Alastair Sinclair, chief executive of PlayMoreGolf, explains the concept behind the company’s flexible membership scheme and discusses the future of club membership in the UK and what trends are emerging from golf’s pandemic-induced boom
When was PlayMoreGolf set up and what was the driving force behind its creation?
In 2010, under the DeVere Hotel banner, the team first launched a flexible membership product to address the decline in membership based on customer feedback that the cost to benefit of holding a traditional 7-day membership was no longer viable as households struggled financially post the financial crisis of 2008.
Roll forward to 2014 and with the De Vere Group then being sold to multiple parties and the original membership scheme being disbanded, we recognised the success that flexible membership had had and asked the question as to how such a product could benefit the whole industry.
This is where the birth of PlayMoreGolf began, and so, over the next two years, we went from a business plan to a fully financed and bespoke build IT platform – and launched to market in February 2016.
How many clubs are currently part of the PlayMoreGolf network and how even is the geographical spread in the UK?
Our partner base stands currently at just over 250 clubs, evenly spread throughout the UK, meaning members can play at multiple locations under one membership from the very north of Scotland through to the western tip of Cornwall.
Obviously it depends on what their ‘home’ club is, but how much on average, does a PlayMoreGolf member play for a year’s golf, and what are the key benefits?
A flexible member, managed by PlayMoreGolf on behalf of a golf club, can expect to pay between £260 to £490 a year for their membership. The price point depends on the price point of a full 7-day membership and the average green fee of a golf club. Our average price point is £350 per year.
The key benefits to both the member and the club is that it brings golfers who previously have felt membership at a club was restrictive as to where they can play, to a club; but also provides the golfer with that element of choice that was previously unavailable, all at a price point reflective of the loyalty the golfer provides to a club as a member.
For the golf club, it means a section of the non-member market previously not catered for is now available, at a cost of acquisition and administration that makes commercial sense a delivers incremental bottom-line profit – but more importantly, isn’t derived by cannibalising existing members.
What do you think has to happen for the PlayMoreGolf network to grow to the next level?
For continued success in 2022, UK clubs must optimise their membership mix, welcoming ‘traditional members’ and players facing challenging economic circumstances, but still want to play albeit in a different way. For clubs, all players drive revenue, but flexible members through PlayMoreGolf are helping increase course utilisation, and often at multiple courses simultaneously.
At the heart of the issue is understanding the true costs and resultant profits that come from membership and green fees. How much does marketing, and the cost of converting enquiries to membership, really cost?
What kind of upticks do clubs that accept PlayMoreGolf members generally experience in terms of money spent on top of the flat-rate membership fee?
It’s important to make clear that when members sign up, they select their ‘home club’ and become a member – the term ‘PlayMoreGolf member’ doesn’t exist in this sense.
Flexible members are administered by PlayMoreGolf and have the benefit of being able to access the network of 250+ clubs. We know that flexible members can become part of the pathway to becoming full members. The costs associated with attracting new members to the club are considerably less, compared to the club undertaking this process themselves via their own staff or utilising third parties to grow their 7-day membership base.
More good news for the network is that on average a PlayMoreGolf member spends £12.27 per person per round. Therefore clubs should seize the opportunity to attract this group of players, because not only do they frequently spend in other areas of the club, they can also become part of your traditional membership base via the PlayMoreGolf platform.
What are the common arguments you face from clubs that don’t want to join up?
Misconception and preconception. For example, we often hear “isn’t flexible membership just cheap golf?’, or “Why would someone not want to be a full member of our club and only wants to play their golf only on a weekend morning?”
Despite operating for six years, we’re still fairly new in terms of golf club management and generational views. It is only once you go through the hard facts and actual numbers the lightbulb moment occurs and the historical mantra of golf can be only enjoyed as a full member or green fees fall away.
How has PlayMoreGolf fared during the pandemic?
The industry has benefited from the pandemic and PlayMoreGolf has played a significant part in growing many clubs’ membership base over the past 18 months. What is now important is ensuring that this hard work is retained and as an industry, we all begin to understand the changing economic circumstances to ensure new members are not driven away from the sport due to trying to drive consumers towards categories that they can’t afford or want.
The last 18 months has obviously seen a surge of new and returning golfers joining golf clubs, but do you think this is a short-term blip and numbers will return to pre-pandemic levels in two to three years’ time or are we witnessing a seismic shift in work/life patterns that will allow people who might traditionally not had the time to play golf during the week to now fit it into the schedules?
It is hard to say what the new status quo is going to be. The concept of working is already changing – but being able to accommodate more leisure time into a weekly routine may well be something we see as more commonplace going forward. Being alive to the fact that this could be not just a Friday afternoon, but throughout the week, is of utmost importance and carefully understanding where the underutilised tee times in a clubs inventory lies is integral to being able to increase a club’s utilisation. As to how you then turn this into revenue at a club – that is our expertise.
How do you think the traditional golf club membership model could change to make it a more attractive proposition? Is a ‘weekend-only’ membership ever going to fly, for example?
I would say ‘weekend-only’ golf already exists – it is called a full membership, but you get the weekdays for free. Flexible membership schemes can accommodate all types of consumer demands and club appetites – the tools now exist, but the application is the part that will change and being able to meet different consumer requirements is key.
At PlayMoreGolf we don’t subscribe to the idea that a golfer will only get what the club is prepared to offer, as the golfer will often go elsewhere. This is a harsh lesson for some clubs to understand, especially post-pandemic as clubs feel they are sitting pretty, and the good old days have returned.
Many private and proprietary-owned clubs went down the route of being members-only during the pandemic to satisfy demand, but do you think we might see more clubs doing away with visitor green fees in the long term and switching to a member-only model?
If you look at the total course utilisation in 2021 vs 2020, the statistics are already starting to show a considerable reduction in midweek traffic. This then poses the question as to whether member-only subscriptions can meet the operational costs of running a golf club, or whether additional revenue streams are required.
Forty years ago, clubs could operate on member-only subscriptions and waiting lists were the norm; now I wonder how stable some club’s waiting lists are – not to mention how many waiting lists people have signed up to.
If you look at the maths of 3.2 million golfers rising to 5.2m in 2020 (according to a recent Sports Marketing Surveys recent report) and membership numbers of 650,000 – making golf a member-only pursuit will leave a lot of golfers disappointed at a time when golf is making big steps to be more inclusive and less exclusive. Flexible membership is a pathway between full membership and green fees – plus providing, via the PlayMoreGolf network, the ability to satisfy the demand of golfers to play a variety of courses. We think the future of golf is exciting both in the UK and the wider international market.
For more details, visit www.playmore.golf