In the wake of a hugely encouraging post-lockdown golf club membership boom we ask if this renewed momentum can be sustained going forwards

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Golf Club Membership Is Booming, But Will The Bubble Burst?

Since the resumption of golf post-lockdown, two really positive themes have emerged. First, there was the eager response to the sub three-hour rounds brought about by informal two ball golf.

Then, there has been an eye-catching surge in membership uptake, the like of which we’ve not seen for decades, as scores of non-member nomads struggled to get a game as play was limited to members only at first.

Well-marketed membership promotions surfaced everywhere, whether discounted rates, extended 15 months for 12 offers, pro rata arrangements, free trial periods, or short-term deals as at Abersoch in North Wales.

Abersoch GC has been offering an affordable four-month membership option

At Moray Golf Club in Lossiemouth, 100 new members have signed up across various sectors, including newly extended youth categories offering attractive pricing all the way up to 29 years of age.

Moray GC has attracted 100 new members to its excellent 36-hole links set-up

At Mannings Heath in West Sussex, the number of new members more than made up for those the club had lost, and encouragingly, the majority were in the 30- to 50-year-old age bracket where golf club membership has found things hard of late.

Most of Mannings Heath’s new members have been in golf’s elusive 30- to 50-year-old bracket

Knaresborough Golf Club in Yorkshire reported 60 new members earlier this month on Twitter, with its flexi-membership category now full; Craigmillar Park in Edinburgh has attracted 80 new members, while Brora in the north of Scotland also now has 80 new members across various categories after a well-publicised appeal.

Knaresborough GC in Yorkshire has enjoyed a very successful membership drive

At Aberdour on the south Fife coast, a dozen or so of the 67 membership applications received were from people who had walked the course during lockdown and liked what they saw!

This Aberdour GC membership offer sparked 67 applications

This is great news for golf clubs who had seen their opportunity for income other than membership fees simply wiped out from March 23 onwards – no visitor or guest green fees, no societies, no corporate days, no bar and catering sales.

The unexpected golf club membership boom has no doubt helped to partially fill the worrying financial black hole generated by enforced closure, but will it prove permanent or more of a false dawn? There are a few factors to consider…

The threat of redundancies
For some golfers on the furlough scheme, lockdown brought unexpected opportunity in terms of time and money. A number actually found themselves better off, with no travel costs to find and most of the entertainment and hospitality industry on hold.

But with the furlough scheme changing from August before ending in October, and Rishi Sunak warning of widespread redundancies, this time and money utopia will not last forever.

Recession fears
Wider and longer-lasting repercussions for the economy are almost inevitable. What impact will that have on people’s ability or desire to pay membership fees?

At some stage, the government will need to recoup the multi-billions of pounds spent keeping the workplace artificially afloat for six months and the impact could be significant.

Integration
Integration into club life is often cited as a key to golf clubs retaining members. With clubhouses remaining closed and golfers encouraged to depart promptly post-round, full integration is all but impossible at the moment and could be for some time to come.

Time and value
It has been interesting to see that money and cost in themselves may not be the underlying deterrents to membership that many have perceived them to be.

Yes, there have been some attractive deals on the table, but when push comes to shove, plenty of golfers have found the required funds for membership.

Time and perceived value are the real keys, and clubs need to seriously consider more ways to provide attractive membership options for time-pressed golfers for whom traditional full memberships make no financial sense.

The membership vs green fee equation also needs to be reset such that casual golf is no longer quite such an automatic, cost-effective choice for the less frequent golfer.

Let’s hope golf’s membership revival proves enduring, but the above factors will have a big say in whether the momentum can be sustained or proves to be just a temporary blip.

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