Could removing a joining fee lead to more members?

Alistair Dunsmuir
By Alistair Dunsmuir November 8, 2017 08:04 Updated

Last year Cowglen Golf Club in Scotland removed its joining fee. In less than one year the club has seen its membership numbers increase by 150, and the key 18 to 29 age group category had gone up by nearly five times

Glasgow golf club is bucking membership trends in spectacular fashion, after welcoming over 150 members through its doors in less than a year.

Cowglen Golf Club, a parkland course only five minutes from Glasgow city centre, is seeing new faces join the club on a regular basis after simply removing their joining fee and offering an easier approach to become a member.

As advertised on the home page of the club’s website, you can become a member today and save up to £495 (the former joining fee) at a James Braid-designed venue renowned for its superb facilities.

From last October to this August over 150 new members with a playing category have joined the club. Impressively, its 18 to 29 age group category has seen a jump from only 15 golfers to now over 70.

Simon Payne, PGA fellow professional and secretary at the club, takes up the story: “In such a short space of time there has been such a huge influx. It has taken us by surprise, to an extent.

“We removed the joining fee at the beginning of our financial year, at the start of October 2016, and promoted it for three months until the end of the year. It gathered pace from there. We did reinstate the joining fee for a period at the start of the year but then did away with it again at the beginning of March.

“In terms of budget levels, the membership was below what we expected last year and we did need to start raising new finance. It was the first and easiest option, I suppose, to remove the joining fee, but it was a big decision as once you have done it then it is pretty difficult to reinstate it.

“But it was pretty unanimous a decision in the end, as the previous year from October to December, just one person had joined. Our number of new members is rising daily. We have lost members too, but we’ve added over 150 new members.”

Payne and his team met with a Scottish Golf regional club development officer last year for advice before making the decision – and they are simply not looking back now.

“We are trying to be modern and proactive and now boast around 650 members,” added Simon. “We listened to Scottish Golf’s regional club development officer last year, who came out and gave us the evidence and research that the joining fee doesn’t always matter. What was said was backed up by our own evidence that if the membership joining fee wasn’t paid up front in full, then people sometimes left with only paying a little of it – perhaps if they were unhappy, not playing enough or moving to a new job.”

With Glasgow venue Blairbeth closing in 2015, Cowglen could have benefited from new members but Simon says that has not been the case. Overall, he feels the quality of their product is simply driving new business.

“We have made the process of joining as smooth – with as few barriers – as possible,” he said. “That has been a big thing, making it easy to join rather than being proposed, going through council and an interview process. If you got that at a gym, the person would just go elsewhere.

“We didn’t get a single member coming in from Blairbeth after its closure, which was a sorry tale. I began my golf playing there. We were expecting members, but didn’t get any.

“We are just seeing more people come in with our fantastic product. Our facilities are really second to none in terms of the whole package with practice facilities, while the course itself is as good as it is for variety of holes, challenge and condition. The clubhouse is also modern and vibrant, so it ticks a lot of boxes.”


Alistair Dunsmuir
By Alistair Dunsmuir November 8, 2017 08:04 Updated
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  1. Anders November 10, 06:32

    We removed the joining fees in most Courses in Sweden like 5 years ago. BAD misstake! Now 20% of the members change golfclub every year. Lots of administriative work, lots of cost to find new members, less income because they now want an even better offer on annual fees and no club Life left. 10 years ago the average income from a now member was 2100 Pounds, today its 160 Pounds a year!!

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  2. Edwin November 10, 00:12

    Proof is there. The answer is no. Removing the joining fee causes short term solutions: ‘Easier in is easier out’. So what does lead to more members? Well, so many golfers, so many needs. Many golfers just don’t want to be a member, they want to be free. Could a golf club or golf course offer something free golfers feel attracted to? Yes, of course. But first start with asking yourself: what do we want? Do we need more active club members taking part in club life? Or do
    we need more members to keep the golf club financially healthy? Really?

    Either way, think about completely new and additional memberships and offerings. For example:
    – a ‘hard workers membership’: One day per week twilight, plus all club tournaments in weekend days.
    – a ‘seniors weekday membership’ play during weekdays only, not during weekends.
    – special youth memberships and invest in a youth room (tele, darts, pool, free WiFi) and make it a fun place to be. Become “youth proof”.
    – build a virtual golf club: a low cost handicap registration and discounted greenfees and other offers.

    Organize open tournaments. Make sure your social media are daily updated. Be seen. Be pretty. Be loved. Join local business clubs. Hospitality is key. People need to feel welcome. Let them fall in love with the course and the club atmosphere.

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