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Working within the golf industry, I am constantly seeing fantastic initiatives from clubs and organisations that are ‘growing the game’ so to speak. Junior clinics, stuffy regulations being phased out, innovative membership schemes, updated dress codes, informal meet-ups and many other offerings that are opening the doors to new and lapsed golfers and making the game more attractive and affordable for many.
For me, however, things aren’t as rosy. I love the game with a passion but I am beginning to feel downbeat about membership options and can finally see why golf loses so many under 30s. I live and play golf in the Hampshire/Berkshire/Surrey corner, which is both a blessing and a massive curse. I’m within 15 minutes of some of the England's best golf courses but also some of the country's most expensive, and right now I have absolutely zero options for joining a club that suits me. That is mainly due to the pandemic and the positive impacts it has had on the game. A local club, which to be honest is my dream club right now in the situation and location I am in, was offering a half price joining fee pre-pandemic but now demands a £2,500 joining fee plus £1,200 annual subs, and that’s even after I’d have to spend a significant period on a waiting list (I assume) - they've now gone quiet as it's very clear that new members are not needed right now.
How many 26-year-olds can justify £3,700 for their first year’s golf membership whilst paying a mortgage and bills with costs in almost every department rising? Add my girlfriend into the equation, she's a golfer too, and suddenly our household would have to put down over £7,000 for our first year’s membership. Clearly there are people out there that can afford this as these clubs are all bursting at the seams right now, and it's fantastic to see the game I love finally in such a healthy state. My first club, a 100+ year old course, closed in 2017 due to a 'nationwide decline in the demand for golf' so it's actually incredible when you take a step back and see where the game is right now.
For the first time in my life, though, I’m starting to see how golf still could be perceived as a rich man/woman’s game - in certain parts of the country at least where the demand is extremely high. My membership fees are going up at my own club right now because I'm moving up an age category, meaning I am going to be shelling out an extra £30 per month - for the exact same product and service that I am currently getting. Age-related subscriptions are fantastic for younger members and are probably the reason why I’ve been a golf club member every year since I was 10 years old. But, as I’m climbing the age ladder, my golf membership is looking less and less appealing.
Throughout winter I can only play on weekends and we all know that sometimes doesn’t always materialise due to the rain, snow and other harsh weathers. I then also struggle to play during the weekday evenings after work in summer so I’m usually restricted to four or five games per month in peak seasons. I find it disappointing that there isn’t a weekend membership or some kind of credit system at my own club because I know these kind of initiatives exist around the country. I wish all clubs had these kind of schemes but, in the south east of England in particular, it seems they're few and far between. The argument will probably be that our clubs are full and thriving right now, but recent data showed how nearly two thirds of UK golf members are over 50, so there still is not enough being done to keep under 30s in the game - in my opinion.
It’s frustrating that my only option at my current club is to pay or go. My club had a 70-person waiting list at the last time of asking and a joining fee that rises incrementally with age so if I leave, I leave for good and will face high costs and a waiting list to return.
For the first time in my adult life I am considering becoming a pay-and-play golfer. I would undoubtedly begin playing lesser courses than the one I’m currently at but it would give me the flexibility to pick and choose where I play, how often I play and how much I pay to play my golf. The introduction of the iGolf non-member handicap system is also tempting. I'm torn.
Elliott Heath is our Senior Staff Writer and has been with Golf Monthly since early 2016. He graduated in Sports Journalism in 2016 and currently manages the Golf Monthly news, courses and travel sections as well as our large Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages. Elliott has interviewed some huge names in the golf world including Sergio Garcia, Thomas Bjorn, Bernd Wiesberger and Scotty Cameron as well as a number of professionals on the DP World and PGA Tours. He has also covered the 2022 Masters from Augusta National as well as three Open Championships including at Carnoustie in 2018 when he was inside the ropes with Tiger Woods. He has played 31 of our Top 100 golf courses, with his favourites being both Sunningdales, Woodhall Spa, Old Head and Alwoodley. He currently plays at West Byfleet Golf Club in Surrey, where his handicap index floats anywhere between 4-6. His golfing highlight is making albatross on the 9th hole on the Hotchkin Course at Woodhall Spa, and he has made one hole-in-one.
Elliott is currently playing:
Driver: Honma TR20
3 wood: TaylorMade SIM2 Max
Hybrid: TaylorMade SIM Max
Irons: Honma TR20B
Wedges: Titleist Vokey Design
Putter: Odyssey White Hot OG #5
Ball: Titleist Pro V1x