Are Golf Club Bar Levies A Good Idea?

It's money coming in but does it annoy people?

Are Golf Club Bar Levies A Good Idea?
(Image credit: Getty Images)

GM regulars Fergus Bisset and Jeremy Ellwood debate whether or not the compulsory bar levy delivers a true benefit to golf clubs.

Are Golf Club Bar Levies A Good Idea?

Yes says Fergus Bisset

If golf club members utilise and enjoy their club to the full, it will be a lively, positive and welcoming place.

The bar levy is not a way to squeeze more money out of the members, it’s a method for ensuring they get value from their membership.

The last thing a club wants is a brigade of “car park golfers,” – Those who turn up, play and leave.

A club needs the members to want, and to get, more than that.

If the members don’t use the clubhouse, it has no character and atmosphere.

The staff become demoralised and everything is a struggle.

Visiting groups find the clubhouse dreary and unwelcoming and choose to go elsewhere for next year’s event.

The club steadily deteriorates.

The bar levy reminds members of the facility they have at their disposal.

It needn’t be an onerous demand, at my club it’s just £30 a year – less than three rounds of drinks for a fourball.

I’ve generally spent my “commitment” within a couple of weeks and I simply can’t understand how any golf club member wouldn’t use the clubhouse bar to the tune of £30 over the course of a whole year.

And it’s nothing to do with boozing, the bar sells soft drinks and snacks too.

The bar levy encourages socialising with fellow members, delivers an incentive to invite friends and family to the club and generally a chance to be supportive in a way that allows the club to thrive.

A levy guarantees a portion of income for the bar and gives the manager or steward a little certainty with their budget to make plans for the year ahead, to deliver good service to members and visitors.

The bar levy enhances the golf club offering, encouraging socialising and fostering a positive atmosphere that contributes greatly towards the benefits of club membership.

Are Golf Club Bar Levies A Good Idea?

No says Jeremy Ellwood

I’ve worked at a golf club in the past and have heard enough stories over the years from club secretaries, managers and, indeed, members to know that Food and Beverage can be a thorny issue at many clubs, with the operation often switching from in-house to franchised and back again with alarming regularity as no-one seems to be able to make it really work.

In some ways, this has often surprised me, for on the face of it, you would seem to have a potentially captive market of people visiting the club, many of whom you would think might be more than happy to spend a while chatting before or after a round over a pint and a sandwich… if the offering and atmosphere is right.

Sometimes it is, and sometimes it isn’t, and when you stumble across the former, if you’re like me, you could quite happily sit there indefinitely soaking it all up and chatting over a pint or two.

When it’s not, there’s distinctly less incentive to do so, and more likelihood of people disappearing to the nearest pub.

This, I think, lies at the heart of my dislike of bar levies, in which members are forced to spend a certain amount in the clubhouse whether they like it or not.

For me, it should be all about choice.

It should be about clubs creating the right facility and atmosphere that makes members want to use the clubhouse and bar, rather than wanting to make them use it.

Far better, in my view, to work hard to create that desire among members than potentially create grumbling and resentment in certain quarters among those who don’t like the idea of being told where they have to spend their money.

Fergus Bisset
Contributing Editor

Fergus is Golf Monthly's resident expert on the history of the game and has written extensively on that subject. He is a golf obsessive and 1-handicapper. Growing up in the North East of Scotland, golf runs through his veins and his passion for the sport was bolstered during his time at St Andrews university studying history. He went on to earn a post graduate diploma from the London School of Journalism. Fergus has worked for Golf Monthly since 2004 and has written two books on the game; "Great Golf Debates" together with Jezz Ellwood of Golf Monthly and the history section of "The Ultimate Golf Book" together with Neil Tappin , also of Golf Monthly. 

Fergus once shanked a ball from just over Granny Clark's Wynd on the 18th of the Old Course that struck the St Andrews Golf Club and rebounded into the Valley of Sin, from where he saved par. Who says there's no golfing god?