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Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Not enough clubs taking positive action to retain

young players ... and attract new ones

By Douglas Lowe
The worm is turning, and what encourages Andy Salmon, development manager for both the Scottish Golf Union and Scottish Ladies’ Golfing Association, is the way a steady trickle of clubs are taking positive action to retain young players and attract new ones.
But he warns it is not happening quickly enough.
It is a familiar lament that clubs lose most of their juniors as soon as they turn 18. Much of that is to do with leaving the area for education or employment reasons, but there is also a significant cost factor that is behind what is believed to be a widespread dearth of club members in the 18-to-30 age-group.
It is not that these players do not exist. They are known to be out there, but, in what has become known as the nomadic way, they prefer to pay green fees to the huge outlay of joining fees and annual subscriptions.
“A lot of clubs see young players leave because of the jump in fees from a very low cost to full membership which can be five or six times what the junior membership was,” noted Salmon, “and as a result many clubs have introduced a stepped pricing structure up to age 30 such as at Old Ranfurly and West Kilbride.”
Effectively, this is a way of subsidising young players and that is turning the old culture on its head. It used to be that younger players were expected to keep annual subscriptions down for senior members but current demography and demand has shown such practices to be flawed.
“We have never said older golfers are bad or the enemy even though a lot of people perceived it that way last year,” assured Salmon. “We want to hang on to the older golfers but supplement them with this younger generation.”
The Single Equality Bill, currently going through parliament and due to come into force this year, moreover, might push clubs’ membership policies further down the line by insisting on equal rights and making it possible to offer discounts only to minorities such as the 18-to-30 group.
“We will be publishing detailed advice around that in the next few weeks and it will absolutely have implications for clubs in terms of how they treat men and women in a mixed club. There are also requirements around age discrimination and we will be advising clubs on whether it will still be permissible to offer discounted memberships for, say, over-65s,” he said.
In the meantime, the drive for members continues and reciprocal arrangements with other clubs are becoming a common way of adding value to memberships. In addition, the SGU’s golf card scheme, offering half-price green fees to golf club members, is now operating at 120 clubs.
Yet there are still strong signs of apathy and a sense of anxiety that the sleeping giant needs to be woken up before it is too late.
Of 580 Scottish clubs, only 127 responded to a survey relating to last year’s Golf Awareness Week – a project that will be repeated this year just after the Masters – and just 173 were represented at a series of roadshows in November and December.
Over the last five years, memberships are down by more than 10,000, and that is costing dearly the governing bodies who are in the process of raising annual per-capita levies, the SGU from £7.20 to £10 over a period of three years, and the SLGA from £13 to £14.
“There are some great examples of clubs generating between 40 and 120 new members on the back of a specific action like radio advertising, a joining fee offer, an open day and these kind of things,” said Salmon.
“We are greatly encouraged by that and we don’t want to paint a negative picture. I think things are heading in the right direction but more clubs could sit up and take a look.
“I believe clubs need three things. First, they need a strong leadership, and by that I mean a good secretary/manager to prioritise expenditure. Second, the golf course has to be right, and third, there has to be a marketing policy.
“All too often marketing – and the golf course as well to a lesser extent – are the first areas clubs look at in making savings. I don’t think that necessarily is the right thing. One or two clubs are even wondering whether the secretary/manager is someone they can do without. I would suggest that is not the way to go.”
A survey of 50 golfers who joined a club last year showed that the quality of the course was the top priority followed by a welcoming environment and then the cost, particularly joining fees which put off many people. A key argument for keeping them is to prevent golfers changing clubs every year at a whim, but it is a controversial device.
“I don’t buy the notion that you charge a joining fee to trap members to a golf club,” said Salmon.
“Marketing people will tell you that you trap people in a golf club by giving them value for money and one of the recent changes we have seen is the emergence of a customer service ethic.
“If you are in Glasgow, where all the clubs are full and charging a £1000 joining fee, then you would be daft not to charge one at your club. It is about doing what is right in your local marketplace and what is right for your business objectives, but I do think there is a trend away from joining fees.
“On the whole, I don’t think clubs are changing quickly enough, but it is not our position to be telling clubs what they should be doing and when they should be doing it. There is definitely a culture of positive change going on, but is it happening at all 580 clubs in Scotland? No, it is definitely not.
“I would like to think that in five years’ time we will be in a great place. There will be much more marketing, clubs will be more business-like and also by then we hope the economy will be in great shape. I am very optimistic.”

Official figures for Scottish golf club members over last five years
Men 187,769 (down 4.23%)
Women 35,388 (down 9.89%)
Boys 25,047 (down 5.98%)
Girls 2,964 (up 3.63%)
Notes: Early returns for current figures show a further 0.89% fall and are feared to drop further. Adult figures are inflated by an unknown number who are members of more than one club and junior numbers are estimated from figures provided voluntarily by around half of clubs

Top five reasons for new members joining clubs last year
70% - I like the course
36% - I was made to feel welcome
30% - No joining fee deal
26% - Annual fees more affordable than others
22% - Monthly payment plan available

Are the Scottish Golf Union and Scottish Ladies’ Golfing Association doing enough to rescue our clubs?
Is the per-capita levy too high or too low?
Is your club committee the best in Scotland or does it have its collective head in the sand?
What is your solution to falling memberships?

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