Private clubs saw membership rise in 2016

Alistair Dunsmuir
By Alistair Dunsmuir February 28, 2017 14:29

Another survey on membership levels in golf clubs has found that 2016 was the best year for many in several years, but problems still remain.

The 2016 Hillier Hopkins research on 81 private members’ golf clubs found a rise in membership among clubs that had 500 to 600 members in 2015.

About 10 percent of golf clubs saw their membership numbers rise from between 500 and 600 to more than 600 in just one year.

Similarly, while one-fifth of clubs have waiting lists, also a figure unchanged in one year, the number of people on them rose from 29 to 49, although still well below 110 in 2014. In some cases the waiting time is as much as 10 years.

In relation, the research also found a sharp rise in the number of clubs that provide flexible membership policies – from 30 to 39 percent in just one year.

However, not all the news surrounding membership levels is positive.

The age distribution shows fewer younger members and more older members, and more than three-fifths of members are aged 50 or older.

The percentage of male members has also risen slightly, from the already high 71 in 2015 to 73 last year, although more than half of the clubs surveyed said their female membership is rising.

In terms of staff at golf clubs, Hillier Hopkins found that the average club employs 22 people – a significant drop from 28 in just one year. Elsewhere, just one percent of clubs now have an honorary secretary and head greenkeepers’ salaries are going up: those paid between £45,000 and £50,000 per year doubled to 23 percent in just one year.

And with regards finances, more clubs are charging joining fees again. The figure fell to less than half in 2015, but shot back up two-thirds last year, with an average of £1,255 per joining fee.

Green fees and green fee income has also increased, while takings from the bar and restaurant has increased. In 2015 38 percent of private members’ clubs had revenue from this facility of more than £150,000, in 2016 the figure was 52 percent.

“Costs are continuing to rise particularly with regard to staffing. Clubs appear to have countered this by gradually reducing staff numbers, in particular part time staff,” said Robert Twydle, principal at Hillier Hopkins.

“In addition, with the economy showing less stress it appears that clubs have taken the opportunity to increase prices.

“The previous trend of declining member numbers has been reversed in this year’s survey but we think that the current year’s result is due more to the impact of some closures in the industry rather than a significant change.

“Most clubs we visited during the year were happy to report an influx of new younger members and we’re hopeful that this was a trend for the future. Sadly, despite this the age profile at most clubs remains stubbornly high with the survey again reporting the same numbers for members in the aged 50-plus bracket.

“Social membership is up but the concern here is if this is mainly ex playing members. Whilst social members provide useful footfall for the bar and catering operations, this rarely compensates for the reduction in playing subscriptions.

“On society income the survey again reflects a wide variation in numbers. There was a general feeling that the declining trend had come to a halt but actual player numbers still seems to be falling.

“Clubs do seem to have accepted that their main source of income is from their member subscriptions, and have raised these to cover increased costs.

“Contrary to last year’s results, it would appear that entrance fees are still on the agenda and in some instances are increasing. There is no doubt that these provide an incentive for ongoing membership but it seems that longer term this will be difficult to maintain with the exception of a number of highly popular or prestigious clubs.

“Green fee charges now seem to be on the increase following several years of decline and clubs do seem to be trying to maximise their income from other sources.

“After several years of static bar income this year’s survey has shown an increase, which was a surprise. Whether this is as a result of increased pricing or a real increase is difficult to judge.

“Sadly, most of the responses anticipate an ongoing decline in member numbers and participation in golf without significant change.”


Alistair Dunsmuir
By Alistair Dunsmuir February 28, 2017 14:29
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