‘Golf club committees are killing golf clubs’

Martyn Clapham
By Martyn Clapham July 21, 2015 15:25

A pioneering student who has been given a four-figure business grant to develop a product that could benefit golf clubs has said that their backward-looking committees are destroying their own venues.

Tom Bowen, 20, has convinced investors that his idea could be a success, but finds that golf clubs’ committees are more difficult to deal with.

Bowen, who is studying business enterprise (BBE) at the University of Buckingham and previously spent two years on a golf scholarship at an American university, has been given a £2,500 start-up grant to set up ‘The Golf Bundle’ – vouchers that people can buy to give them eight rounds of golf at any club that has signed up for the project. The proceeds are then split between his company and the golf clubs.

Unfortunately, while several clubs have expressed interest in the product, only one has signed up to it, and it is clear where the problem lies.

“Most of them have shown real interest and have said, ‘We’d really like to work with you’,” he said.

“I’m trying to sign up as many as possible but the problem comes when they say that they have to take it to their committee. It’s a real challenge to get them to sign the contract.

“It’s no wonder some of the golf clubs are losing members. The committee structure really puts off change.”

Students at Buckingham, the first private university to be established in the UK, enrol for two-year courses and forgo their summer holiday so that they can fit their studies into a shorter timescale, thus reducing the fees – for this course it is £13,000 a year.

Bowen said he is convinced he has found flaws in the way that many golf clubs are running their affairs.

The bulk of the £2,500 has been spent on designing a website for the business and to pay his petrol costs for travelling around the golf clubs.

“Some people may not want to commit themselves to an annual fee and play all the year round, so the voucher scheme makes sense for them,” he said.

“They also may not want to play at the same club all the time – the voucher would entitle them to play at any club that has signed up for the scheme.”


Martyn Clapham
By Martyn Clapham July 21, 2015 15:25
Write a comment


  1. Simon January 26, 16:31

    I’m not sure how this sits with having a handicap. Where is your home club. Where do you play competitions. Is it social golf only. You can’t have a handicap if you’re not a member of a club. Is this really membership or just a package deal on greenfees at multiple courses. Where do the golfers county affiliation fees get paid and if so how much would they be. Are they included in the vouchers? Too many undetermind aspects for me and so I could never take it to the committee anyway.
    By the way, Tom hasn’t discovered committees hold clubs back. It’s been a very well known fact for decades. It’s the only industry where people run a company without proper understanding of that industry. In fact it’s very much like how the Government operate!

    Reply to this comment
  2. James Maclean July 30, 15:48

    I don’t entirely disagree with the comment that ‘committees are killing golf club’s’ but what is really killing golf clubs are ideas like this where we give half our income away to a 3rd party, it’s 2-4-1 vouchers all over again. Successful clubs will be bringing in flexible schemes that offer golfers value for money for the amount of golf they want/are able to play, whilst gaining these golfers as members. Successful clubs will be turning the nomadic golfer into members of their clubs by offering them that flexibility/value for money.
    I applaud Tom for his efforts and entrepreneurial flair but I don’t see it as a step forward for the golf industry.

    Reply to this comment
  3. Gavin Anderson July 27, 22:05

    I think the majority of comments I have read below are all pretty unfair to Tom and
    what he is trying to achieve by developing this new product. Yes, I agree that
    this concept may not be suitable for all clubs, but to suggest that it is the
    product that is wrong is not right. It may not be right for your particular
    club but different ideas work for different clubs – there is no “one size
    fits all” idea that will end the days of declining club membership, or we
    would all be doing it and we wouldn’t even be talking about it as a problem.

    From my point of view, all Tom is trying to do is to show those
    golfers that are perhaps cautious of becoming a member of a club, that there is
    an affordable option that will allow them the opportunity to try out club
    membership and decide if it is right for them – surely most club
    managers/committees would much rather have golfers sampling and showing an
    interest in their club than no-one at all? As I mentioned previously, I am sure
    his concept will not work at every club but I do not think that this allows
    representatives from those clubs to tell him his idea is no good – its just not
    for them! Perhaps instead we should be congratulating him and encouraging him
    with his work to try and increase participation and membership at golf clubs –
    I am not currently aware of many other people or companies doing this???

    We all know that participation in golf is a problem and its
    about time that all those with a vested interest in the sport show willing to
    try and turn things around, surely the more people there are playing golf – in
    whatever format that may be – the better for everyone and the more potential
    club members there will be for clubs to recruit. We know that one of the
    biggest preconceptions of club membership is that it costs a lot of money and
    maybe by offering people the chance to be a member at a relatively low cost is
    the right approach, to show people it is more accessible than they think and
    can offer fantastic value for money for all the benefits you receive. Maybe this
    steady decline in participation has been ignored for so long that some clubs
    options are limited to offering low cost routes into club membership?

    As James has mentioned below, it is obvious that things need to
    change if the health of the sport is to improve. Perhaps we do need to look at
    offering more low cost ways to enter into the sport – but this would be a short
    term reduction only. If the club is then good at what they do, there is no
    reason that they shouldn’t be able to convert this into a long term member who
    on average may spend £1000+ a year at the club. Participation is key to the
    start of this growth and it would be crazy to expect that all those new to the
    sport would be willing to part with hundreds of pounds before they knew
    anything about what being a member is. We should be focused on encouraging
    people into the game and look to grow the amount of people playing the game in
    as many flexible and low cost ways as possible – the more regular golfers there
    are, the more club members there will be.

    Those people within the industry that oppose change and are not
    willing to embrace new ideas are the real issue here. I appreciate that people
    are entitled to an opinion and if the idea is not right for you then that’s
    fine – just don’t criticise those that are trying to help grow the game. Change
    is good and is necessary for the health of the sports long term future.

    Good Luck Tom.

    Reply to this comment
  4. ron July 24, 16:10

    Fully agree with Pete and others, it is mainly the Golf Bundle product that’s at fault – we are Golf Clubs , with the emphasis on Club and if we were just Golf Courses then he might get some interest – although unlikely.We want Club Members, and need to have flexibilty in the packages we offer so that time and financially restricted members are catered for, and that being a member gives the best value and customer satisfaction.

    Reply to this comment
  5. Pete July 24, 11:54

    headline that ‘Golf
    club committees are killing golf clubs’ and suggested tweet ‘The committee
    structure really puts off change’ assumes that The
    Golf Bundle is a valid product and the lack of success is therefore the fault
    of the committees. The fact that any
    number of committees have independently refused to sign-up suggests that the product
    is the problem. Committees are
    answerable the members to look after the business side of the operation so that
    they can enjoy the benefits of their membership. With continual downward
    pressure on green fee rates, committees must look to retaining their member
    numbers by providing the best value for money for the subscription. Clubs
    already have voucher and points schemes which allow greater flexibility for
    their members and there are also existing alliances with other clubs. There is therefore little need to add a third
    party operation receiving a portion of that already small green fee. If Tom Bowen has found backward-looking committees destroying their own
    venues and flaws in the way golf clubs are run, perhaps he should try
    being a golf club manager and introduce his ideas from within.

    Reply to this comment
  6. Club Manager July 24, 10:09

    So, committees are killing golf clubs………

    Quite a headline on the say so of 1 student who has come up with yet another scheme to sell discounted golf to non members of golf clubs, which isn’t going the way he wanted it.

    Slow news day?

    Reply to this comment
  7. Vivien Saunders July 24, 09:24

    When new proprietary clubs were formed in the 1980s and 1990s, the English Golf Union and counties forced new owners to adopt a disastrous structure of committees and officers, forcing proprietors to relinquish the control of handicaps and competitions to these committees.

    We were forced to give the committees considerable powers and to have their own AGMs etc. Proprietors were forced by the EGU and counties to allow the members to choose the representatives to go to county meetings and effectively represent our businesses.

    The interest of many of these committee members is often entirely at odds with the owners (or club secretaries). The committees at many proprietary clubs want as few members as possible so that they can get on the course when the want, golf as cheap as possible, meals and drink at unsustainable prices, courtesy of the course at other clubs whenever possible.

    The members’ sections are routinely given the vote by England Golf and counties with no understanding of the running of clubs. When you look at county meetings and committees how many clubs actually send their owner or club manager as the club representative?

    No, the game of golf tends to be run by people who are good at flowers or running raffles and free on Mondays, leaving those of us owning clubs (as proprietors) or running clubs (as managers of member-owned clubs) firmly on the sidelines. The committee structure at many clubs is a disaster. In what other industry do the ‘customers’ have such control? Imagine if firms of solicitors, accountants or other businesses were told they must have a committee of their customers!

    Yes there are of course committee members who work hard to keep competitions running. But in the main for the EGU, England Golf and CONGU to foist a democratic committee structure onto golf club owners has been a disaster. The best members at most clubs are those that Pay Up, Turn Up, Tee Up, Drink Up and then go away!

    Reply to this comment
    • Tim July 24, 13:21

      Ok so you don’t agree with committees – Doesn’t mean that clubs have to give away discounted rate green fees.
      You know only too well as a proprietor that you have far more control than at a members club so use it.
      Whilst we are at it, lets all sign up for a free booking system and lose all our online booking revenue and price control by passing to a 3rd party.

      Reply to this comment
  8. Peter Hickling July 24, 08:29

    The easiest way to sell is discount. Our club is not in that game and it would not even be presented to a committee. Provide people with a great experience and they will pay a premium. It also happens to attract the sort of people that will spend more when they are at your venue. I am sure there are some clubs that a scheme like this would suit, I’d imagine the scheme getting a better take up from commercially operated clubs who view tee times like the airlines view empty seats on planes.

    Reply to this comment
  9. John Robertson July 24, 08:11

    I’ve said for years that these types of schemes are what is killing golf club revenue.
    Green fees are set to a budget within the club’s financial plan. To then give them away at a discount means that the original cash flow projections are now faulty. Market your club properly; give real value for money; be aware of your customer’s requirements; discounts are for larger bookings (corporate/outings); get feedback from your visitors – and use it!!
    On the other hand I do agree that too many club committees look backwards rather than forward – most committee members are retired and only ever experienced the scenario where you joined a golf club and were there all your life. The most successful clubs have committees consisting of a mixture of working professionals, retired managers and working guys who are prepared to get their teeth into the real issues at clubs, along with a forward thinking club manager who understand the game, golfers requirements and has a vision of the future.
    People who think they can build a business (and their own income) based on the efforts of others have no place in golf.

    Reply to this comment
  10. Tim July 24, 07:57

    We have seen these schemes come and go more times than club manufacturers have promised that we will hit the ball another 10 yards… If that worked, we would all be driving 400 yards by now, oh and have £1m in green fee revenue each year too!

    I have been approached by 5 similar schemes in as many years on top of all the well known 3rd party vendors and those who sell your product without asking!

    The truth is, if a club is busy with members bookings, has a good database that it effectively markets to, there is no need for a 3rd party company who will pay less than the required green fee. Don’t try to call out a club for keeping to a business plan that is often overseen by directors who have been top exectuives for many years and understand financial models and true cash flow issues.

    Reply to this comment
  11. Adrian Stiff July 23, 20:29

    All ponce schemes, vouchers, 2-4-1s, need to be avoided at all costs, even the county card is bad as it has become a national discount card and at most clubs you can just say you have one and no one checks. GOLF SHOULD BE TWO FOR THE PRICE OF TWO. The cheapest way to play golf should be by becoming a member. Membership fees should be based ideally on 20 times the normal green fee averaged between your midweek and weekend price. If your club has a structure priced at more than 30 times the averaged g/f you will lose members as the average member only plays 20 – 25 times per year at the average club. The bundle idea is no different than any other ponce scheme. Make your club attractive to be a member of don’t let anyone else have 20%.

    Reply to this comment
  12. Bob Braban July 23, 18:57

    A few golf clubs have actually been doing this in one way or another for more than 5 years so in no way is it a new idea. There is another real deterrent in that the concept is more expensive tha. schemes run by clubs in their own groups so the questions have to be: what is new and why would any club sign up for it when, with just a little initiative they could get together with a few other people and take the income for themselves.

    The one correct point in the post is that committees are killing clubs or at least helping the R & A and other so called regulating bodies to do so. The business world at large would not accept the low standard of management that is general in private golf clubs in UK.

    Bob Braban

    Reply to this comment
  13. James Vincent July 23, 09:00

    I would be a member of Golf Bundle. I think it’s a great Idea. More and more clubs are offering a multiple course membership where you can play on say anyone of 5 associated courses. What Golf Bundle does is takes the small local agreements on to a national and possibly international level. Committees do need to realise that not everyone wants to be a full member and by being associated to the choice this offers in a flip-side way it also limits the golfer to courses that are members of the scheme. Yes it might reduce income in the short term but it might bring you the future members to require to survive in the long-term, golf needs to look at new ways to bring participants in to the game. The attitudes of Phil and Maggie are exactly what the article is saying. Change is good and you might need to open your eyes to this for the future of the game.

    Reply to this comment
    • biggles April 17, 19:27

      You use the word might a couple of times. My club has tried several schemes and a lot using websites take too much from the club. We cannot give golf away otherwise as other people have noted, there would be no golf clubs. my membership does not give me just my course, I get very reduced reciprocal fees at many local clubd, we all then benefit from the additional income that would not have been made. Also, we play loads of friendlies at other clubs where we only pay for food, so my membership gives me far more than just my club. Clubs need income, but must not give the game away, which is where internet bargaining might
      just push it to reach the bottom where it will end up unless we are very careful. do not expect something for nothing. The brains behind schemes that rightly cost them time and money to devise need to be paid, but not at golf club expense. If you are a member of a club, look at Golf Empire at open competitions to see how cheap good club golf can be.

      Reply to this comment
  14. Tom Bowen July 22, 13:58

    Phil, Maggie, thanks for your comments. The Golf Bundle offers a number of benefits compared to other discount schemes. Firstly it rewards customers for buying rounds of golf in bulk, if a golfer commits to 8 rounds for around £200, it offers a middle ground between one round pay and play, and full membership. Secondly, golf clubs can offer exclusive membership offers to golf bundle customers who use a voucher at their course, encouraging them to look into membership in the future. The golf bundle was set up to offer golf clubs a more sustainable discount scheme to be a part of. Discount golf isn’t a secret to play and play golfers, 2-fore-1, tee off time ect will offer a better per round discount than the golf bundle. We look to focus on markets who are more likely to pursue membership, new home owners, recent retirees ect, and offer them a taster like program. Golf clubs surely must understand that some people just don’t want to be a member, so which pay and play golfer would you prefer: someone who’s bought a round for a huge last minute discount, or someone who has invested three figures in their part time golf? The Golf Bundle also offers a higher fee per round, to golf clubs

    Reply to this comment
    • Sheptongolfer January 11, 19:31

      I just wonder who is expected to provide the facilities at which the bundle holders can redeem their vouchers.
      Obviously it is the existing club members who pay for the provision and upkeep of the courses.
      If everyone decided to relinquish their memberships and join such schemes there would be nowhere to play the game.
      Private golf clubs need members. It is my opinion that clubs should limit the use of their facilities to members, their guests and fee paying visitors who are members of other clubs. 2-for-1 offers and the like are proving disastrous for golf clubs.

      Reply to this comment
  15. Phil Bonsall July 22, 08:25

    Another scheme where the money from green fees is taken away from the clubs, just like 2 for 1. Why would clubs sign up for this???

    Reply to this comment
  16. Maggie July 21, 20:15

    How does this scheme benefit golf clubs? It encourages people not to be members and reduces their share of the green fee by paying a fee to this website.

    Reply to this comment
  17. Tim Coxon July 21, 15:39

    Can you ask this gentleman to contact me?


    Reply to this 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:


Social media