Should Golf Clubs Open Up Their Clubhouses For Wider Business?

Or should they be just for members and paying visitors?

Should Golf Clubs Open Up Their Clubhouses For Wider Business
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Golf Monthly regulars Jeremy Ellwood and Fergus Bisset debate whether clubhouses should be made available to all, not just members and paying visitors.

Should Golf Clubs Open Up Their Clubhouses For Wider Business?

Yes says Jeremy Ellwood

Many golf clubs have decent-sized clubhouses, often in pleasant locations with attractive outlooks, that are sadly under-utilised for reasons of licensing and/or membership constitutions.

This seems like a missed opportunity in an age when many clubs are struggling.

I visited one small club in Aberdeenshire recently where a good-sized clubhouse stood empty and unused while a few people were out playing.

My host explained how he wanted to open it up for wider business than just members and visitors to attract a little trade from passing walkers and potentially others from the town.

Sadly, nothing had yet happened on that front.

But to survive and thrive, many clubs need to think about doing something different, and making greater use of their clubhouse facilities could be one option.

I played at Dunstanburgh Castle a couple of years ago, where the clubhouse on this beautiful part of the Northumberland coast is open to anyone.

It was buzzing after our round with a mix of golfers and walkers at a time when many clubhouses would have been ghost towns.

Several other small clubs I visited in Scotland last year were doing likewise.

Yes, some golfers would rather it were just for golfers, but needs must, and many clubs need to find fresh revenue streams to keep the whole thing ticking over.

Proprietary clubs, from my experience, are often ahead of the game in this respect, with far more clubhouses in this sector already being used effectively as restaurants, pubs or tearooms as well as clubhouses.

Yes, it may require a change to the club constitution, and some thought about the viability and likelihood of getting a full premises licence, but in many cases it must surely be worth at least pursuing?

Should Golf Clubs Open Up Their Clubhouses For Wider Business?

No says Fergus Bisset

It’s really a great thing to be a golf club member, to have a course and clubhouse that are yours to use and appreciate.

You have paid to enjoy these facilities and you should have preferential treatment when it comes to making the most of them.

Almost every club in the country accepts paying visitors and it’s also great to be a guest at a club and to make use of the clubhouse for the duration of your visit.

Visitors provide a chance for a club to showcase their product and welcome golfers who, having paid their green fee, are effectively members for a day.

These paying guests help to keep the members’ annual subscription as low as possible and will be welcomed warmly in the clubhouse.

But what is not so palatable to members is the thought of their clubhouse being overrun by throngs of the non-golfing public – People piling in to take advantage of the great facility they are paying to maintain and of the (generally speaking) lower prices on food and drink they have subsidised through their membership fees.

If you have paid a significant sum to be a member of a club, or a hefty fee to visit for a day, the last thing you should expect is to struggle to get a table for your lunch as a group of ramblers or office workers have taken over the dining room for an impromptu party.

A membership offering, or the value of a green fee is lessened if the clubhouse is available to anyone walking in off the street.

Most clubs offer a social membership option to non-golfers who wish to enjoy the gastronomical and social benefits the clubhouse provides.

These benefits don’t come for free and it’s right and proper that everybody appreciating them has, through subs or fees, contributed towards their availability.

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?