Academic study on golf clubs delivers surprising result

Alistair Dunsmuir
By Alistair Dunsmuir October 31, 2017 15:38

A major study on the golf industry has found that golf clubs would achieve much more if they focussed on retaining members rather than recruiting new ones.

A huge amount of effort has gone into attracting new customers to golf clubs in recent years, but research by Manchester Metropolitan University Business School finds that clubs would be better served if they invested the effort into membership retention strategies.

The university researched participation and retention of customers in the golf market, and worked with 70 golf clubs, before producing the England Golf-commissioned report Valuing Your Customers.

Report author Dr Chris Mackintosh said: “Too many clubs focus on attracting new members – whether it’s adverts, discounts or offers. Focussing on new members can create a high churn rate.

“Members are the lifeblood of any club and retention really matters.

“By forgetting our existing membership base, we forget those people that really matter.”

Crucially, the report also reveals the six most effective ways clubs can retain their members. They are: offer enjoyment and engagement; provide a unique ethos and atmosphere; create a great customer experience from the car park to the bar; a warm welcome which extends beyond a ‘meet and greet’; participation options for all, from novice to experienced players; and keep members involved long-term.

It also offers ideas for clubs to consider which will customise their approach to members. These could include becoming a female-friendly club or offering alternative formats which could be welcomed by beginners, older players and those who are short of time.

“The evidence says that if golf clubs can be more diverse, more open and embrace a friendly culture, more people will stay in the game and we will grow the sport,” added Mackintosh.

He added that it costs far less to retain a member than to attract a new one.

Kettering Golf Club in Northamptonshire’s chairman, Graham Althorpe, agreed with the findings.

“New members are important, but for us, our best recruiting sergeant is retaining existing members who are pleased with and want to be part of the whole Kettering Golf Club experience,” he said.

Northamptonshire County Golf Club’s manager Elaine McBride added: “We ensure that we are constantly being proactive by engaging with existing members and increasing our PR presence in the local golfing community.

“For example, we can now analyse members’ bar spending and this means we can engage with members who have not have used the facilities recently. It’s a good way to gain a better understanding of factors that impact on people visiting and using the club.”

Abbie Lench, England Golf’s head of Club Support, said: “We want to show clubs how to understand and to value their customers and build a healthy base of loyal members.

“There’s another great benefit because we find that clubs which have an excellent relationship with existing members will improve their reputation and find it easier to recruit new players.”

England Golf is now working in partnership with Manchester Metropolitan University on a three-year research project to better understand volunteers in clubs and the critical role they play in retention.


Alistair Dunsmuir
By Alistair Dunsmuir October 31, 2017 15:38
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  1. Nigel Chambers November 3, 14:10
    We specialise in retaining your members.

    Reply to this comment
  2. Karma November 2, 18:18

    Look at all the young role models we currently have in golf why can we still not attract young members to Golf.

    Golf at local level is becoming more of a social event rather than a competitive sport, promoted by most golf clubs being run for the benefit of OAPs continue down this line and golf will fade away.

    Reply to this comment
    • Temprorarily ex-golfer November 3, 10:41

      Probably the most ‘participating’ members – and bar etc spending – are the retired members; coupled with their having the time to both play, socialize, and get involved in the club, it’s no wonder that things are slanted towards them. However, my club was certainly not a case of there being less ‘competitive’ golf as a result.

      Reply to this comment
  3. Temporarily ex-golfer November 2, 18:04

    Retention is vital, but with many clubs having an aging membership there will be a considerable natural attrition in any event, so that new members become even more vital. That said, you can’t afford to alienate and lose existing members – or you are making life even harder for yourself. Truly understanding your club, its membership and their respective strengths and weaknesses is essential.

    Reply to this comment
  4. James November 1, 17:39

    Both recruitment and retention are equaly important!

    Reply to this comment
  5. mike November 1, 14:41

    Whilst I agree with all the sentiments in the report there is a real need for new young blood in clubs with many being supported by the over 50’s.
    Would be great if someone could wave a magic wand and tell us how to get the demographics of clubs right.

    Reply to this comment
    • Jonnoj November 13, 23:58

      Have you thought about thinking this the other way round. If the over 50s are the ones with the time and money to play golf why not attract more of them?
      Demographically we have an ageing population therefore by trying to attract younger players you’re giving yourself a much harder job.

      Reply to this comment
  6. gordon November 1, 01:40

    Not really ‘surprising’ but worthwhile to flag up. Interesting that focused communication is NOT one of the 6 measures highlighted

    Reply to this comment
  7. Dan Ratner October 31, 17:11

    This article showed up on my Google alerts and I am amazed at how closely aligned the findings of this report are with the needs of non-profit and for-profit membership organizations. The 4 needs we’ve identified through our work are: a quality membership experience, ever-increasing value, intentional engagement, and consistent and reliable relevance. We provide more information on this on our website if any readers are interested in strategies for growing their golf club membership. MMU has done good work here. Is a copy of the report available? I’d be very interested in receiving a copy.

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