We all know that the British golfer is spoilt for choice and with the prices of green fees to play many courses as a visitor tumbling lower and lower, the golfer appears to be less interested in club membership and more interested in seeking value for their money by ‘shopping around’. But I believe that the trend away from club membership towards nomadic golf can not only be stopped, but it can be reversed, as many of the reasons why golfers have followed this trend is because we (the golf industry) has actually encouraged them towards nomadic golf.
Most golf clubs need members just to survive, let alone prosper. Over 95% of the 2,900 golf facilities in the UK are ‘semi-private golf clubs’ – in other words, they have a membership and they welcome visitors. Of course these semi-private golf clubs are both member-owned (approximately two-thirds) and proprietary (one-third), and all are united in the challenges of persuading the right number of golfers to commit to their facility and become a member.
One of the contributing factors to the trend over the last 5-10 years towards nomadic golf has (in my opinion) been a self-inflicted, even fatal (for some golf clubs) policy of adopting poor pricing strategies for their green fees and allowing non-members to access the most popular tee times. If a club charges £1,000 a year for a 7 day membership, and they charge a £25 green fee for a round of golf, then a golfer believes that they would only get value if they played more than 40 times a year, which effectively means that club membership (as a product) is only an attractive option if you are retired, or able to play every week.
Consider the equation above if the green fee was £15, or even £10 (as some clubs are now charging). It does not take a rocket scientist to figure out the effect on the value of 7 day club membership.
But, as Bob Dylan once wrote, “…times they are a-changing”. Today, I see clubs restricting the tee time availability that a visitor is able to book, reserving the most popular tee times for club members, creating better value in their membership. They have also recognised that their members are the most important group of customers they have and they need as businesses to reward these most loyal and regular customers with more ‘intangible’ benefits (like access to weekend tee times) as well as ‘tangible’ benefits (like discounts in the bar and dining room).
Green fee paying visitors can return to your club regularly, but most are temporary, fleeting, even one-time customers. Your club’s members are committed and their loyalty should be rewarded. Their annual membership fee revenue will be the foundation of your annual budget, with visitor green fees adding the icing to the membership cake.
In the future, as in the past, I predict that some of the more famous and prestigious golf clubs in the UK will continue to make it difficult (with less tee time availability) and expensive to play their courses, as they focus on providing value to their own memberships.
Marketing club membership must surely be about offering value to the customer – providing a service that they want at a price they can afford. Much has been written about creating flexible and creative membership options, and certainly this is what golf clubs should be considering right now (if they are experiencing a reduction in membership numbers each year), and the ideal scenario is to be able to offer a category of membership for golfers of all abilities, with a variety of playing habits (regular and occasional) and at a wide range of price points, to suit different budgets. In golf club membership, one size does certainly NOT fit all!
Stopping and even reversing the trend towards nomadic golf is in your hands, as the owner, operator, committee member or manager of a golf club in the UK. Such a strategy will give your club a solid foundation of revenue and a core base of loyal customers on which you can build a successful and stable business for your golf club. The visitor revenue, when it comes, will then be the icing on the cake and not the cake itself.
If you would like some help in adopting a marketing strategy to attract and retain more club members at your golf facility, then please contact me directly – with my unique, results-based fee structure, I can offer a win-win solution to club membership marketing.
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