To What Extent Should Golf Clubs Prioritise Members?

Or should there be a balance between members and visitors?

Should Golf Clubs Prioritise Members?
(Image credit: Tom Miles)

Should members always get the nod ahead of paying visitors and parties, or is it now essential for clubs to find an effective balance?

To What Extent Should Golf Clubs Prioritise Members?

An annual golf club subscription represents a pretty substantial outlay and, for most club members in this country, a reasonable chunk out of their yearly income.

As with any significant purchase, whether for goods or services, one ought to receive value for money.

There must be sufficient reason for you to be a member of a golf club to merit the expenditure.

It’s surely of fundamental importance then for members to be prioritised over those who have not paid a hefty annual subscription.

If you’re stumping up to keep the organisation ticking over, to pay the wages and overheads, it would seem fair that you should be among the first and foremost beneficiaries from the good things those wages and overheads contribute towards.

As a member, you should be welcomed with open arms anytime you set foot on the premises.

Prioritise members by welcoming visitors

But prioritising members needn’t preclude a warm welcome for visiting golfers and parties too.

A golf club can do this, while keeping the members’ best interests to the fore.

By taking income from non-members, clubs can invest more back into the course and facilities while keeping the annual subscription down, offering members a better service for a lower fee – that value for money mentioned above.

Golf is constantly changing and, although club membership is fantastic, many now choose to play itinerantly, and clubs must recognise this category of nomadic golfer as important, not only financially but also as a potential valuable source of positive feedback.

If they’re impressed, visiting golfers can encourage more visitors, perhaps even the odd new member…

What a club must do is have a clear strategy of how members and visiting golfers can receive the best possible experience.

Communication is key

Communication is key and members must be comfortable with the balance.

If the membership is in agreement about the benefits that income from visiting groups can bring to club life, they will be inclined to make the odd minor sacrifice.

Five days of midweek golfing given over to outings through the summer may, ostensibly, appear unacceptable to the fee payers.

But, if the takings mean a new clubhouse veranda or green complex at the 14th, opinions might well be changed.

By delivering improvements through offering a great service and experience to visiting golfers, a club will still be prioritising members – Making their club as good as it can be.

The benefits of membership are many and varied – Club tournaments, the social side of club life, a welcome for family members, junior coaching, inter-club matches or associations, bar discounts and more.

Playing rights

When it comes to playing, members will always receive certain priorities – Only they can compete in the majority of club events, they will have easy access to the booking system and slots almost every day in which to play.

On the rush to return to golf after the Covid-19 lockdowns, many clubs chose to give members first dibs on tee times, depending on the demand.

The tee sheets were absolutely filled by members wanting to play, so lots of clubs chose to make it members only until demand began to lessen.

But if slots were going un-used, most would see the benefits of opening these up to visitors.

Should golf clubs prioritise members? ... Yes - always... but this can, and often should, be achieved by providing a great service and experience to visiting golfers too.

If the system is managed correctly with visiting golfers enjoying value for money, clubs will see a boost both financially and in terms of PR, providing them the opportunity to deliver the best possible product for those loyal members – A golf club they can rightly be proud of.

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?