Should Golf Clubs Be Treating Visitors Differently To Members?

Shouldn't golf clubs treat visitors exactly the same as members these days?

Golf Club Membership
(Image credit: Eagle Promotions)

Some clubs have separate car parks and changing rooms, or ‘members only’ bars, but should they really be treating visitors differently to members nowadays?

Is there any need in these days of declining memberships to differentiate between the experience a member enjoys and that which a green-fee payer might enjoy?

Such distinctions manifest themselves in the form of separate car parks, separate changing rooms, higher prices in the bar, certain rooms being out of bounds, and certain tees being off limits regardless of ability – little things that give the impression visitors are there under mild duress rather than being welcomed with truly open arms.

Is there really any reason why low-handicap visitors shouldn't play from the whites?

Is there really any reason why low-handicap visitors shouldn't play from the whites?

Historically, being blessed with the means and standing to be a member of a golf club meant you probably occupied a privileged position within society, and stark reminders that some were members while others were not would have been entirely in keeping with society’s wider structure.

But other than at a few exclusive clubs, that kind of attitude is largely a thing of the past. Most clubs are on the lookout for new members, and ‘social status’ is somewhat less of a requirement than having the necessary ‘readies’ at your disposal these days.

Not long ago, there were lots of private members’ clubs that were quite hard to get on to, then a small number of overcrowded pay-and-play courses.

That dynamic has changed dramatically, and while many clubs are still members’ clubs in name and principle, they’re also now very much pay-and-play in spirit and practice.

The lines have been blurred almost to the point of extinction in some cases as the battle for additional green fee revenue to balance the books and keep subs down intensifies.

A potential pool of new members for any club will be local folk using their club as a kind of pay-and-play facility, so the question is this - what is there to be gained by telling them, ‘you can’t park here’, ‘you can’t go in there to change your shoes’, before directing them to facilities that aren’t always up to the same standard as those reserved for members – perhaps a scruffier piece of ground further from the clubhouse, and a virtual box room.

‘Absolutely nothing’ is the answer, not because of the practical implications – after all, it’s little hardship to walk an extra 100 yards to an inferior locker room – but rather the idea that a club feels the need to segregate, especially when someone is still paying handsomely, as day visitors often do.

The golf club experience should surely be as enjoyable and relaxed as possible for visitors

The golf club experience should surely be as enjoyable and relaxed as possible for visitors

When you throw in other forms of segregation, like forcing low-handicap visitors to play off the yellow tees while members can play off the back pegs regardless of ability, it all seems faintly ludicrous.

Surely you want any visitor who could be a member of the future to experience the course as its best relative to his ability?

The counter argument is that your commitment to the club by way of an annual membership should entitle you to certain privileges not available to the casual visitor.

Yes, of course you have to look after your members to keep them happy and make sure they sign up again next year, but that need now sits alongside the often more pressing concern of balancing the books by attracting a steady flow of new members, as fewer people are now willing to lay out large sums to be a member if they’re not going to play enough.

Surely paying effectively just a few quid for every round, as many members do, is a big enough perk compared to the club’s full green fees?

With many clubs crying out for new members, why not make the visitor experience as enjoyable, comfortable and memorable as possible without constant reminders that they’re not members and therefore not able to do certain things or go into certain places?

Why treat visitors differently via unnecessary obstacles? Surely it's far better to give them exactly what you give your members in the hope and belief they’ll be so impressed that they will be unable to resist the temptation to make the transition from occasional visitor to member.

Some clubs are already doing this; more should follow their lead.


Jeremy Ellwood
Contributing Editor

Jeremy Ellwood has worked in the golf industry since 1993 and for Golf Monthly since 2002 when he started out as equipment editor. He is now a freelance journalist writing mainly for Golf Monthly. He is an expert on the Rules of Golf having qualified through an R&A course to become a golf referee. He is a senior panelist for Golf Monthly's Top 100 UK & Ireland Course Rankings and has played all of the Top 100 plus 91 of the Next 100, making him well-qualified when it comes to assessing and comparing our premier golf courses. He has now played 1,000 golf courses worldwide in 35 countries, from the humblest of nine-holers in the Scottish Highlands to the very grandest of international golf resorts. He reached the 1,000 mark on his 60th birthday in October 2023 on Vale do Lobo's Ocean course. Put him on a links course anywhere and he will be blissfully content.

Jezz can be contacted via Twitter - @JezzEllwoodGolf

Jeremy is currently playing...

Driver: Ping G425 LST 10.5˚ (draw setting), Mitsubishi Tensei AV Orange 55 S shaft

3 wood: Ping G425 Max 15˚ (set to flat +1), Mitsubishi Tensei AV Orange 65 S shaft

Hybrid: Ping G425 17˚, Mitsubishi Tensei CK Pro Orange 80 S shaft

Irons 3-PW: Ping i525, True Temper Dynamic Gold 105 R300 shafts

Wedges: Ping Glide 4.0 50˚ and 54˚, 12˚ bounce, True Temper Dynamic Gold 105 R300 shafts

Putter: Ping Fetch 2021 model, 33in shaft (set flat 2)

Ball: Varies but mostly now TaylorMade Tour Response