How to retain golfers in the cost-of-living crisis

Colin Mayes, CEO of Burhill Group Limited, assesses how the bills arriving on doorsteps could affect the sport and where his company will be concentrating their efforts to soften the impact…

This article is part of GCMA Insights – topical content for golf industry professionals, discussing the things that matter to those who work in golf clubs.

Interest rates are still rising. So is inflation. The money we have in our pockets is spreading ever thinner.

“You can’t get away from the fact that the customer’s disposable spending capability has probably reduced by about 20 per cent on this time last year,” said Burhill Group Limited chief executive Colin Mayes.

Throw into that a new membership renewal cycle, where players will have to delve deep for a significant sum while being pounded by high energy, fuel, and food prices, and you can see why the golf industry is nervous about what 2023 might hold.

Will those pandemic participation gains, which saw memberships fill up, waiting lists expand and joining fees return, be lost as members sacrifice the sport to pay their gas bills?

Mayes, whose company runs 10 clubs spanning the whole of the diversity spectrum – from their grandiose HQ at Burhill to member and visitor-friendly clubs as far and wide as The Shropshire, near Telford, and Ramsdale Park in Nottingham, is more optimistic than many.

2022 was a great year for the firm, with figures remaining comfortably ahead of pre-Covid levels and interest from casual players staying strong. 

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“Overall, the golf sector is in a good place and the industry, generally, has done a good job in maintaining interest,” he explained.

“Where do I see renewals going? We will probably hold our own. In the more challenged economic areas, we’ll probably see a reduction of perhaps 5% as people must make the hard choices on what they want to spend their money on.  

“But, at most of our clubs, I’m pretty optimistic. We’ve put a lot of work in communicating through newsletters about the issues clubs have been facing regarding financial pressures.

“We’ve been pretty active in keeping our members abreast of the issues that we’re facing there – trying to make sure it’s not a shock when we go in with the renewal numbers and those figures are anywhere between about seven to 10%.”

While there is little anyone can do to halt the coming recession, Mayes believes the golf scene can ride out the storm and that energy prices should start to revert to the mean over the coming year. 

“Hopefully things will start to balance out [in 2023] and we shouldn’t see the huge increases people have talked about,” he added.

“None of us have got a crystal ball and we’re going to have to deal with it as we see it.

“We’ve budgeted on the basis that inflation is still going to be reasonably high and we’re going to have to keep a very tight hold on our costs with the hope that energy [prices] will come back down.

Colin Mayes

“If they don’t then we will be faced with some tough decisions for the future.” 

But, as Mayes also pointed out, golf has survived wars, it has seen off previous pandemics, and is still going strong after 150 years.

What are the keys this time, and what can clubs do to emerge from cost-of-living in a strong place? For Mayes, there are constants everyone can focus on.

“It’s a matter of how we survive,” he said. “In these times of uncertainty you just need a steady tiller. You need to know what’s important.


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“The reason people play golf is that it’s a past-time where they get physical activity, a level of competition if they want it, and social enjoyment.  

“We have to make sure we stay true to our understanding of what our customers want – making sure they have a good time when they come to us and we give them reasons to keep coming back.

“That is fundamental because without our customers and our members enjoying their experience at clubs and making sure we give them good reason to come back we’ll start to lose them.

“The focus for us as a business is making sure the standards to which we operate are maintained and, wherever possible, keep improving.”

So if you’re now asking yourselves how that is done, Mayes highlighted three main areas: investing in facilities, keeping a firm rein on operating costs, and really drilling down into customer attitudes – using tools such as Net Promoter Score – to ensure you can quickly identify any trends emerging from the experiences of members and visitors and get on top of them. 

He said: “I’m a big believer in investing little and often. Just doing nothing for a few years, letting the club deteriorate, and then doing a lot just to bring it back [to where it was] makes no sense to me.

“My mantra is little and often and keep giving people reasons to see improvements. At Burhill, we’re carrying out a major refurbishment of a buggy storage area that will be ready for the spring.

“In January, we’re going to refurbish the professional shop. These are not huge projects on their own but they are big projects for customers to see that we are continually investing in our properties and people.”

He concluded: “In tough periods, as we’re coming into recession, it’s about keeping your focus on the customer. Keep a very tight grip on your operating costs, know what they are, and where you can make sensible changes that don’t affect the front of house experience.

“It’s making sure you’re keeping in tune with what your customer wants. It’s about building customer relationships and earning their trust. 

“It’s about looking at our Net Promoter Scores even more diligently so that we are on top of any trends that are coming through, any comments people are giving us, and making sure we react to them.

“It’s not rocket science in these periods. It’s about keeping a tight focus on the business and doing the right thing.” 

This article is part of GCMA Insights – topical content for golf industry professionals, discussing the things that matter to those who work in golf clubs.

Get involved in the debate. To join the GCMA, click here, or to organise a call with a member of the GCMA team, just complete this form and we’ll be in touch!

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