Should Clubs Offer Free Membership For Juniors?

Fergus Bisset and Jeremy Ellwood take on each side of the argument.

Junior golfer Free Membership To Juniors
Junior golfer
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Fergus Bisset Says...No

A key aim for clubs around the country is to attract and retain junior golfers. Free membership would seem an obvious way to boost numbers. In the short term this would work, but mid-to-long term such flippant generosity would be counterproductive. 

To establish a new generation of golfers, clubs must encourage juniors and their parents to buy into the sport. To achieve this properly, there must be investment from both parties. The club must offer an attractive membership with competitions, lessons and trips included. This must be priced at an affordable level. Clubs must commit to delivering a great package for juniors. But clubs need a level of commitment from kids and parents, too.

"The club will find itself with a large number of juniors on the books who show little or no interest in participating"

If junior membership is free, parents can sign up their children feeling no requirement to commit to the club.

“It hasn’t cost us anything so it doesn’t matter if we get nothing out of it.”

The club will find itself with a large number of juniors on the books who show little or no interest in participating – hardly likely to deliver that new generation of dedicated club members. And then, if membership is free, what happens when the kids turn 18? Many clubs offer reduced subs for youths and students, but it’s going to cost once junior status is gone. The leap from no fees to fees will be too great a step for many. If they, or more likely their parents, had been buying into the club for a number of years, the transition would seem a more logical progression.

Junior membership should be affordable but not free. We want to foster new committed golfers and giving the sport away will not achieve this.

Jeremy Ellwood Says...Yes

Many will balk at the word ‘free’, thinking, “Why should we give our facilities away for nothing?” That’s understandable, but many clubs have such a dearth of juniors that drastic action is required.

With most junior memberships already pretty inexpensive, it’s hardly going to dent incoming revenue streams too much. What we’re really looking at is short-term speculation to enhance the chances of long-term gain – a ‘catch ’em young’ mentality, so we do actually have a next generation of golfers.

At this year’s Open Championship, thousands of under-16s will attend free of charge as part of The R&A’s Kids Go Free initiative. Surely that’s good news –getting more kids exposed to the game and really sparking their enthusiasm.

Many clubs already incentivise youth and junior memberships with low-cost options for younger adults and inexpensive memberships for juniors.

English Golf

But I feel that free memberships for the youngest children – especially if parents are also members – would encourage more into the fold early in the hope that they will stay in the game.

One other thing. When I worked at a small golf club in the 1990s, we had many juniors. Membership wasn’t free, but the fee was nominal. Several parents also took up the game when they signed their children up, and some of those parents are still active golf club members 25 years on.

Free memberships will grate with some, but I guess it’s a similar concept to the supermarket loss leader or the apparent ‘money for nothing’ incentives available for switching banks: you have to speculate to potentially accumulate.

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?