Most UK golf clubs saw significant growth in 2021

Alistair Dunsmuir
By Alistair Dunsmuir February 8, 2022 19:19

A UK survey of golf clubs has found that four in five members’ clubs and nine in ten proprietary venues reported growth in 2021.

The Hillier Hopkins 2021-22 Golf Club Report, polled 99 golf clubs, of which 72 were private members’ clubs and 27 proprietary, across 10 regions.

It finds that three in five golf clubs now have a waiting list, a nearly threefold rise since before the pandemic, and just over a third increased or reintroduced a joining fee in 2021.

Other findings include that almost 90 percent of clubs said they are prepared to adapt rules and regulations to modernise, a rise from 69 percent one year ago. Four in five members’ clubs are planning to increase their annual subscription with almost all proprietary clubs also planning an increase.

Visitor green fees at members’ clubs have increased by 10 percent since 2018, while there has been a 14.5 percent increase in society 18-hole green fees since 2018.

Golf clubs also report that costs have risen by more than 10 percent and for the second successive year, head greenkeeper remuneration packages fell.

In terms of demographics, 75 percent of club members are adult men and 18 percent adult women, and 70 percent of members are aged 50 and over.

Elsewhere, 83 percent of members’ clubs have a dress code – a sharp drop from 92 percent a year earlier.

Matt Bailey, a senior manager at Hillier Hopkins, said: “We all hoped when looking at last year’s survey that by the time this year’s survey came around, we would be talking about Covid as more of a past event. But alas, it is still around and impacting the world. Thus, the themes impacting golf clubs are much the same this year.

“The good news for golf clubs is that golf appears to have sustained the popularity that it felt the boost of early on in the pandemic.

“It has been a strong year for the sector, with 79 percent of members’ clubs and 88 percent of proprietary clubs reporting growth in the year.

“The concern amongst some clubs that membership numbers would fall again once people could go back to their normal leisure pursuits post pandemic has thankfully not come to light.

“This is due to the popularity of golf generally but also 87 percent of members’ clubs and 92 percent of proprietary clubs were willing to change their rules and regulations to modernise highlighting the recognition that clubs need to look to the future and maintain their strong memberships.

“Forty percent of clubs are now offering a flexible membership which has helped attract members in a time of ongoing economic uncertainty, making a financing facility attractive to existing and prospective members.

“One of the challenges for clubs with a full membership and waiting list is to optimise their member categories. Clearly maximising the number of full, highest subscription members would maximise the clubs’ income, but does that lead to issues with course capacity and difficulty looking further to the future by limiting younger members on lower subscriptions?”

Meanwhile Fife Golf Trust’s annual report for the period of 2020/21, for example, suggests that there is now a ‘boom environment’ for outdoor leisure industries.

The trust operates five 18-hole and two nine-hole golf courses on behalf of Fife Council, and returned a balanced financial position for the last year after five years of operational losses.

Alistair Macgregor, chief executive, commented: “With a small, dedicated team with finite resources, we have built on the progress from previous years and despite the Covid challenges have increased the number of season and visitor ticket sales whilst introducing new online booking and ensured the financial impact was minimised.”

Councillor Neil Crooks added: “It can be an expensive game to try and play but we’ve done our bit to suppress price increases while improving courses.

“It’s maybe an unfortunate benefit but because the golf courses have been places people can access under controlled conditions we’ve benefited from an increase in people playing golf.

“It has been challenging, with the steps we need to take to keep people safe changing month to month, but we’ve also managed to meet our charitable objectives which is brilliant.”


Alistair Dunsmuir
By Alistair Dunsmuir February 8, 2022 19:19
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  1. Will February 10, 12:19

    Interesting data – significant growth in visitor green fees and demand for membership, yet Head Greenkeeper remuneration falling for the second consecutive year. Managing significant increased traffic and spiralling operating costs on the golf course has surely made this role even more important?

    Reply to this comment
  2. GrahamD February 8, 22:37

    Yet we still hear of closures for housing developments. Perhaps these are forced moves?

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