By Fergus Bisset published
Every year, around this time, I receive a letter from my accountant advising me how much tax I’m due to pay at the end of January. It’s not my favourite missive. Even when the news is “good,” it isn’t really as it means I didn’t do so well the year before. It’s just after the festive period, the days are short, the weather is rubbish and I’m attempting some crazy and depressing thing, like living more healthily. It tends to be a pretty lousy few weeks. The last thing I need is another big bill. But I know it’s around the corner. Following the golf club AGM in the last week of January I, like so many golf club members across this country, will receive an invoice asking me to pay my golf club membership subscription. Could there be a worse time for it? I don’t know if there could. Now I’m a golf fanatic and there’s absolutely no chance I won’t pay up – I’d sell a kidney if I had to. But every year I think: If golf wasn’t such an integral part of my life, would I be inclined to stump up hundreds, in some cases thousands, of pounds at a point where the golf season proper seems an eternity away?
Most clubs now offer the option to pay subs by direct debit but still, each member on that payment plan must make a decision when the renewal notice comes through - whether they want that money to disappear from their account on a monthly basis. From a business point of view, asking people to renew something when they’re not using it properly is crazy – “Yes, we know the shortened course is either wet or frozen and there are limited playing opportunities, yes the clubhouse is running on reduced hours… but can we have £X hundred please?” Sorry… come again?
Many golf clubs have thought about this and ask for renewals either in the spring, when people are ready to think about playing again, or mid-summer when they are actually playing and enjoying the benefits of their membership. A brief internet search shows clubs like Chester Golf Club, Coventry Golf Club, East Berkshire Golf Club… all have summer renewal dates. If more clubs shifted their membership year to run from, say, 1st July, they would surely see the benefit of increased retention. Perhaps also attracting new members who have been playing itinerantly for the first months of the year.
Clubs will have reasons for keeping an end of January renewal date, but what it often will come down to is – they’ve simply always done it like that. It may be that the AGM is held in January and that event dictates what the subscription rates will be for the next year. That’s not too difficult to change – revise the constitution at this year’s AGM, or in an EGM, and move the AGM date.
There may be an argument on the accounting date – But if the 12-month accounting period is finalised suitably ahead of the revised AGM date, that can work. It would just be necessary to either truncate or extend the accounting year in the year of transition. The tax year isn’t an issue as businesses/companies can file to any accounting end date they want.
An issue to contend with would be the hassle and risk of transition. If a club shifts from January renewal to July renewal say, there will have to be either a request for members to pay for a part period, Jan to July which some might be reluctant to do if they see they can simply re-join in July. That might mean a loss of revenue, but could it be balanced by new prospective members joining for a few months pro-rata to see if it suits them? They might then stay on... Alternatively, clubs would have to ask for subs for a “long membership year” - Jan one year to June next; a bigger ask and possibly not the best strategy. As with any significant changes, there would inevitably be initial challenges and possible negative effects. But the long-term benefits of shifting to a summer renewal will make the effort worthwhile for the majority of clubs.
Golfers asked to renew their membership at a time when the sun is shining on pristine playing surfaces that lead them round to a bustling clubhouse are likely to reach for their chequebooks. Those with the post-Christmas blues considering ways to economise for the new year while noting online that the course is “still” closed, may be less inclined to do so. I’d urge all clubs, including mine, to consider a shift to a summer renewal date for membership subscriptions.
Fergus is a golf obsessive and 1-handicapper. Growing up in the North East of Scotland, golf runs through his veins and it was concentrated by 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 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?