tinkering around the edges will not do the job. However, the future of golf clubs is certainly not in buoyant memberships. It lies in a healthy mix of members and visitors with an ever greater reliance on the latter.


7.2.  Membership Categories


Traditionally golf clubs have offered very few membership categories. Today the sensible management will offer a range of membership categories that focus on age ranges and ability to pay. Means testing is no form of option, but it is possible to make valid assumptions. Quite naturally, the juniors have very little disposable income and must rely on parents to pay their fees. A little further up the scale are those who have perhaps finished education and are in modestly paid employment.  Progress a few years and we come to those with young families who are perhaps coping with their first mortgage and the costs of children entering education. A little further still we come to the age group where the children have left home, the mortgage has been mitigated by years of inflation and Mum has got herself back into employment after years of looking after the kids. From that point we move to those adjusting to living on a pension.  There are other segments of personal development that must be considered, but the wise club will consider each category as a separate marketing challenge. One size does not fit all and the key to success is coming up with membership packages that best match the requirements and ability to pay of each category. How clubs tackle this will be dictated very much by local circumstances. Do your research and make certain that you get it right.


One frequent comment is: “If we do that our members will get upset if someone is paying less than them”. The simple question they must answer is “Would you rather we lost those members and made up the deficiency from the lost revenue by increasing your fees”? e.g. “Would you rather see 100 Junior members paying £20 per month or would you prefer to make up the shortfall in our income stream by each paying another £50 p.a.”? The question attracts just one response.


7.3.  Joining Fees


In some 75% of clubs, the joining fee has gone. Originally a way of screwing extra money out of wealthy people, in the majority of areas it is now a simple deterrent to membership. Golf is no longer a sport exclusively for the wealthy although taking up golf is already very expensive and probably the most expensive sport for the beginner to enter. Clubs must be aware of this financial barrier and where necessary, take steps to remove or at least mitigate it. If your club cannot offer manageable financial options, there will be someone nearby who can. Consider this:





a.  Example 1.  You pay an annual subscription of £800 and a joining fee of a similar amount. A minimal provision of second-hand equipment costs £400 giving a minimum first year cost of  £2000.


b.  Example 2.  You pay the annual subscription of £800 by 12 equal monthly payments of £65, getting a discount of £20 annually for paying by direct debit. You don’t pay a joining fee, but you do have to lay out £400 for golf equipment. You are not going to find a bill for £800+ dropping on your doorstep in the middle of March next year.


If you can sustain option 1 because you have a waiting list and a queue waiting to join, continue with it.   However, most clubs would be better served by option 2.


7.4.  Keeping your Existing Members


I have already emphasised the prime marketing imperative of keeping customers happy. In the context of a golf club, this will mostly mean the members. Remember, every member who retains membership is as good as a new recruit, so internal recruiting matters. I have also said that some of the most valuable members in your club are the seniors. As they depart through age and infirmity they will be difficult to replace. In the age group 60 to 80 years, these members are a legacy of reasonably prosperous times and many have pensions based on the index-linking and generous final salary schemes that are becoming a part of history. Those members will be difficult to replace so hang on to them as long as you can. Enlightened clubs provide parking spaces for rent by members where they can keep their own buggy. The economics are very favourable with a space that costs c£120 to provide fetching £75 annually from rental. How a commercial business would love such rewarding opportunities.


7.5.  Temporary Membership Initiatives


If your course has special characteristics that single it out from others in your area, always consider offering temporary memberships or bulk purchase green fee options. An obvious situation is where the course is generally playable when others are likely to be closed through wet weather. This is an exploitable USP. The offer of temporary membership from say, December through to March, may well be attractive to players from other clubs that are not so fortunate. You know which other clubs are likely to suffer and, if you have got your marketing administration in order, you have the names and e-mail addresses of some of their members. A mail shot may do the trick and, who knows, some may stay as permanent members after their temporary membership ends in March.


If these players are not interested in temporary membership, they may be interested in buying your winter green fee card that entitles them to a set number of rounds for an agreed fee. The card is easy to produce and administer and should be for a set number of rounds to be used by a certain date. Ideally the number of rounds should not be divisible by four, making the purchase of a further card a probability if an odd number of rounds remain.





Everyone has an invisible sign hanging from their neck saying, 'Make me feel important.' Never forget this message when working with people.
Mary Kay Ash