The Secret Secretary: The big differences between private and proprietary clubs

Jenny Yu
By Jenny Yu March 22, 2018 07:24 Updated

Sometimes golf club managers like to discuss controversial issues with their peers under the cloak of anonymity. Here, a ‘secret secretary’ explains that there are big differences between proprietary and private members’ golf clubs

I’m in a unique position to make this contrast as I have been a member of a prestigious private members’ golf club for more than half a century and have run a proprietary golf club for decades.

The private club recently closed golf holes for works; there is no way the proprietary club could have done that nor would you see a greenkeeper wearing a hard hard to spike fairways on a ‘hole closed for maintenance’.

The proprietary has just three greens’ staff; one is part-time and has special needs. They never close the course whatever the conditions. They must keep it open or they could lose their jobs.

The private club has between five and seven greens’ staff plus a course manager. They have long lunch and tea breaks, and close the course whenever they can under pressure from staff who welcome the extra time off.

Over the Christmas break the proprietary club was open but quiet. They know how damaging it would be for business if members or visitors were turned away because they weren’t allowed to play. During this period visitors can play for whatever they feel their experience was worth.

All the local private members’ clubs were closed ‘for the rain’ (but mostly so golf course staff could have more Christmas time off).

The proprietary club gives back money if it has even one temporary green or tee. How often have you paid a large green fee to a private members’ club and found the course, without warning, is on temporary greens with holes cut in a fairway?

The proprietary club has the same membership as another local private club and a much bigger green fee throughput although we charge less than half per green fee.

They have seven full-time staff and a full-time DIY man doing the job that the proprietary’s greenkeeping team does. Their course is closed for about three months every year.

It would be interesting for all if a survey took a direct comparison between private and proprietary clubs. It might be far too controversial. I doubt if secretary managers of private members’ clubs would dare share the results with their committees!

There is a really big difference. And that’s without the 20 per cent VAT subsidy!

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Jenny Yu
By Jenny Yu March 22, 2018 07:24 Updated
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  1. jeremy March 22, 12:34

    Yes and all these Private Clubs are subsidized by the UK taxpayer. They don’t have to charge VAT on green fees and most of the Private Clubs don’t pay any Corporation Tax claiming they don’t make any money on Visitor Green Fees. It’s completely scandalous and let’s hope post Brexit that HMRC remedy this gross distortion of competition.

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  2. Trout March 29, 18:24

    Oh Jeremy! How blinkered. We run these private clubs as ‘not for profit’ businesses so in claiming we don’t make any money generally we don’t.
    Perhaps you’re referring to the wonderful stockbrokers belts around the M25. I don’t know about where you are but where I am in the north it isn’t that grim just damned tough.

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