English golf courses seeing a ‘surge’ in membership applications

Alistair Dunsmuir
By Alistair Dunsmuir May 18, 2020 10:31

Some golf club managers in England are reporting a surge in membership applications as there appears to be huge demand to play golf after two months of lockdown.

The demand has been so strong that one manager, who has said his club received 35 signups in just three days, added that this could be the opportunity the golf industry has been hoping for, for decades, following years of declining membership numbers.

English golf courses were the first in the home nations to reopen, last week, and almost all have reported heavy usage. Some have had to deploy starters on their first and tenth holes at the same time to cope with demand.

Many clubs have even had to restrict golf to their members only due to the demand – which has resulted in a surge in enquiries.

Ed Richardson, general manager at Broadstone Golf Club in Dorset, said the club had more than 30 new membership applications in just the last week.

“It has been the busiest, but also most enjoyable, week I have had in my working life,” he said.

“Firstly, there has been such a sense of team spirit and cooperation from my own team of staff, but also the committee and the members. In addition to that, there has also been an unbelievable level of support from fellow managers, such a massive help.

“We’ve had upwards of 30 new membership applicants in a week.

“Most pleasing of all, just seeing the sheer enjoyment of people back enjoying the hobby / sport they so enjoy, and in the sunshine too, has been amazing.

“There was no politics, no moaning about slow play, or pace of greens, or the cost of a coffee, just enjoyable golf. I know it won’t last forever, but I am going to enjoy it while it does!”

Broadstone Golf Club. Image from Facebook

Stewart Judd, general manager of Bush Hill Park Golf Club in London, added: “We have signed up 35 new golfing members in the past three days.

“For the first time in about 25 years demand for membership could outstrip supply. This is a massive challenge but a real opportunity to reset the golf industry.”

Milton Golf Club in Peterborough’s secretary, Andy Izod, said: “We have been full to brimming with members playing from 7am each day through till dusk.

“We are not as yet opening to visitors or members’ guests, but we will review this policy every fortnight.

“The course is in fantastic condition after the rest it has had and we are receiving new membership applications.”

“Every tee time was taken, from 7am to 7pm, pretty much,” said Steve Elliott, Holyhead Golf Club in Wales’ general manager of the first day back.

“The members are ecstatic. They are absolutely over the moon, even if the weather has turned! Typical, this, isn’t it? We’ve got rain here, but it’s been sunshine for the last seven weeks!

“It’s been massively important for the golf club, purely for the reason of justifying members’ subscriptions. They’ve committed, helped the club and if it was to go on a lot longer I think it would have been very difficult for the clubs to sustain that membership without giving too much back in the future.”

The news is a boost for clubs in Scotland, which are yet to reopen.

Leslie Golf Club, based  around 20 miles to the west of St Andrews, has told The Scotsman that it has so far received just four paid-up memberships.

“It is potentially disastrous. To date, we have four paid memberships for this year out of 40 registered members we had last year. A decade ago, we had around 80-plus members,” said Susan Vines, the club’s treasury and social secretary.

“On top of that, we have no current business bringing in finance due to the current crisis. Until we regenerate the club fully, and build membership over the next five years, we are operating month to month.”

In addition, Gourock Golf Club in Renfrew is hoping for a membership boost after becoming a big hit during lockdown with local walkers, according to the Greenock Telegraph.

Club pro Derek Watters hopes it has generated new interest which they can capitalise on when they get the go-ahead to tee off again.

Derek said: “One of the positive outcomes of the lockdown has been the number of people enjoying our course.

“They have been out walking and seeing for themselves the beautiful views.

“Lots of people have been enjoying Inverclyde’s golf courses during their exercise.

Clubs like Bush Hill Park Golf Club in London have reopened and seen a surge in membership applications – something Scottish venues hope to see this week. Image from Facebook

“I hope people will come back and maybe consider even a social membership.”

Scottish golf clubs are urged to prepare now for the announcement of their reopening, which is set to be this week. Preparation includes having an online tee time booking system, according to some advisers.

Scottish Golf has also said it has so far refunded £130,000 to 284 golf clubs through its 25 per cent affiliation fee rebate scheme, Plus it has set up a ‘Club Support Fund’ which clubs from across Scotland have donated to.

“Once the window for donations closes, we will be able to understand the value of this fund and at that point will communicate how this can be accessed,’ a spokesman said.

Back in England, clubs do not yet know how long the membership surge will last for.

The chairman of Maidenhead Golf Club in Berkshire, Paul Louden, said: “We’ve said to the membership we’ll look again at the end of this financial year to see if we can allow some form of recompense for the people who’ve put money up front and then had seven weeks when they’ve not been able to play. But we’ll have to see where we are next year.”

The chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Golf, North Warwickshire MP Craig Tracey, said: “One of the terrific pieces of news that we had picked up on over the week is the increase in membership applications and innovation that has resulted. This should be a really significant positive impact for the sport moving forward.”

 

Alistair Dunsmuir
By Alistair Dunsmuir May 18, 2020 10:31
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19 Comments

  1. Neil C May 25, 13:09

    Retention of members is always the biggest challenge annually. The pressure of recruiting new members would would not be as great if the number of members retained increased. More emphasis should be on your existing membership in order to ensure as a Club you make them feel valued and you are providing what you offered when they joined. Too many clubs become complacent with existing members where they should be ensuring that they are happy members. Happy members tend to be loyal members who support their club.

    Reply to this comment
  2. Daniel May 21, 11:29

    Having listened to customers the past few days it has shown that golf is as a wellbeing as well as a Mental health aid. hundreds of players have enjoyed the exercise and the challenge that it brings. And yes it is good to see growth but @tombrooke agreed that now would not be the time to shout about it it is heart warming to see smiles in faces as they walk to the first tee

    Reply to this comment
  3. Andrew G May 19, 16:40

    We opened lumine on Monday last week and we signed up seven new members in the first 2 days. It was an amazing buzz around the club to see the members again playing and enjoying the open spaces that golf courses consist of. Long may it continue, BUT its also a time to reflect on how the industry was not able to attract these new members to the clubs before. Where we failing in promoting the healthy lifestyle that golf offers? I belive so and its something that i Will be promoting more for sure.. Best of luck to all the club managers and your teams.

    Reply to this comment
  4. Robbo May 19, 16:14

    I don’t know where you are, but golf clubs with 750 members is nowhere near the North West. 300 is nearer the mark, and struggling to maintain that number.

    Reply to this comment
  5. Andrew B May 19, 11:15

    Seeing the same trend in Ireland too. My home club sign up 42 new members in 3 days which is completely unheard of!

    Reply to this comment
    • Paul DC May 19, 11:41

      As in any business, perceived customer service and value for money is paramount.
      Would not surprise me if the demographics of new members are mainly retired.
      How does the industry attract and keep younger members.
      Golf clubs should become more family orientated, consider kids centers, other sports such S tennis, fun golf for young kids.
      The future is not with the elderly, and I M one of them.

      Reply to this comment
  6. Jo C May 19, 11:00

    We’ve had a full tee sheet since we reopened. It’s fantastic for golf ⛳️

    Reply to this comment
  7. Wayne May 18, 18:21

    Some negative views above – but I know who I would rather have in my team. A manager exuding positivity and leadership, attracting new members and then assuming working really hard to retain those members. The same as always, just even more important and even more challenging. Good luck and keep the positivity going.

    Reply to this comment
  8. Peter May 18, 18:10

    “English Golf courses seeing a surge” is a big statement !! In times of crisis, there are always winners and losers !! The “surge” is likely due to consolidation !! One club signing 35 while another signing 4 isn’t exactly great news !! The club signing 4 tells me more !! It tells me attrition and commitment to membership are issues !! Yes, some are tired and exhausted by being home but are those good prospects or just short- termers ?

    Reply to this comment
  9. Tom B May 18, 13:28

    Let’s be really careful we dont get a bad name for ourselves here, perception could be that as an industry, we’re ‘boasting’ about business growth during a time where other industries are still entirely at a standstill. Do the right things in the current climate, focus on staff and customer care. Just by doing that, I think we will see an increase in take up in the longer term. We’ve had so many positive comments in our first 3 days of opening, all around how well organised our safety measures are and how well our golfers feel looked after. At the moment, that is all that matters. Please all, let’s hold off on the PR around membership growth!

    Reply to this comment
  10. Mark May 18, 13:26

    Indeed a huge opportunity for golf clubs, but ultimately, like any business this is now all about client retention! And do golf clubs have the in-house skills to ensure that all their new members are properly welcomed, and most importantly integrated fully into their new clubs…and will the existing members welcome them with open arms realising the huge opportunity? I have heard of a few golf clubs do this well, but I have experienced it first hand done badly. All said, I’m really pleased golf clubs now have the opportunity to kick-start their businesses…happy days!

    Reply to this comment
  11. Stuart H May 18, 11:59

    Hi Alistair I saw the article but it did not cover the whole picture. The real test will be when the next renewal season takes place as to how many members renew or are able to renew their memberships. Most 18 hole Clubs have a membership of around 750 so with the impending recession they could well find far more than 35 fail to renew their membership. Also a significant part of any Clubs revenue is income from the bar which have been closed since March. If I was a Manager of a Golf Club I would not consider attracting 35 new members as a game changer but looking towards surviving the next 12 to 24 months. I am afraid significant number of golf clubs will not survive and yes Golf Clubs will have to change but not in the way this Manager thinks.

    Reply to this comment
    • David W May 18, 18:21

      Spot on Stuart, by adding more members now is likely to have a negative impact in the next few years at renewal time. This is short term gain with long term pain. There is a good chance the golfing playing market will shrink in the next decade as the full economic impact of this, is felt.

      Reply to this comment
    • Robbo May 19, 16:12

      I don’t know where you are, but golf clubs with 750 members is nowhere near the North West. 300 is nearer the mark, and struggling to maintain that number.

      Reply to this comment
  12. Stephen May 18, 11:11

    The next challenge will be, how do you retain those members?

    Reply to this comment
    • Wayne May 19, 16:41

      That is the same challenge every year, same in last recession and a challenge – but clubs need to adapt to survive – family orientation, healthy active lifestyle, modern approach, payment plans etc

      Reply to this comment
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