Over recent months, probably years in fact, there’s been considerable doom and gloom about the state of, and prospects for, Britain’s golf clubs.

The general picture is that membership levels are down and fees rising to cover climbing costs. The members who remain are becoming older as young people can no longer justify the outlay – They’re too busy struggling with mortgages and other debts caused by the unsustainable economy.
On top of these problems, domestic and international visitor income has been down as belts have been tightened across the western world.

It’s clear that changes need to be made if all the UK’s golf clubs are to survive. Many have already recognised this and have been proactive in tackling the problems through the efforts of savvy secretaries, managers or club committees. Others bury their heads in the sand and trust things will improve, or that the reputation of their club absolves them from any risk. A third group of clubs recognise they’re potentially facing difficulties but are unsure how to counter them.

If anyone from that third group is interested, here are my suggestions:

Membership – There are many options that clubs can consider for attracting and retaining members, among them – five day (even three day) memberships, family memberships, social memberships, varying degrees of country membership, corporate memberships etc. etc. Many clubs could expand their membership, or more successfully maintain it, by being more flexible on the types of membership they offer.

I think every club should have a transitional “youth” membership. How many members are lost when juniors turn 18 and are suddenly asked to pay four times their previous annual fee? An 18-year-old is unlikely to be able to afford a full club membership so, generally, it’s their parents who’ll have to fork out – many will simply refuse so that young person will drift away from golf. From 18-25 (perhaps even 30) there should be a discounted rate to keep as many young people as possible in the fold.

Marketing – An ever-decreasing number of clubs can survive on reputation alone. Most must promote themselves to succeed.

A key way to do this is through the club website. A growing number of people now plan their entire lives on the web. When they’re looking for a club to join, or just to visit for a game, the internet will be their first port of call. If a club website is stylish and functional and, more importantly, features striking professional photos of the course and facilities, the potential customer is far more likely to investigate further. If the club website has one grainy image of a snow-covered green and crashes as soon as you click on the green fees tab, you can forget it.

Then there’s advertising. Clubs must carefully select the correct avenues depending on who they’re trying to reach. For example, a small club looking for new members will probably receive the greatest response, (and smallest possible bill,) if they put a simple ad in the local rag. But, if they hope to attract visitors from across the UK then a national publication that reaches the correct demographic would be more suitable.

They could also be proactive in trying to get coverage for the club in the press. Half a page of editorial is worth a good deal more than a half page advert. Perhaps they could hold a press day once a year where journalists are invited to play the course and are told about club initiatives.

I’ve heard of a few forward-thinking clubs holding open days where prospective members can play a round, get a feel for the club and, if they decide to join on the day, don’t have to pay the joining fee.

Looking at the product – Golf clubs must make their product (golf course and facilities) as attractive as possible to prospective members and visitors. Is the course as well-maintained as it could be? Are there teeing options for golfers of varying abilities? Is the layout playable through the winter, or is there a reasonable winter course? Could the locker rooms do with a lick of paint? Are the staff helpful and courteous? etc. Sometimes a little extra investment will deliver significant returns.

Benchmarking – For any business to succeed, it must charge the optimum price for its product/s and keep its costs as low as possible.

Green fees should be competitive compared to similar nearby clubs. There should be twilight rates, fourball rates, weekly rates, offers to include a meal or meals etc. Clubs should look to accept (the correct) 2 for 1 offers and have reciprocal arrangements with neighbouring clubs – i.e. play X and Y Golf Clubs for a total price of £…

In terms of costs, clubs must look at – staffing, utilities and maintenance, greenkeeping expenses, catering et al and determine the most cost-effective method of sourcing each. Information could be shared with other clubs where possible, perhaps there are instances where requirement could be pooled in order to buy in greater bulk and receive lower prices.

Sorry, got a little carried away with this. But as I was writing, the more obvious it all seemed to become. I’m off now to set up a golf club consultancy firm.