Joining fees used to be common. Now only a minority of golf clubs charge them. But is this move good for golf's future health?
Abolishing membership joining fees at clubs has been contentious. Joining fees used to be extremely common – in 2006 over two-thirds of clubs in England charged them. Now only a minority of clubs do.
Even some of those clubs which still theoretically charge a joining fee are happy to waive it in certain circumstances or during periods of membership promotions.
A joining fee is a one-off payment made by a golfer to join a golf club, paid to the club. It is distinct from the annual subscription, which is an annual fee paid to be a member of the golf club for that particular 12-month period. Thus an annual membership subscription has to be paid in addition to the joining fee by new members.
Each golf club has its own fee structures, but a joining fee is often roughly around the cost of an annual subscription. However in some cases the joining fee can be a multiple of the annual sub; in other cases merely a sizeable fraction of it.
Many of the existing members, who have had to pay a joining fee to join, resent newcomers being able to join without paying them.
A joining fee was seen as a way of keeping down the annual subscription, thus reducing the ongoing cost of a club membership in favour of a larger upfront payment.
If you accepted the need to pay a joining fee on the understanding it will lead to you paying a lower annual sub, then found the joining fee abolished after you had paid it with the result you have to pay an increased annual sub… well you can understand why this has not gone down well with some members.
However some clubs have found the existence of a joining fee a barrier to enticing new members. On average, across the country ,around 10% of club members will not renew their subscriptions. So most club need a constant influx of new members – and they are becoming harder to find.
Without attracting these new members, the annual membership subscription fee will have to rise anyway for existing members if the golf club’s revenue levels are to be maintained. It’s a Catch 22 situation.