How to attract members: Make it possible for them to pay by direct debit and offer flexible subs

Seamus Rotherick
By Seamus Rotherick October 23, 2011 13:29

The lure of lavish golfing retreats in far-flung corners of the globe is just too irresistible for many enthusiasts, it seems.

The onset of cheap flights throughout Europe and the prospect of plunging prices for long-haul journeys open up access to every continent as never before. Aircrafts are groaning with the weight of golf bags crammed into their holds, if media reports are to be believed.

Golf is dying a death here, some observers are convinced, losing loyal players to sunny climes. A stiff correction to the way clubs project themselves is overdue, it’s widely felt. However, the position is complex in a sport that now touches every virtually every stratum of society.

Some of reasons for the drift abroad are easy to spot, believed Vivien Saunders, a former British champion and chairman of the Women’s PGA, who was awarded the OBE in 1997 for services to golf. “The weather’s bad here, whereas players can be guaranteed some sun abroad. Also, the prospect of playing golf in Dubai or South Carolina for example is very appealing.”

“Clubs ask for annual fees in one lump sum at a time of year when members often are least able or of a mind to pay, such as around Christmas time or the New Year. And they send out a letter asking for a cheque to be sent back to them. What’s wrong with direct debit? The system is common practice in many other sectors. If the fitness industry had shunned direct debits, it would have faced bankruptcy year ago,” said industry spokesman John Gibbs.

Surely a regular monthly payment of, say £50, sounds far more affordable than a lump sum of £600 a year, he argued. “And what about more clubs selling summer memberships?”

“At the Cambridge National,” owned and run by Saunders, “the direct debit system works well as does a rolling member method,” she said. “If you are trying to attract younger golfers, they may not be able to afford £600 to £700 in one fell swoop.”

The omens are not all dark, however. Office of National Statistics figures reveal a rise in those holidaying in Britain and a good few of them will be sampling some of the increasingly varied selection of high quality golfing resorts springing up here.

Also, Saunders detected a swing away from golfing abroad for several reasons.

Golf bags being tagged as excess baggage by carriers may well deter golfers, she said, as could the manner in which the game is played overseas. “Essentially we are talking about golfers who are not very good, who do not know the etiquette of the game and may take anywhere up to five or five and half hours to complete a round. The pace of the game is far slower. And green fees are far higher than the average here.”

The issue of etiquette though is becoming a thorny one in the UK too, she believed, as casual golfers take to the greens and fairways without knowing the do’s and don’ts of the game.

“I see golfers standing on the tee in what is an unsafe position.

“They clearly do not know where to stand and are unaware of the pace at which the game should be played. I tremble when I see it,” stated Saunders, who, as proprietor of Abbotsley Hotel, Golf and Country Club in St Neots, Cambridgeshire, is familiar with viewing the calibre of the golfer that is increasingly attracted to proprietary clubs.

Saunders is witnessing a growing influx of Scandinavian, Dutch and German golfers at Abbotsley. “They want a faster round of golf and are growing tired of spending so long to complete them abroad.”

Such visitors have a far greater choice of resorts now, she added, naming Thorpeness, Suffolk, Trevose and St Mellion, Cornwall, Forest Pines, Scunthorpe and Ufford Park, Norfolk as good examples of attractive resorts for overseas visitors.

Abbotsley itself is a 6,311-yard, par 72 course combining woodland and parkland, while adjoining 6,087-yard, par 70 Cromwell Course is “more forgiving” with great views of the countryside.

“It’s time that we appreciated the quality of facilities we have here,” said Saunders.

Launched in 2006, Golf At Goodwood is billed as “a brand new vision for the sport” and a “completely different way of enjoying golf”. Goodwood is famed for its downland beauty and Lord March has transformed the operation since assuming control some three years ago.

Members – whether regular players or casuals – can enjoy all the benefits they would expect from an exceptional golf environment, but without the annual costs usually associated with a traditional golf club.

“We want to present golf so that it suits the modern player,” the club maintained. “You may have family commitments, a hectic working life or other sporting interests, but still want to keep up your handicap and expect the service and quality of a world-class operation. It is about paying for the golf that you want to play, when you want to play it, to suit your schedule and your budget.”

Members do not pay fees for times when they are unable to use the course. Instead of paying a high joining fee and annual subscription, they pay a small annual membership fee then buy the number of Goodwood Golf Credits that best suits them.

Entry level is the annual membership fee plus the minimum number of credits.

For example, on the Downland course, 50 credits give members eight rounds off peak or five rounds at peak times. Fifty credits for the Parkland course give them 12 rounds off peak or six rounds at peak times.

Credits are available only to members and in bundles of 50, 100 or 300. The cost of 300 credits is significantly less than the combined fees that you would have to pay in a standard golf club. The more golf they play, the less the rounds cost members. When they want more, they simply top up their credits.

The calendar is split into ‘British Summer Time’ and ‘British Winter Time’, with three different periods depending on what time of the day members wish to play – ‘Peak’, ‘Popular’ and ‘Peaceful’, and each costs a different amount in credits. Members then buy the golf at the time they want, and at a cost that suits them.

Golf can be marketed more appropriately, perhaps, as Lord March’s Goodwood course is demonstrating. Now spawning derivatives of his pioneering play and points scheme, the facility is demonstrating a clear way forward for the modern game.

Seamus Rotherick
By Seamus Rotherick October 23, 2011 13:29
Write a comment

No Comments

No Comments Yet!

Let me tell You a sad story ! There are no comments yet, but You can be first one to comment this article.

Write a comment
View comments

Write a comment


Join Our Mailing List

Read the latest issues

Advertise With Us

For editorial enquiries in the magazine or online, contact:

For advertising enquiries in the magazine or online, contact: