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The Times They Are A-Changing

Not so very long ago when golf clubs had waiting lists and joining fees, only those blessed with esp could have predicted the difficult trading circumstances that clubs would face, and only those whose powers were otherworldly would have had a ready-made solution for today’s issues at their fingertips. For people who have a business interest in the game of golf, the changes that we now see happening in an effort to keep our clubs alive may have come just in time for some.

We acknowledge that change is not easy to achieve, but an improving picture doesn’t paint itself. The future of our club game depends on clubs encouraging and nurturing golf like never before; from juniors, to females, the millennials and pay and play golfers, with far more flexibility in membership options.

Back in the day my own ‘boomer’ generation tended to follow a well-trodden path to the first tee. We paid joining fees, sometimes after years on waiting lists, for the privilege of joining our preferred golf club. We attended ‘interview by committee’ who pronounced judgement on our suitability for their club, and not everyone passed muster. We never questioned the sanity of any of this; demand outstripped supply and clubs could afford to be choosy. They are not so choosy now.

Crusty old committees have been forced to acknowledge that club golf has been kicked in its institutional back-nine and that change is inevitable. We are talking about making our wonderful game far more accessible to anyone who wants to play, at a time and course of their choosing, without archaic officialdom getting in the way of a good walk spoiled. This is the new strategy that most clubs will have to adopt in order to compete in the world of club golf.

A new generation of commercial Club Manager has emerged, complementing or replacing the role of traditional treasurer/secretary, and clubs are now being run in a much more business-like fashion.

And speaking of business, golf is massive. The game was the subject of Parliamentary debate this week when its economic value to the UK was acknowledged by an All-Party golf group. In 2014 golfers contributed c£4billion to our economy, half of which came directly from clubs. Topically it contributed c£900million in taxes and provided employment for c75,000 people directly or indirectly in the game. The turnover of the UK golf industry was estimated to be c£10billion. An industry that contributes 14% to the total UK consumer spend on sport cannot go unnoticed and should be worthy of government support and recognition.

Whilst club membership has become less popular, participation in our game is increasing, and paradoxically this brings opportunity. Scotland’s Bunkered magazine has shown initiative by launching their own golf club, partnering with courses across the country to provide a range of golf related offers and deals, not only to play but to purchase equipment.  For a very small monthly fee golfers can join this alternative club and benefit from a wide range of attractive offers. Whether this approach will help sustain club golf remains to be seen, but what is undeniably true is that clubs need to recognise that players are coming from different sources, and its game on.

Clubs will continue to attract new members, but the percentage of ‘pay and play’ green fees is certain to increase as a new wave of golfer hits the fairways. Most clubs have approximately 70% unused tee availability so there is plenty of room to accommodate everyone. So where do we go from here? We get busy taking care of business; the business of doing everything we can as a collective industry to see our club game thrive and prosper, and by realising that our future success lies in our ability to move with the times.


Colin Barrows

for CB Golf Marketing

14 April 2016


tel: 07525 844454

*Figures based on an independent report published last month by Sheffield Hallam University, commissioned by The R&A, that shows in detail how much the sport of golf added to the UK economy (2014).

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