The golf industry is now in a ‘precarious position’

Alistair Dunsmuir
By Alistair Dunsmuir December 3, 2014 12:43

The body that runs amateur golf in England has warned that the golf industry is now in a ‘precarious position’ after a huge survey into clubs’ finances revealed that club membership continues to be in sharp decline.


England Golf, which has carried out its biennial poll, completed by SPORTS MARKETING SURVEYS, of 709 English golf clubs, has warned that golf clubs are still responding too slowly to the pressures they face, after a year in which several permanently closed down.

The 2014 Golf Club Membership Questionnaire finds that that the average golf club has 499 members, and the vast majority of these are white and adult male (77 percent) and more than half aged over 55. Less than a quarter are aged under 35 and women account for only 15 percent of membership. Girls make up just one percent of golf club members. The huge percentage discrepancy between male and female golf club members has remained almost identical since England Golf first started researching it in 2002.

1 membership

Some of the new statistics are particularly worrying for the industry. Even after more than a decade of enormous drops in memberships, the average English golf club still lost 85 members in the last two years (although recruited 77 new ones). The research found that nearly half of all clubs fail to carry out an exit survey and a quarter fail to record contact they make with visitors.

2 male v female

In terms of key trends over the last decade, England Golf found that clubs have been failing to implement changes in most areas, although since 2002 the percentage of clubs with waiting lists has dropped from just under 30 to 10, the percentage of clubs with membership vacancies has risen from 90 to 95, the percentage that charge adults a joining fee has dropped from just under 80 to well under 40 and since 2010 the percentage of clubs that offer a flexible membership category has risen from a little over five to 26.

3 age groups

The average English golf club’s adult subscription is £845 for men and £848 for women; £121 for boys and £118 for girls. Clubs have an average of 24 volunteers, most of whom serve on the club committee. Most volunteers are male and are aged over 55.

4 member vacancies

A spokesman for England Golf said: “Constrictions in financial circumstances and to the amount of time available for recreation, the widespread availability of discounted tee times and the desire to play a range of courses rather than one course regularly are potential influences on this decline.

5 members per club

6 waiting lists

“Golf clubs continue to be dominated by men either approaching late middle age or already embracing retirement.

7 membership retention8 members accepted

Whilst such golfers must be accommodated and enticed by clubs, forming as they do, the single key demographic for clubs, it is essential that managers be careful to ensure that they are also offering competitive packages and appropriate offers for younger men and particularly for women and juniors.

9 vacancies

“To survive and thrive in this climate, clubs must review their membership structure. Club memberships are in a precarious position, with a combination of fewer players taking up the game and a greater number of golfers reverting to independent, unaffiliated, play. which they offer as part of the golf membership experience.”

10 recruitment

To reverse the trend the report recommends attracting new members by breaking down barriers and creating a welcoming club environment. It advises that lowering subscriptions is less likely to attract new members than providing additional benefits or hosting induction days, offering structured coaching or working with county golf partnerships.

11 marketing

It points out that potential members are often deterred by long-winded, non-transparent joining systems and by the joining fee.

12 joining fees

The report adds that clubs should retain existing members by ensuring the year-round quality and value of the course and the club environment, which must be attractive to golfers of all generations. It suggests flexible membership packages are arguably the most powerful way of attracting and retaining members: 34 percent of clubs which offer these increased their membership in the last two years. Intermediate and student membership are influential in retaining members in their 20s and 30s.

13 average fees

14 exit survey

And the report states that clubs should encourage junior members by making it easy to join.

15 additional facilities

“Offering junior tuition and the services of a junior organiser will appeal to youngsters and their parents. A positive experience of junior golf will encourage players to continue their membership into adulthood,” it states.

16 sec manager17 flexible

Many clubs would also be interested in help to retain existing members, to develop links with schools and the community and to help with marketing and communications. “Clubs had many suggestions for ways in which England Golf could help to grow the game, notably by improving golf’s visibility in the media, by greater communication with clubs and by fostering greater communication between clubs. There was also much support for simplifying the handicap system, providing greater transparency on how golfers’ affiliation fees are spent, for focusing more on the average club member than on elite players and for promoting the game more clearly to women and juniors,” added the report.

18 england golf


Alistair Dunsmuir
By Alistair Dunsmuir December 3, 2014 12:43
Write a comment


  1. Ian Mullins December 28, 14:51

    Great research! However, I can confirm we ( are bucking this trend as we are now over 8,500+ registered members with 450+ PRO members and site traffic up 20% YOY. So its clearly not golf that people are falling out of love with…. its golf clubs!

    If I take my girlfriend/wife/partner out to dinner and spend £80-100 I get called Sir and looked after for the two hours I am in the restaurant. Yet if I visit a golf club with a mate and spend the same money, I am treated like a leper.

    We (TSG) are currently achieving 100k+ hits a month on the site and had over 900+ games arranged in 2014 (5k+ rounds), yet only ONE club has contacted us to see how we can help them?! When we contact clubs, they ‘faux’ interest and we never hear from them again.

    In addition, we were short-listed to be an official England Golf partner in 2014 and the only question Mr.David Joy (England Golf CEO) could conjure up in our pitch, was “Why aren’t you bigger”. I think a MILLION hits a year on our site is not bad since 2010 and with NO help from the golf industry.

    We invested in a talkSPORT radio campaign in August to grow the site (and the game), did they want to help – no.

    Unless Golf clubs get their act togather soon and gets with the times (over 25% of all online time is on social networks) you’ll be presiding over a mammoth migration and destruction of a our beloved sport!

    Reply to this comment
  2. Duncan McDowall December 8, 11:57

    Isn’t it becoming so very tiring hearing of the demise of golf. I’m afraid for as long as these negative comments continue, sadly, it will only become forever worse. To resolve the concerns & issues isn’t difficult, apart from that the people charged with managing the game aren’t up to it, by a long way. In fact they caused it !
    Sadly, it won’t change. That, I can assure you will affect even the continued existence of your publication. 100 golf pro’s out of work in one day in the USA. 50% of clubs in a very bad way in Australia – it will become far more than that. I wonder why ? Could it be that those in positions of managing, what has become a considerable business, aren’t up to it, surely not
    The UK is as bad ! I know that there is a way forward, the age old Committee structure has to go. (I recall attending an interview for Golf Professional at Lossiemouth Golf Club in 1974, there were 26 Committee members sat around the table ! Probably still is. Others 14, 16,), (There should be no more than three) for as long as that prevails, golf clubs, as we have known them are finished ! Not a brave statement, an obvious one. They won’t change.
    The state of things needs to be transmitted to golf club members, they are the ones who have voting powers and can make the difference. They need to have the likely future of their club explained to them, unless they accept and force the desperately needed changes, the clubs will most certainly continue on the present spiral.

    (just some thoughts after over 46 years in the business)

    Reply to this comment
    • Bob Braban December 12, 22:07

      Duncan is certainly right about the management problem. My experience has involved me in some element of the management of almost all of the 20+ clubs of which I was a member in my travels around the globe. As a professional manager I was constantly fighting to improve management standards. In the UK almost without exception, clubs are managed by committees comprising members who are:
      a. Good at Golf or
      b. Popular because of time spent in the bar or
      c. Very long standing members of the club, or a variety of other reasons that have absolutely nothing to offer as a qualification for managing anything. To compound the problem, the great majority seem to have lived in the area for most of their lives with experience of only one club. Almost without exception, the obvious management target was to see that change was kept to an absolute minimum at a time when that strategy was almost suicidal.

      The appointment of professional managers has helped some clubs but has hindered others and sadly, there is generally no objective management advice available to those in charge. Many managers are appointed by committees who are more interested in getting a nice guy who can keep the books straight and agrees with their ‘no change’ profile. In most business enterprises one can expect the accountants to offer sound advice, but in a golf club it is often a member who does the job for free and doesn’t want to rock the boat.

      Finally, Duncan makes another good point. The great majority of golf club members have absolutely no idea how parlous is the state of management of their sport. It is not a topic of general news and, sadly, communication skills among management committees match those in other essential areas.

      Things will change, but those changes will be forced rather than visionary.

      Bob Braban

      Reply to this comment
  3. Bob Braban December 5, 14:57

    No argument with what Nigel says but I do take issue with Trent Park. The latter is a nice facility, but is one of few. A lot of public facilities are poorly run and of generally poor quality and there is a need for the best traditional clubs to continue to to provide the great majority of golfing venues in the UK, albeit in a vastly different way to which they act today. However, the Trent Park correspondent will get his wish simply because in excess of 100 clubs will go to the wall over the next ten years. Sadly, it could well be the best courses that disappear, simply because survival will depend more on the quality of management than the quality of the course. The excellent and good will survive, but for the great majority it will come down to who wakes up first. To repeat a well known fact, there is still an air of lethargy amongst most management committees. They simply don’t grasp the reality of the situation they are in!

    Bob Braban

    Reply to this comment
  4. Trentparkgolf December 4, 19:52

    We need about 1000 Clubs to close down and be turned to Housing or Farmland. At present most members clubs are subsidised by the uk taxpayer in the form of Rates subsidy, VAT exemption and Corp Tax evasion. When HMRC finally wakes up to the scandalous abuse of exemptions and loopholes by so called Private Golf Clubs and Not for Profits then Clubs will finally start going to the wall and it will be time to buy !

    Reply to this comment
  5. bill Brown December 4, 19:23

    A great article,every member of every club management committee should be made to read it and the be made to read it again every time they mention “tradition” , “we have always done it that way” and “the members won’t like it “!

    Reply to this comment
  6. Bob Braban December 4, 16:55

    None of this should come as a surprise to anyone who has any knowledge of the golf industry. The survey simply validates what has been a very clear trend over the past ten years. That clubs are slow to react is an understatement. The simple fact is that the way in which the successful club operates just has to change and must do so with urgency. The majority of management committees have no cogent plan for the future and even those that recognise the necessity for change do not have the resolve to see it through. With the years of warning they have had, every club should by now have clear targets for the future and an agreed implementation plan. Surely, every management committee member must have knowledge of some successful business with which they can compare their club’s management performance and see just where they are going wrong. They will find it’s almost everywhere!

    Plotting the way ahead is really quite simple. Putting members and visitors first is a great start. It’s amazing how many clubs still subordinate the best interests of hundreds of members and potentially thousands of visitors to the perceived interests of a few staff. That has to change! Profligate spending also has to stop. Analysis of clubs that believe they have a slim budget shows that they do not and that they are carrying expenditure that would never be tolerated by an efficient business.

    For years, based on best management and marketing practice from around the globe, quite a few clubs have implemented some improvements. However, only a few have changed their management and marketing habits to the extent that they have the substantial customer base that ensures their future . Unfortunately, the great majority of club are sitting on their hands and doing nothing beyond trying to solve the problems as they arise. That won’t cut it. There were a lot of club casualties last year and there will be more this coming year.

    Make certain your members know that changes must be made and why. The clear message is “change or get ready for the arrival of the administrators”!

    Bob Braban

    Reply to this comment
  7. David John Wicks December 3, 13:16

    Great article just proves the mess golf has got it self into. The professional should take a lot of the responcabilty as they don’t have the business management skills for the job. Old fashioned ideas and out of date practices are killing the game

    Reply to this comment
View comments

Write a comment


Join Our Mailing List

Read the latest issues

Advertise With Us

To advertise in the magazine or online, contact:

Tel 020 7803 2453

Twitter Timeline