Golf at a crossroads

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Game needs to change direction to safeguard courses – and stop them becoming housing estates
Posted on
October 25, 2022
The Editorial Team in
Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

With renewal rates dropping by 10%, PlayMoreGolf Chief Executive Alastair Sinclair calls on clubs to do things differently to safeguard their long-term future as change of post-pandemic habits and cost-of-living crisis take their toll on the sport.


Golf at a crossroads

The world of golf is facing major challenges at the moment – at both ends of the sport’s spectrum.

The healthy rivalry among the game’s elite players has descended into a damaging war of words over the summer with breakaway LIV Golf’s so-called rebels at loggerheads with PGA loyalists.

It has created a rift between the top professionals that seems set to widen as both camps brace themselves for a long, drawn-out battle for supremacy.

It’s certainly fascinating to watch from the sidelines and only time will tell as to the damage that it does to the game we all love.

But what should be of more pressing concern for members of the golf community at large - at a grassroots level - is the future health of our clubs as post-pandemic changes take root and the cost-of-living crisis bites.

We know that there was a significant boom post-lockdown that saw membership numbers soaring but now there is evidence that the pendulum is swinging the other way.

From what we’re hearing, it appears that people are returning to pre-Covid activities and the cost-of-living crisis is affecting how they spend their disposable income.

There is more capacity to play on our golf courses, especially midweek, and the feedback we’re getting from clubs suggests they are concerned about renewals, echoing the sentiments of many observers.

‘The gentleman’s game is in dire need of a makeover,” said a headline that accompanied business columnist Matthew Gwyther’s assessment of the golf industry.

‘Fears linger about its underlying strength’, he wrote in the wake of aCovid-related bounce to 737,000 members last year that followed a dip from 882,000 in 2004 to 647,000 in 2021.

In a nutshell, he warned that if we do nothing, we can’t expect to get the same results that we've seen during that boom and I couldn’t agree more.

But that begs the big question: what should we be doing to ensure long-term viability of our golf courses”

It just shows how fast life comes at you because our industry underwent a lot of development in the 90s when lots of farmers and diversified away from pure agriculture and turned land into golf courses.

Now clubs should consider learning lessons from the farming industry by diversifying its offering by creating new cash-flows.

We should be considering what else can be offered on top of golf as the core product, to bring people in such as drive-in cinema nights and top-notch accommodation (like Soho Farmhouse in the Cotswolds).

Also, golf could well follow the example set by our friends in the licensed trade pubs.

Back in the 1980s and 90s they opened themselves to new, mixed audiences by modernising their offering and doing away with segregated settings which put off women. And recently they adjusted to Covid-19 by branching out and creating outdoor areas for people to enjoy a relaxing pint.

The Sunday carvery isn't the thing that's going to keep people going forever so maybe it’s time to reach for the culinary stars and entice people with brilliant food in the attractive settings that golf courses boast.

It makes eminent sense because you certainly want members to place their discretionary spend on food and beverage with a club rather than a competitor down the road.

But if a clubhouse’s glory has faded over the years it’s going to struggle to attract the next generation of golfers whose participation is crucial to healthy revenues and healthy futures so upgrades are important to improve the overall experience.

Yet this comes at a time when bank accounts are being eroded quickly due to increased fuel,  food and drink costs.

Just in order to pour a pint of beer now, the price of gas that actually provides the fizzy lager is going up by 40%, wage bills are going up and outside on the course the price of fertilisers has gone up. There’s just no escaping the cost-of-living crisis, is there?

From what we can tell, there has been a 10% fall in membership renewals and if the numbers are actually beginning to start to show the direction of travel, there'll be a correction in the market and supply and demand.

So, for instance, clubs need to think about how to get accommodation revenue coming in and they need to work in partnership with industry colleagues because teamwork will be essential to overcome future challenges.

It requires investment in infrastructure, the facilities, the fabric, to create mini country clubs which appeal to whole families or new courses may be returned to the housing market if clubs prove unviable.

I am proud that PlayMoreGolf – the UKs largest golfing community with 12,000 members at 250-plus clubs - can advise on modernisation.

We are in a position to do the heavy-lifting on flexible memberships and marketing and guide clubs through the transition.

We can secure new flexible members with an offering that is in keeping with modern lifestyle and budgets and meets the demands of golfers in their mid-40s, male or female.

We don’t have all the answers but I do know we are keen to help golf clubs navigate their way through what could be a challenging period as trusted counsel because we care deeply about the future of our game.

For more information about PlayMoreGolf, visit the website:

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About The Editorial Team

The editorial team at Golf Today strives to provide readers with captivating content that celebrates the rich heritage and exciting developments in the world of golf. Their collective expertise and dedication ensure that Golf Today remains a premier destination for golf enthusiasts seeking the latest news, insightful analysis, and engaging stories from the world of golf.

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