In a worrying era of sharply declining golf club membership, there are still many reasons why being a golf club member is as rewarding as ever by Alex Clewett
With changing lifestyle patterns making it more difficult for men in particular to take time away from their families over weekends and people from all demographics seeking quicker and cheaper alternative hobbies such as cycling, swimming and other sports, golf is bearing the brunt of its stubbornness and reluctance to change.
While I am unable to come up with a host of ways for golf to reverse this trend automatically through speeding up the game and making it cheaper, I do wish to remind those occasional golfers who rely on a round every fortnight or month why being a member of a golf club is not only rewarding for your golf game, but also in numerous other ways that may not be obvious at first hand.
Of course, being a golf club member is expensive with annual fees starting from a few hundred pounds to multiple thousands at the most exclusive clubs. In addition, some clubs will also ask for a joining fee and numerous people to vouch for your good character, and suddenly the whole process becomes very long-winded and doesn’t seem worth the time, effort or money involved.
But this is not the norm: most clubs have a friendly rather than stuffy atmosphere and are always looking to recruit new members for the very reasons that I mentioned at the start. While the most exclusive clubs will not be worried by these figures, the typical working to middle class golf club is desperate for new faces through the door, resulting in cheaper fees and flexible payment methods.
Membership also entitles you to full use of all the facilities a club has to offer: not just the course (or multiple courses), but often a driving range, practice ground, putting green, professional shop and possible added extras such as a snooker table and discounted clubhouse bar.
Clubhouses are famed across the country for their unique, friendly atmosphere and although not every club is the same, most are extremely welcoming and present opportunities to make friends for life. Indeed, the clubhouse atmosphere is more important than the course itself for many members: occasional complaints about the course are often tempered with a realisation that the people, not the course, make a golf club.
Nowhere is this more true than at my home golf club, Rugby. A short par 68 in Warwickshire, the course is never going to win great accolades although it is a tricky test with numerous memorable holes.
From about the age of 13, I have spent hundreds of fun-filled hours at my golf club, just as many other boys or girls have at theirs. The best times of course were the summer holidays. There were two junior competitions a week and when I got my handicap down to 12, I could play in all the men’s ones too.
I must have spent almost every day for a few summers at the golf club, and it even got to the point where I would have arguments with my parents about going on holiday, as all I wanted to do was play golf. Spoilt brat.
I grew up with the other kids in those summers, making friends and learning how to conduct myself on the golf course and off it, when I would spend time with the adult members and learn some key life skills, such as how to take banter and give it out in equal measure.
I’d even call my club professional a childhood mentor, not just a great friend. I was never one for having lots of lessons, preferring to scramble my way around the golf course to my current (unrealistic) handicap of 5, so I’ve had more life lessons than golf lessons from him, something I am deeply grateful for.
By the time I got down to my current handicap of 5, the men’s scratch team captain even considered me good enough to represent the club in the county league, along with my friends of the same age. Here I really had to cut my teeth against the best players in Warwickshire, but again this was all about the experience, which without being a member of a golf club I would never have had.
Now as an adult member, I can see what being a member of a golf club is all about: a continuous cycle of life development achieved through the mentoring of younger members and teaching the rights and wrongs of life on and off the golf course.
I now look forward to passing on some life knowledge to the kids I meet at my golf club, and also making new friends when I inevitably pack up and move to another club in another part of the country through playing in competitions, having a drink in the clubhouse and even an idle chat on the putting green.
The golf club is a very British institution, and one which although is in decline, I cannot see dying out any time soon. This is due to the quite unique way in which it perfectly combines your sporting and social life to make you look forward to that weekend medal every week even if you know deep down you’re getting .1 back.
This simple joy is open to everyone of all golfing abilities, and I cannot recommend it highly enough.