The Covid-19 pandemic saw a huge boost to golf participation numbers in Great Britain and Northern Ireland. That trend continued in 2022 as the number of players increased to the second highest on record.
However, according to the leader of a company offering training and consultancy services to golf clubs, that may be about to reverse. Kevin Fish, who runs North Berwick-based Contemporary Club Leadership, told The Herald that statistics show resignation rates at golf clubs have returned to pre-pandemic levels and a third of clubs have concerns about their long-term futures.
He said: “April is a big month for golf. The Masters always energises people to dust off the clubs again, but for the boards of our many private members golf clubs it is also the month when they find out how many of their members have decided to renew their vows for another year.
“We regularly survey club leaders and our most recent findings show that the average resignation rate is six per cent. This is back to the level golf was experiencing before the pandemic struck. While it is not the mass exodus many feared this year, it is still a return to the familiar slippery slope golf has been on since the turn of the century.”
Fish explained that the end of lockdown and cost of living crisis could be responsible for the downturn. He said: “For three years, golf clubs have never been busier, but the easing of lockdown coupled with the severe economic challenges of recent months has sent club boards into a tailspin wondering what increase in subscription fees could be charged this year. We have never seen more volatility in member subscription rates, with the increases ranging from zero right up to 25 per cent.”
On that issue, it’s not just Fish who has concerns. Earlier this year, the 2022/23 Members and Proprietary Golf Clubs Survey revealed some sobering figures for golf fans, stating membership fees were on the rise and saying that "maintaining demand will be a key focus for clubs over the coming years".
Fish suggested that one way to address the issue could be to make players feel as though relinquishing their membership is unthinkable. He said: “We know that marrying golfers to a club is easier when they are in their 40 and 50s. That age group is now also more likely to be working from home, or even part of the mass resignation wave we have learned about.
"That is the target rich environment I would focus a club’s attention on while trying to provide such a level of belonging, that members genuinely feel the same way towards their golf club that they feel about their broadband – they simply couldn’t live without it.”
Fish then explained that a significant number of clubs are concerned about their viability over the longer term. He said: “Our latest survey reveals that almost one third of clubs are concerned about their long-term future, beyond 2028."
Finally, Fish reiterated that members need to feel more a part of their clubs for them to thrive. He said: “When members embrace the fact that they are owners of their clubs not customers, they are more likely to succeed and thrive while making their club attractive to the next generation, not just the last.”
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Mike has over 25 years of experience in journalism, including writing on a range of sports throughout that time, such as golf, football and cricket. Now a freelance staff writer for Golf Monthly, he is dedicated to covering the game's most newsworthy stories.
He has written hundreds of articles on the game, from features offering insights into how members of the public can play some of the world's most revered courses, to breaking news stories affecting everything from the PGA Tour and LIV Golf to developmental Tours and the amateur game.
Mike grew up in East Yorkshire and began his career in journalism in 1997. He then moved to London in 2003 as his career flourished, and nowadays resides in New Brunswick, Canada, where he and his wife raise their young family less than a mile from his local course.
Kevin Cook’s acclaimed 2007 biography, Tommy’s Honour, about golf’s founding father and son, remains one of his all-time favourite sports books.
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