England Golf is offering a series of recommendations to help golf clubs increase their membership and survive and thrive in a challenging climate.
They are contained in the Results Book from the 2014 Golf Club Membership Questionnaire which includes advice to attract new members, retain current members and appeal to junior golfers.
The Results Book supports the England Golf Strategic Plan, Raising Our Game, which urges all who care about the game to work together to increase the number of regular golfers, to halt the decline in club membership and strengthen the talent pathway.
The biennial survey was carried out by SPORTS MARKETING SURVEYS INC for England Golf and paints a picture of a ‘precarious’ situation, with declining memberships and an increasing number of independent, unaffiliated golfers.
To address this, it urges clubs to review their membership structures and to offer a golf club experience combining social and playing benefits which outweigh the advantages of independent play.
England Golf Chief Executive David Joy thanked the 706 clubs which took part in the survey and said: “I hope that this number will continue to grow in future years, as this survey provides unique and important management information about the current trends within golf clubs throughout England.”
He added: “We hope that golf clubs and other organisations will use this information, along with the recommendations for action within Raising Our Game, to inform their own plans over the next few years as we work together to increase the number of people playing golf regularly, to halt the decline in club membership and to strengthen our talent pathways.”
The report finds that the average golf club has 499 members, mostly white and mostly adult males (77%) and that just over half of all members are aged 55-plus. Less than a quarter are aged under 35. Women account for only 15% of membership and boys (7%) also outnumber girls (1%).
The average adult subscription is £845 for men and £848 for women; £121 for boys and £118 for girls. Clubs have an average of 24 volunteers, most of whom serve on the club committee. Most volunteers are male and are aged over 55.
Over the last two years, clubs have attracted an average of 77 new members, while losing 85: an average decrease of eight per club.
To reverse the trend the report recommends:
Attracting new members by breaking down barriers and creating a welcoming club environment. It advises that lowering subscriptions is less likely to attract new members than providing additional benefits or hosting induction days, offering structured coaching or working with County Golf Partnerships. It points out that potential members are often deterred by long-winded, non-transparent joining systems and by the joining fee.
Retaining existing members by ensuring the year-round quality and value of the course and the club environment, which must be attractive to golfers of all generations. It suggests flexible membership packages are arguably the most powerful way of attracting and retaining members: 34% of clubs which offer these increased their membership in the last two years. Intermediate and student membership are influential in retaining members in their 20s and 30s.
Encouraging junior members by making it easy to join. Offering junior tuition and the services of a junior organiser will appeal to youngsters and their parents. A positive experience of junior golf will encourage players to continue their membership into adulthood.
In addition, the report notes that most clubs want help from England Golf to recruit new members and access funding. Many clubs would also be interested in help to retain existing members, to develop links with schools and the community and to help with marketing and communications.
Clubs had many suggestions for ways in which England Golf could help to grow the game, notably by improving golf’s visibility in the media, by greater communication with clubs and by fostering greater communication between clubs.
There was also much support for simplifying the handicap system, providing greater transparency on how golfers’ affiliation fees are spent, for focusing more on the average club member than on elite players and for promoting the game more clearly to women and juniors.