Older players’ courtesy rounds ‘killing golf’

Alistair Dunsmuir
By Alistair Dunsmuir May 10, 2012 08:33

The owner and manager of a British golf club has warned that free rounds offered during club competitions, particularly to senior golfers, are killing golf venues.

The unnamed man has warned that in the current financial climate golf clubs can not afford to offer ‘courtesy’ golf – even if this risks upsetting the people who normally play the game the most.

“I’ve spent a lot of time and money working hard to get my course in good nick,” he said. “It’s not easy to then see strangers come and use it for free – particularly when a lot of local clubs have closed down.”

He says he has conducted extensive research into his club’s finances over the past few years, following the closure of several golf clubs in the same region since 2008. He discovered that continuing the common practice of free rounds being offered to players, often seniors, who take part in club competitions, could result in his club going the same way.

He is anonymous due to a potential backlash of abuse he could receive for his criticism of older golfers.

“The seniors play weekly, or more often, in matches home and away,” he stated. “They receive courtesy rounds when away ‘because we give them courtesy rounds when they come to us’. But they are actually stealing green fees from the club – they take up big chunks of the course time when green fees should be rolling in. They probably plod round slowly and make life unpleasant for those visitors that do come.

“A home match costs us about £450. I know of some proprietary clubs that have realised that this hiccup is costing them a fortune – the difference between profit and loss. They’ve then told their members that they will bear all the costs if they enter a competition. Those teams that then go a long way through the knockout rounds, and have had several home draws at their course, have found it is costing them hundreds of pounds.

“I also know of a members’ club that has now gone bust three times and each time it has been bought out. The latest owner hasn’t yet realised he is throwing away his own money. They’ve just painted five disabled car parking spaces in prime positions – we have one and it’s never been used in 15 years! The seniors there love it because they get to play other courses for nothing on the excuse of ‘courtesy rounds’.

“Members’ clubs can only get away with it up to a point because the members pay equally for this loss via their subscriptions. That isn’t the case at a proprietary club where I pay all the wages, rates, VAT and so on, and so it is me that would go bust, even if the members don’t like being told that they cant offer free golf to visitors just because they got it at their clubs! Senior sections will be outraged by any change but who do they think pays the greenkeepers?”

The owner’s comments, particularly about senior golfers, have received a lot of criticism from those who work in the industry.

Doug Johnson, a golf teaching professional,  even castigated Golf Club Management for reporting on his views and research. “Just posting this nonsense does you and the rest of us a tremendous disservice,” he said. “I am deeply offended by the very premise of such comments. If receiving this from a misguided club manager would move you to do anything, but throw it away, speaks volumes.”

Gordon Steen, a professional golfer, focussed on the debate about free golf for older golfers: “Get a grip! These people have contributed all their life and because of their contribution golf courses are where they are today,” he said.

Mariano Corral, a golf course designer, added: “That club manager should get out of management. Seniors, who should be respected for their contribution, are not the whole problem. It all boils down to the management of a club. The club operation is only as good as the director of golf.”

Barry Ward, a senior golf club member, said: “We play early morning three times weekly. We keep the bar and pro shop busy and several of us use golf carts. Without us, clubs would be bordering on insolvency.”

Stephen Lee, an independent sports professional, said: “He neither understands the concept of ‘club’ or ‘management’! Seniors’ matches are generally played early on weekday mornings and do not inconvenience anyone nor impact on profitability.”

However, he did add: “If you have a golf course where there are queues building every day of the week then there would be justification in not giving free rounds. In pay-and-play clubs where members presumably pay to play themselves then the opponents would know this and either the home team pay for their guests themselves or from some small fund set up by the members at the members’ green fee rate.”

Robert Walden, who has managed two golf clubs in the UK, stated: “At one of my clubs the seniors had the tee reserved for two hours on a Monday morning and had a home match on another day every two weeks.

“In this two-course club with an annual subscription of £1,500, the members over 60 made up at least 30 per cent of the 1,200 members.

“They ate and drank after matches and many attended social functions. All in all, without them the club would have had a difficult time. Their contribution was vital. I don’t recall a queue for green fees or visiting societies on a Monday morning so from my point of view they were a necessary asset.

“However, clubs need to be looking to the future now and start to position themselves in what is a very competitive market with too many golf clubs in most areas. Clubs need to be planning their future, developing facilities if they want to go up market, preparing to be entry courses or pay-and-play, or preparing to go out of business.”

The owner’s comments have not been wholly criticised though. William Lewis, who runs a company that collects driving range balls, defended them: “Stop giving things to people who have money to pay for what they want,” he said.


Alistair Dunsmuir
By Alistair Dunsmuir May 10, 2012 08:33
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  1. Phil February 15, 14:21

    Unfortunately seems to be the prevailing mentality at private members clubs- giving away something for nothing on the premise that it gets people ‘in the club’s to buy a £3 sandwich instead of paying a £30 green fee for the primary product of the business!

    Reply to this comment
  2. Steve January 24, 16:04

    We are a members club of which 50% are seniors who get less that 10% of a discount on subscriptions. Matches generate marginal income due to the extra food/drink consumed and also promote membership of our vibrant senior section where folk get a chance to play away matches on other courses. The “free” rounds to the opposition act as an advert for the course as many return to play our opens. It is fair to say that in our case the match fills in what would be empty tee slots.

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  3. Carl Weininger March 29, 14:05

    I am a golf club owner, who has been forced out of the business not as a result of bad managment, but by the out dated attitudes of the mainly older golfers, and members, because they have not kept up with the times. They want “Wentworth” at “pay and play” prices, with a discounted buggy because their feet ache, and some free driving range tokens because they “lost a lot of balls” in the rough as they can’t hit straight, or far enough, any longer, and afterwards a “pot of tea for four” at £1.60 and can you turn the heating up, while we sit here for the rest of the afternoon whinging and moaning because they don’t have a life, while wasting my staff’s time and wages.
    Not afraid to post my name, as this is why golf is suffering today, most golfers are now old, and sad, with very few youngsters willing to partake, in what they see as an old fashioned, and outdated, pastime.
    Golf needs to grow up and get real, as do so many golfers, call me ageist if you like, but although I am disabled and 63 years old, I remain forward thinking, and I frequently take part in many different outdoor activities, including golf on occasion, but I recognise my limitations, and I never blame, the course, the weather, the management etc. etc. etc. I just get on and enjoy life.
    Carl Weininger. New Malton Golf Club.

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  4. (@golfshake) (@golfshake) May 11, 08:42

    Interesting article,no wonder he’s anonymous with this quote ‘probably plod round slowly & make life unpleasant …’ http://t.co/jhl5m8UD

    Reply to this comment
  5. Brian Inglis May 10, 17:28

    This is such tiresome drivel and doesn’t reflect well on our industry at all. No-one is forcing this poor chap and others like him to open and run a golf centre for a living and they are perfectly entitled to run their businesses as they see fit. Just don’t expect it to be easy!

    The constant flow of “General Manager” job advertisements with the killer line “A knowledge of golf would be an advantage but is not essential” tells us all we need to know. A sign of the times, maybe……and not an encouraging one.

    Reply to this comment
  6. Andrew Smith May 10, 16:44

    It helps to have broad shoulders when you go away from the “norm”. We are still in business 22 years after opening and no ordinary club matches have ever received courtesy!!

    Reply to this comment
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