In this pre-Covid debate Jeremy Ellwood and Fergus Bisset discussed whether clubs should draw new members in with a discounted first year. Have things changed?

Should Clubs Offer A Discount On The First Year Of Membership?

Yes
says Jeremy Ellwood

It may not be the ideal solution, but in a free market, when supply and demand gets out of balance to the extent that it has in golf, anything goes in the quest to survive.

Times have changed and loyalty in many areas is not what it once was.

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Week-in, week-out customers often won’t be getting the same deals.

We have to be realistic in this time of oversupply.

Many clubs have pared green fee rates down to within an inch of their lives to attract customers, so it’s understandable that some are applying similar principles to membership fees.

As an example, I play a lot of golf with my work, and, for me, weekend club golf just isn’t a priority right now.

I simply can’t justify a south-east England membership fee for the amount I’m likely to play – typically 10-12 times the last few years, which makes it around £100 a round for courses where you can probably get a green fee for £30 if you play at the right times.

Faced with this dilemma, a small local club did entice me in a few years ago with a half-price first year, three-quarter price second year offer, which just about made it viable.

After two years, I was just beginning to integrate a little even on my limited appearances, so I even did a third year at full rate even though I suspected it would not be viable.

That club got three years revenue out of me, none of which it would have had if the first year had not been discounted.

Should Clubs Offer A Discount On The First Year Of Membership?

No
says Fergus Bisset

In today’s super-competitive world, golf clubs must be run more like businesses if they are to survive and move forwards.

But this doesn’t mean they should be run like businesses that push ethical boundaries.

Insurance companies and other subscription services that draw in new business with discounted first year offers while charging long-term, loyal customers higher rates, have rightly come under scrutiny in recent years.

It’s a business technique that should be questioned rather than admired and replicated.

Members’ golf clubs are democratic organisations where all should contribute an equitable share to the facility’s upkeep and all should receive equitable opportunity to benefit from that facility.

By offering new joiners a discount on their first year of membership, a club will damage not only its integrity but also the relationships between members and between members and their club.

How aggrieved will a member of 30 years feel when they discover the new member they’re paired with in the ‘Summer Cup’ is paying 20% less for their subscription?

The practice of offering discounts to new joiners also discourages golfers from staying loyal to a club.

It’s standard to move around when it comes to car insurance or broadband provision, taking advantage of deals offered to new customers…

Do golf clubs really want to get into a similar sort of cut-throat rotation where members shift allegiance on an annual basis?

It would mean clubs having far less certainty on membership numbers, leading to insecurity over budget setting and forward planning.

To succeed, golf clubs, like any business, must offer great product and service at a competitive price.

To deliver great service to all members, that competitive basic price should be consistent for all, whether they are new arrivals or old stalwarts.