There has been a huge rise in the number of members of English golf clubs

Alistair Dunsmuir
By Alistair Dunsmuir January 9, 2017 14:52
  • English golf clubs saw their biggest rise in members this century
  • Membership has risen by nearly 80,000 in just three years
  • Monthly participation has risen by more than 200,000 in one year
  • Golf’s rival cycling saw an unexpected fall in participation last year

English golf clubs saw an unexpected boom in their collective number of members in 2016, according to new figures from Sport England.

While golf participation is still struggling, and the number of people who play golf at least once a week fell slightly last year, English golf clubs saw their biggest rise in members this century.

For most of the last 15 years membership has fallen, reaching a low of 442,500 in 2013. That figure climbed steadily to an average of 488,000 for the period October 2014 to October 2015.

It then shot up to 520,600 for the period October 2015 to October 2016.

The percentage of golfers in England who are now members of clubs is more than 46, dramatically up from less than 37 in 2011. This suggests that although fewer people are playing golf, those who take up the game are now more likely to join a club than at any point in the last seven years.

The number of people in England aged 16 and over who play golf once a month has also increased in the last year from 1.09 million to 1.31 million, the highest figure since 2012, although still well below 1.54 million achieved in 2008.


Weekly participation for people aged 14 and over fell from 747,100 to 736,000 in the last year, now equalling its all time low recorded in 2014.

Cycling, which has been seen as a rival to golf, and which has grown exponentially in recent years, saw an unexpected decline in the number of people taking part in the 12 months up to September 30, 2016. The number of once-a-month cyclists fell from 3.83 million to 3.68 million.

The Active People Study research shows the number of women playing sport generally is at an all time high.

More than seven million women now play sport and do regular physical activity, 250,000 more than when Sport England launched its This Girl Can campaign. It means the gender gap, which once stood at over two million, has narrowed to 1.55 million.

There has also been growth in the overall number of people who play sport, which now stands at 15.97 million people over the age of 16 playing sport weekly – 229,400 more than 12 months ago.

Jennie Price, Sport England chief executive, said: “These figures are really encouraging, especially the substantial increase in the number of women playing sport and being active every week.

“Our This Girl Can campaign set out to tackle the gender gap, so to reduce it significantly in just two years shows we are making a difference.”


Alistair Dunsmuir
By Alistair Dunsmuir January 9, 2017 14:52
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  1. Pete November 3, 14:24

    Sounds good up front, but in reality few stay to play the game. Too many other enjoyable activities now available with avid golfer’s becoming a thing of the past!
    It’s to slow, costly and frustrating to attract a new generation weaned in an age of efficiency & economy.
    Blame the computer age causing golfs lost appeal.

    Reply to this comment
  2. Wessex Golf Tour January 20, 19:09

    Maybe, but 500,000 members is nothing in a population of 60,000,000 – I suspect though that there are three times as many playing who have no intentions whatsoever in wanting to join a club, especially at some of their rates. They wish to play as they go, they want to enjoy the game, they are often those that have less money, and less time and are often unable to have the time to join a club. These are the players that more should look after, these are those that need help and not to be looked down on as many are by certain “clubs” – Most are also longer handicappers, these are those that we should look after more, give them some competitions, open to all, let them have an official handicap without the need for joining a club (it can so easily be done!) – Golf sadly is as much as ever a “them and us” situation, to many, too many it seems, if you do not belong to a “club”, you are one of “them”, if you are not a cat 1,2 or 3 handicap, you are “one of them”, and heaven forbid, if you do not, or never have had, an official handicap, crikey, to many in this lovely game, you are most likely to be ostracised!, and are certainly “one of them”.
    It is better now than eons ago, – in the 80’s, I was indeed a member of a good local club, but many I knew were not, and then, they were unable to become members unless proposed by a Captain, seconded by a bank manager and could talk with a plum in their mouth. I then started a Society in 1988, with the aim of organising meetings and giving these “untowards” a chance of playing in a group without fear of being watched, of being embarrassed. Even then, despite being a part of a large group visiting a venue and giving over a lot of money, there were still those old club members who chunted disdain at such types – well, this society is still going – it has played over 540 meetings, has played @ 180 courses in the South of England, has progressed many in the 29 years onto local clubs, and of these who started with us, there have been at least three who have gone on and become Captains of those clubs. If it wasn’t for this facility of the Society, many would not have even taken up the game seriously.
    I may have mentioned this before, but the system of handicapping in this country (Congu) is completely and utterly in the past – to get a Congu (official) handicap, you have to belong to a club – WHY, why cannot properly organised Societies offer the same official handicaps? – They can still be regulated with all the handicap programs and systems, (Handicapmaster etc), so why cannot this be done – would it have anything to do with protecting Clubs?? – One thing is guaranteed, many thousands of potential people who would give their hind teeth to play this lovely game regularly are put off because they cannot get a “proper handicap” without joining a club. Am I also being cynical to ask why every member of a club has to pay @ £20 per year to THE English Golf Union and their local County Golf Union, as far as I can see, this money is given to some good causes (Junior Golf etc) but for goodness sake, what is the justification of having a base at a course in the middle of no-where (Woodhall Spa) and why do I ask why these same organisations pay for one of the courses there as well? – jobs for the boys comes to mind!
    Lets give everybody the chance to play this game, all ages, all genders, all races, all abilities – lets get courses (I won’t say clubs) get 20+ handicap days – get them to the courses, get them to enjoy others of same ilk, get them into the game! – Its al very well to put a lot of juniors playng, but 90% leave the game when other things get in the way – and these of all handicaps!
    Change has happened, but is too darn slow – get this game alive again for and everyone!

    Reply to this comment
    • Mrs Muggins November 11, 18:59

      Everyone already has the chance to play golf, but the reality is that it a relatively expensive game and a slow one, so only people with time and a certain amount of money to spend will be members of golf clubs.
      It helps not to have a chip on the shoulder attitude as well.

      Reply to this comment
  3. Carl Weininger January 14, 17:00

    Are these new members mostly female ? Because, then it makes sense, otherwise I have doubt in this report.

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