The top golf club trends of 2014

Alistair Dunsmuir
By Alistair Dunsmuir January 27, 2015 17:10

The top golf club trends of 2014

The year 2014 was, perhaps, the most far reaching one for the golf industry in recent history. From The R&A voting to admit women to a European Union ruling that green fees at private members’ clubs should be exempt from VAT, all against a backdrop of the industry still struggling with falling participation and a new interest from abroad in purchasing some of this country’s greatest clubs, it was at times hard to keep up with the pace of change. But what were the biggest trends of 2014? Golf Club Management reporters Emma Williams, Tania Longmire and Alistair Dunsmuir have compiled their annual top trends list:

40. Some of the ideas to get people playing golf were radical

Golf has had to be creative to get new people playing the game, and 2014 was the year the venues truly thought outside the box.

Kierland Golf Club in Arizona, USA for example, which was the first golf resort in the country to offer a fleet of Segways for golfers to use, purchased two specially-built bicycles that cause minimal damage to fairways. This allows golfers to cycle round the course as if they were using a buggy.
The result is faster rounds but also golfers who feel that they have had an active workout.

While the TaylorMade-adidas Golf-funded organisation, HackGolf, which is trying to get more people to play golf, introduced the 15-inch golf hole, more than three times bigger than the typical diameter of a golf hole, from approximately 4.25 inches to about the size of a pizza.

At the venues that trialed it, the average length of an 18-hole round was reduced by nearly an hour, and golfers saw a 10-stroke improvement on their scores.

Golfers such as Sergio Garcia and Justin Rose expressed support for the initiative.


39. Clubs that sped up play and relaxed dress codes saw improvements to their bottom lines

Many golf clubs relaxed their dress codes and / or introduced measures to speed up play in 2013, and this proved to be successful by 2014.

Bruce Glasco, senior vice president and managing director of Troon International Operations, which runs scores of major golf clubs around the world, said the two policies had a positive effect on the clubs’ bottom lines, for example.

“Based on our consumer feedback, we found that clubs’ ‘stuffiness’ and / or overbearing rules were barriers to some visiting,” he said.

“Having strict rules on attire meant families and the like were going elsewhere for lunches, drinks and dinner, which was therefore negatively affecting a critical revenue stream for our owners.

“Our new dress code has allowed a family to come and enjoy the facilities without having to worry so much about what they wear.”

He added that the relaxed dress rules had led to a financial improvement, and the slow play measures had reduced the average lengths of rounds by up to 11 minutes, and had received 87 percent support from customers.


38. Clubs suffered absurd attacks on their courses

Clubs have suffered problems with joyriders and teenage criminals causing problems in the past, but strangely in 2014 a few clubs suffered unique or mindless attacks.

First, Boringdon Park Golf Club in Devon reported that a large vehicle used two knapsack sprays to spray several litres of a chemical weed killer on 14 of its 27 greens in the middle of the night.

Then eco-warriors tore up four greens at Berkhamsted Golf Club in Hertfordshire because they are angry over the venue’s tree felling policy.

And in the summer Hirsel Golf Club in Beriwckshire found that ‘some sort of liquid’ had been poured onto its 7th green, causing significant damage.


37. Prestigious clubs started thinking of merging with each other

Many clubs have sought to merge with each other in the last two or three years to cut costs, but 2014 saw something new when a royal golf club joined that list.

The majority of the members at Royal Norwich Golf Club, one of only 16 golf clubs in England to have been granted its royal title by Queen Victoria, voted to merge with Weston Park Golf Club, based seven miles away. The extraordinary move is set to take place in 2017, with Royal Norwich earmarked to be converted into a 1,000 home estate.

That was nothing compared to a proposed merger between two clubs in New Zealand however – a deal that would be worth £48 million featuring a golf club that the country’s prime minister plays at.


36. Most private members’ clubs still didn’t see growth

At least from the 2014 research that looked at their financial performance in 2013.

A Hillier Hopkins LLP Golf Survey Report found that 42 percent of members’ clubs reported growth in 2013 – a rise from just 25 percent in 2011.

However, 58 percent saw no growth or made a loss.


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Alistair Dunsmuir
By Alistair Dunsmuir January 27, 2015 17:10
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  1. Mount Pleasant Golf Club December 1, 16:36

    With reference to Trends in Golf No. 10, Repayment of green fee VAT, does ‘some disgruntled proprietory clubs’ really reflect the situation? I would suggest there are nearly 1000 very disgruntled clubs! In the world of darts there are now 2 separate Governing bodies. If the issue of VAT inequality is not addressed I could see a case for golf going the same way.

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  2. Bob Braban November 29, 20:17

    What an excellent summary of the year and one that contains lessons that all managers and committee members should study and absorb. Where we are now was every bit as predictable 5 years ago as is where we will be in 5 years time.

    Although heavily promoted by England Golf, flexible memberships and offers of a wide spread of membership options should not be relied on as the solution to the problem faced by many traditional clubs, merely a small contribution. Likewise, with the encouragement of female participants. A major part of today’s problem is the rise of membership fees to a level where many golfers are financially far better off as green fee payers. The annual subscription, whilst for many affordable, has to be justified against other calls on the family income. There are not hoards of families who can afford or justify two subscriptions from the family income.

    The answer to the problems of most clubs will be found in a change in the balance between membership fees and visitors. The core difficulty is that if you ask the majority of club members how they see their club in ten years time, they will tell you that it will not change. They like it as it is. Moreover, management committees often underplay the extent of difficulties and do not convey to their members an accurate and understandable picture of the problem as it exists and a prediction as to how how it will develop. The simple fact is that if clubs are to survive in the new market, they cannot ignore the need to change. However, properly managed, the essential changes can be effected without too much disturbance to traditional members. They will be fewer in number, but their enjoyment will not suffer undue disruption. What will have to change is the way in which clubs are managed, particularly the historical profligacy of many. Adventure courses and so called ‘foot golf’ are not the answer. They are effectively taking the club out of ‘golf’ Like all business ventures, there will be those who are successful and those who fail. Many factors influence arrival at success or failure, but quality of management will always feature large.

    In essence, traditional members clubs have to establish their target profile for a date in the future and formulate and implement a plan to get there. The current practice of ‘how can we cope this year’? just will not meet the management requirement. There examples of successful business development in the golf industry, particularly from the USA where they have been through much of what we face. They were just quicker and more resolute in dealing with the problem. The main lesson they convey is that those who dithered are the ones who are making coffee for the administrators rather than for visiting golfers.

    Bob Braban

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