While some clubs in the U.K. are going to extreme lengths to increase membership as a means of boosting revenue, one club has announced that they are to close their membership and re-introduce a joining fee.
Canterbury Golf Club in Kent has enjoyed a remarkable upturn in fortunes since taking the decision four years ago to purchase the land on which the golf course stands.
That ambitious decision brought with it a commitment to pay off a hefty mortgage and to repay members who had become bond-holders to raise the rest of the £750,000 investment.
But not only has Canterbury met their financial obligations but they have also been able to invest in a series of major course improvements, with more planned, upgraded much of the greenkeeping equipment and taken on several additional staff.
Such a major upturn in the club’s fortunes coincided with the appointment of Roger Hyder, a man with a wealth of experience gained from management roles at East Sussex National, Chart Hills, Old Thorns and Foxhills.
The 52-year-old was initially appointed as a consultant but created such an impression that he was the outstanding candidate for the general manager’s position when it became available.
Hyder started by tightening up the expenditure, bringing the catering operation in-house, improving the marketing and internal communication network and attracting corporate interest and sponsors.
And he introduced a new membership level for less frequent players whose costs were related to the number of times they played.
Though not immediately or extensively popular, this move has proved immensely successful in not only attracting members but retaining existing ones who may have felt they did not play often enough to warrant continuing.
So with everything seemingly going along happily, why call a halt to recruitment?
“The main reason,” says Hyder, “is to ensure that present members continue to enjoy full access to the course.
“Too many members’ clubs – and Canterbury were one of them – were wary of increasing subscriptions and their way of avoiding this was to take on more members.
“The over-selling of memberships in the 80s and 90s, during the course construction boom, drove many members and potential members into the welcoming arms of new, largely proprietary clubs, which were more customer friendly and less stuffy.
“Eventually, clubs started to feel the effect of diminishing memberships and slashed green fee rates and joining fees in a panic to recover lost income.”
Hyder continued: “Since Canterbury Golf Club bought the club freehold four years ago, it has worked very hard to overcome any misconceptions golfers may have about a private members’ club.
“Our marketing and outreach programmes have been very successful and have coincided with the appointment of key personnel within our management team.
“Under our new greenkeeper, Ray Goodsall, the course has gone from strength to strength and this has not gone unnoticed by members of neighbouring clubs who have been keen to join us.
“What is particularly heartening is that many of them are low-handicap golfers, a fact that is reflected in the club winning the East Kent League and the League Cup in both the last two seasons.
“The club is now being run in a far more professional manner and this has played a big part in seeing more than 150 new members join us in the last two years.”
That said, the increase in membership has to be managed, explained Hyder, and the Canterbury board has decided to put the brakes on the full membership to ensure that the current members will not have to wait more than 20 minutes when turning up for a game on spec.
“New members will be taken on each year to replace the leavers,” said Hyder, “and the club will continue to accept applications for associate membership, for the under-35s scheme and for juniors as we strive to encourage the continued growth of the game.”
He added: “We have around half-a-dozen full memberships available after which applicants will be encouraged to join as associates with the promise of first refusal when any full memberships become available. To date we’ve been averaging 15 upgrades every year, so we won’t be short of candidates.
Part of the management of new membership enquiries is to re-introduce a joining fee “All new Full members will have to pay a £250 joining fee which will be returned to them, via their bar levy account, after 2 years continual membership, this way we will only entertain new members who are committed to the future of the club”
“These are exciting times at Canterbury and we have some imaginative plans in the pipeline so I can only see things getting better.”
Canterbury Golf Club www.canterburygolfclub.co.uk
Top picture: 8th hole at Canterbury Golf Club (Andy Hiseman)