Unique study of golf club volunteers will inform plans to grow the game

England Golf, in partnership with Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU), can today present the game’s first-ever research report into volunteering at golf clubs.

A small army of approximately 44,000 volunteers are the lifeblood of the amateur game at golf clubs across England.

Read the volunteer report

Yet until now there has never been any qualitative research done on a club’s most committed members and how they get involved. Golf clubs need this knowledge to encourage participation from all sections of its membership to promote long-term growth.

With a return to play due this month, the game has another fresh opportunity to promote participation. Research into how golf clubs involve new members provides a timely insight into how clubs can also engage and retain volunteers.

The in-depth study was commissioned by England Golf and carried out by Chris Mills as part of a PhD at MMU, with the support of Dr Chris Mackintosh and Professor Cathy Urquhart.

The study presents two theoretical models that summarise how members become volunteers and how volunteers are then affected by their interaction with members.

Mills’ work takes us on a three-step journey along the participation pathway – new member uncertainty, becoming an established member and volunteer activation.

It helps join the dots as a golfer gravitates towards a role as a club volunteer – characteristics of an individual member that had previously only ever been considered in isolation.

Through his research, Mills was able to make a series of recommendations which should help better inform clubs as they look to encourage members to become more engaged in activities from the boardroom to the practice range.

Key recommendations include:

  • Adopting a strategic approach to recruiting new members and encouraging them to form strong social bonds which will, in turn, create a larger and diverse membership from which to activate volunteering
  • Taking practical steps to encourage participation among all members by providing opportunities that complement busy family/working lives.

In addition, golf clubs who may not have the capacity to implement every recommendation in the research paper can make an immediate difference by adopting two ‘high-impact’ actions.

These are:

  • Having a ‘big conversation’ with all members – young and old – to refresh or create a vision and strategy for their club.
  • Creating a diverse working group of new and established members from all backgrounds to support new members and celebrate their success.

Commenting on the report, Richard Flint, England Golf’s chief operating officer, said: “We were delighted to team up with Chris and MMU on this research report.

“Volunteers are the beating heart of every golf club in the land.

“From supporting youngsters, administering championships, working on committees, assisting with on-course work or running social and fundraising events, the role of the volunteer is crucial for the continued success of any golf club.

“That’s what makes recruiting and – just as important – retaining members and encouraging them to become volunteers a key area for golf clubs to get right.

“Through Chris’ research, we now have a qualitative study on the volunteer sector from which clubs can use the findings to shape their own policies.

“Chris’ detailed work offers key recommendations to improve how clubs interact with their members, promote the volunteer roles at the club and create a diverse band of helpers that broaden the appeal of the club.

“This body of work will, I’m sure, prove to be invaluable to England Golf’s 1,800 affiliated golf clubs and facilities as they look to build for a brighter, more sustainable future.”

From observing activities at golf clubs, studying existing documents from governing bodies as well as interviewing a wide range of existing volunteers, Mills was able to paint a clearer picture of volunteering at English golf clubs.

Mills said: “Volunteers play important roles in golf clubs throughout England. From the boardroom to the tee, they shape golf club life.

“As golf clubs navigate a changing world, volunteers will continue to play vital roles. Through our research, we wanted to understand how members became volunteers and what their volunteering experiences were like.

“Our research found a common pathway to participation in golf clubs.

“It showed how the development of social relationships was central to new members feeling comfortable within their club and then going on to volunteer.

“Our research also highlights how members discuss club affairs with volunteers. It shows how the nature of these discussions affect volunteers and influence the pace of change within clubs.

“By understanding how golfers get involved in golf clubs, we have developed a series of recommendations to increase and diversify member participation.

“Having a diverse range of volunteers, including more younger adults, women and juniors, should help golf clubs succeed now and in the future.

“With golf club membership rising in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, our insights should prove timely as golf clubs seek to retain new members and involve them in club life.”


Linked documents:

Research report