The secret secretary: Is UKGCOA changing a good thing?

Alistair Dunsmuir
By Alistair Dunsmuir September 16, 2018 17:06 Updated

I read with interest the article in the August edition of The Golf Business about the UK Golf Course Owners Association (UKGCOA) changing its name (to the UK Golf Federation) and purpose, but I fear this may be another nail in the coffin for some golf clubs.

UKGCOA claimed it campaigned for a change in the taxation status for commercially-minded clubs. This they may well have done but, as I understand it, it was Vivien Saunders of the Association of Golf Course Owners (AGCO) who did most of the work, and continues to do so, having not just appeared to give up on the injustice caused by the VAT and tax distortion between clubs.

UKGCOA changes it name and its core aims

I am further confused with the move as they seem to be stepping away from just representing proprietary clubs, as they will now be driving ‘nomadic’ golfers towards members’ clubs as well – to the detriment of those who they originally claimed to represent. Furthermore, the reason members’ clubs received their tax and VAT exemptions was because they are supposed to be ‘not for profit’ and not operating commercially with a third party, that is green fee payers, corporate days, weddings and conference facility providers.

I agree that there has been a shift from membership to nomadic golf, but I believe the main cause for this is the decrease in the value of being a member by the cheap and in some cases free golf on offer. I further agree that great customer service / experience promotes loyalty and repeat business regardless of whether they are a member or visitor, and to this end we have invested time and money in our staff training.


The proposed scheme to me has a serious flaw to it. I assume that the purpose of hosting competitions is to allow for players to obtain a handicap (didn’t the then English Golf Union try something similar that resulted in outcry from many golf clubs?) Anything that allows players to obtain a valid, recognised handicap without being a member of a club drives even more members away from membership and towards becoming another nomadic golfer. All of this at a time when golf clubs are working tirelessly to recruit new members. This trend, along with both the current CONGU scheme and the proposed World Handicap System (a topic for another day) is, in my view, no more than another nail in the coffin for some clubs.

I am sure there will be a few clubs that say they benefit from these service providers / schemes but, if they look at their green fee revenue of 20 years ago, add inflation, have they really benefitted? While the clubs incur most of the not inconsiderable cost of providing and maintaining the facilities, it is these service providers that will be the ones making the healthy profits off the backs of others’ investments and hard work. As I see it, it is the golf clubs who provide the facility at great cost to themselves only to see it devalued by offering it at reduced prices in a desperate attempt to generate revenue that, in the end, does not cover their operating costs. Let’s be honest, if these service providers were not making a reasonable, if not considerable, return they would not be offering the service in the first place.

For ourselves, we opened in 1994 having built (on monies borrowed from the bank) a course based upon reports for demand because of a shortage of golf courses. With hindsight, this, in our opinion, was a false demand, the results of which have seen, over the last few years, several courses closing. We have, in the main, stayed away from the 2-for-1, county card and booking service operators. Instead we have set subscriptions and green fees at sensible levels. The result is that we have taken more in green fee revenue than many of our competitors who take advantage of these ‘services’. Having only operated for 25 years we now have two courses, a health club and are now looking to expand further with the addition of a hotel. All of this through a recession and in the absence of service provider schemes. Is it not time for a rethink?!

The opinions expressed on ‘secret secretary’ are those of the authors, not The Golf Business. The authors change from article to article, but so far have only been golf club managers or golf club owners. If you’re interested in contributing a ‘secret secretary’ article for The Golf Business, email


Alistair Dunsmuir
By Alistair Dunsmuir September 16, 2018 17:06 Updated
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1 Comment

  1. Peter September 17, 10:54

    Pretty much nailed it….!!

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