Golf Industry Faces Membership Challenges Amidst Strong Rounds Played

In: webinar

In May 2023, Golf Business News reported a significant dip in membership numbers within the golf industry, despite the continued strength of rounds played. This shift follows a remarkable surge in membership levels throughout the pandemic, which reached unprecedented heights. While the industry experienced stabilisation in 2022 with a focus on member retention, the decline in registered members during Q1 of 2023 was anticipated due to rising living costs and energy expenses. However, the PlayMoreGolf network, comprising over 200 partner clubs, has observed positive membership renewal results, with clubs reporting outcomes exceeding expectations. Despite some challenges, the golf industry remains optimistic by offering members flexibility in how they engage with the sport in 2023 and beyond.

The golf industry witnessed a remarkable boom in membership during the pandemic, as individuals sought outdoor activities and socially distanced recreation options. Golf clubs across the globe experienced a surge in new members, attracted by the sport's health benefits, recreational value, and potential networking opportunities. However, the upward trajectory of membership numbers started to flatten out in 2022 as clubs shifted their focus towards retaining existing members rather than acquiring new ones.

Several factors have contributed to the recent decline in registered member numbers during Q1 of 2023. The most prominent among them is the soaring cost of living and energy expenses over the past year. As individuals face financial pressures, some may have decided to forgo golf club memberships to redirect their resources to essential needs. Additionally, changing personal circumstances, such as relocation or shifts in work-life balance, might have influenced members' decisions to discontinue their memberships.

Despite the challenges faced by the golf industry, the PlayMoreGolf network has reported positive outcomes in terms of membership renewals. Many partner clubs within the network have expressed satisfaction with the renewal rates, surpassing their initial expectations. This indicates a significant level of loyalty and dedication from existing members who continue to find value in their golf club memberships. The ability to offer flexible playing and payment options has played a crucial role in retaining members and attracting renewed interest.

One of the key advantages emphasised by golf clubs facing membership decline is the ability to offer members a variety of playing and payment options. By diversifying membership plans and introducing alternative fee structures, clubs can accommodate golfers' evolving needs and financial circumstances. For instance, clubs might offer options such as flexible tee times, pay-as-you-play plans, or tiered membership levels based on frequency of play. Such options empower members to choose the membership model that best suits their preferences, ensuring continued engagement with the sport.

While the decline in membership numbers is a concern for the golf industry, it is important to note that rounds played remain strong. Golf clubs should continue to adapt and innovate to address the challenges of attracting and retaining members. By closely monitoring trends and member preferences, clubs can proactively adjust their offerings to meet evolving demands. Emphasising the unique aspects of golf, such as its mental and physical health benefits, networking opportunities, and the joy of outdoor recreation, can help entice new members and maintain the interest of existing ones.

In order to address the challenges faced by golf clubs regarding membership decline, the implementation of a flexible, credit-based membership scheme can be an effective solution. This scheme introduces a new category of membership that works alongside existing categories, providing golfers with a choice that aligns with their playing preferences and availability.

By analysing the data available, clubs can determine the additional volume of play their tee sheet can accommodate without impacting current members or green fee payers. The average number of rounds played by flexible members per year is typically around 8-10, indicating a manageable level of utilisation. Furthermore, the data reveals that flexible members tend to play their golf predominantly during off-peak times, allowing clubs to optimise their tee sheet and utilise resources effectively.

Introducing a flexible membership category that caters to these specific factors can address the needs of golfers who seek a more adaptable and cost-effective option. This new membership category has the potential to deliver precisely what is required to attract and retain members in a changing landscape.

Implementing such a membership scheme may raise concerns about the time and resources required to make it successful while balancing the overall demands of running a golf club.

By embracing a flexible, credit-based membership scheme, golf clubs can adapt to the evolving needs of golfers while maintaining a sustainable business model. This approach provides members with the freedom to choose when and how they play, offering a level of convenience and affordability that appeals to a wide range of golf enthusiasts. With the right implementation and support, the flexible membership scheme has the potential to attract new members, retain existing ones, and contribute to the long-term success of golf clubs.

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Written by Kerry Ryman

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