Why golf clubs must not make the mistake of taking their loyal members for granted

The pandemic has brought lots of new members and clubs are naturally concentrating on keeping them. But, writes Steve Carroll, they must not forget their loyal servants I don’t need to stretch the memory back that far to remember when a round felt like millionaire’s golf. Within reason, I just turned up. I could set my competition tee times almost by clockwork – 9am, 9.08am or 9.16am. It was pretty much the same for years. The introduction of an online booking system changed to that an extent. Then the pandemic blew it out of the water entirely. Who among us wasn’t surprised by the massive participation boost golf received last summer? Clubs that had feared for their existence were suddenly flooded with applications. Waiting lists, unheard of except at some of the bigger venues, were once again being wheeled out – such was the demand. A recent BRS Golf survey revealed 80 per cent of club respondents reported their membership revenues were up, with 35 per cent of those saying they had "increased dramatically". Against that backdrop, golf clubs are now focused on keeping their new arrivals for the long term. The same survey revealed the majority of clubs cited ‘new membership retention as the number one priority’. Some clubs are looking to do that partly through altering the balance between member and visitor play. The theory goes that you prioritise membership, reduce the number of visitor times and charge more for those slots, thereby ensuring income remains constant. So we’re talking about new members and we’re talking about visitors. Where I’m not seeing a lot of chat – at least in the channels where I roam – is about balancing the expectations of members who’ve been at the club for a length of time. For it would be dangerous to take those players for granted simply because they’ve shown considerable loyalty in the past. They’re facing playing pressures unseen for decades. The days of a proportion of members renewing their subscriptions for the status it brings, and occasionally popping down the club to hold court and have a cup of tea, are over. Golf club membership now feels like any other leisure expense. People pay their fees and expect to utilise them. The new, and very welcome, influx of players into the game over the last 12 months are definitely of this mind and they are putting new pressure on competition tee times that could soon be causing managers headaches. Let me give you the example of my home club. In a recent midweek medal, 159 turned out to play. Grabbing a tee time has become an exercise in fastest finger first. Make the mistake of loading up the booking portal five minutes after launch and you’re hunting for scraps. I’ve heard of clubs catering for well over 200 in a busy event and, as we all know, there are a finite number of tee times in any one day. Why should this matter? I’ve been all over the place...
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