‘We should set memberships fees that are fair to all’

In a new opinion column written by GCMA members, David O’Sullivan, National Captain in 2016, wonders if current membership structures offer all golfers the same opportunities…

Golf Club Membership – a good deal for some.

It’s about that time of year again, membership renewals. What do we set them at this year? What are the other clubs in our area doing? What will the members agree to paying at the AGM?


Are these the right questions to ask? What exactly is golf club membership? Is it membership of a club that has a golf course? Or is it hugely discounted green fees?

Chances are most clubs will go through the same routine every year, how many members have we lost? What is the annual interest rate? Important questions, but the most important question never gets asked: how many rounds of golf does a member get for the annual subscription? And why does this matter?

The answer is – as many rounds as they like, but a member who is working full-time will probably play far less rounds of golf than a retired member. No wonder that the average age of members is rising and is now well over 60, which strangely enough reflects the average age of the committee/board member who make decisions regarding membership fees. It is therefore obvious that annual membership that allows a member to play as many rounds as they like is both unfair and mainly suits the retired.

This year there will be a lot more to consider when setting membership fees, with energy prices increasing by over 100%, minimum wage increasing by over 8%, increased costs of food and beverage, fertilisers, chemicals etc etc, not to mention supply chain issues. Consequently the Bank of England interest rate is totally irrelevant to the setting of golf club membership fees.

Perhaps it is time to ask exactly what we are offering for the cost of annual membership. Let us start by looking at the cost for a visitor to play a round of golf, taking an example of a green fee of  £50, with a members guest paying £25. If a members guest gets a 50% discount, what discount should apply to a member paying an annual membership fee, on a per round basis?

With a computerised booking system, this is an easy question to answer, but not so easy if your club has no booking system and members simply turn up and play.

Anecdotal evidence is not an exact science, but it’s better than nothing. Let’s therefore assume that a full member plays twice a week come rain or shine making an annual total of 104 rounds.

Now look at the annual membership fee of say £1,000, if we divide that by the number rounds played we get a “green fee” of £9.62 per round per member.

But if a full time working member can only play say 40 rounds per year at an average fee per round of £25 – is this fair?

While members are in control of decisions that affect them personally, don’t expect change any time soon. But if the club’s finances are not in good shape, change will have to happen regardless of personal convenience.

The most sensible approach may be to set the annual membership at say £1,000 that covers UP TO 104 rounds per year. It is important to use “up to” to avoid refund situations should a member not play 100 rounds. Any additional rounds to be charged at say £10 per round.

Having established this base, it is now far simpler to be more inclusive and fair in introducing other memberships that would be attractive to say the full time worker paying an annual fee of around £500 that includes playing up to 50 rounds per year with the same £10 fee paid for additional rounds. Categories such as juniors and intermediates will be easy to create on this basis.

In summary, membership fees of a golf club set at a price regardless of the number of rounds played only suits the retired.

It’s time to remind ourselves that private members golf clubs are custodians of sporting venues that enjoy generous tax advantages. We should therefore set membership fees that are fair to all and not favouring a certain age group.

Got an issue regarding an aspect of golf clubs, and golf club management, that you’d like to get off your chest? We welcome contributions from members, and you can send your views through to [email protected]

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By GCMA Content Team

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