The membership model is nearly dead

It’s time for clubs to face the facts: the traditional membership model is stuck in the rough.

This became blatantly apparent to me as I recently shopped around for a club to join. Having received the “OK” from my wife to spend some of our ‘hard-earned’ on a membership, I embarked on a quest to some local clubs to see what they had to offer.

Firstly, I was looking for a 5-day membership (my weekends are mostly dedicated to my wife and two boys).  I wanted a good-quality course (obviously), a club that was family/junior friendly (as this is, after all, a family decision these days), and a progressive/forward-thinking Board. Most importantly, though, it had to be affordable.

Maybe I was being naive, but I had assumed that with so many clubs struggling to attract/retain members, there would be heaps of innovative offers/options out there to choose from.

In truth, I was amazed at how stodgy and archaic the majority of membership offers were.  One club, for example, offered ONLY 7-day memberships; another offered 5-day memberships ONLY to women (fortunately, I don’t look good in a dress); very few had any sort of cadet/junior golf program for my boys, while many clubs had membership restrictions and rather large joining fees.

I found myself checking the calendar to make sure I hadn’t been transported back in time. Were they kidding? I mean, these courses were nice, but it’s not as if I were looking to join an upper echelon club like Royal Melbourne (I wish).

Why wouldn’t a club do everything in its power to entice as many golfers as possible? Why not offer, say, a 1- or 2-day membership?  How about a membership “credits” system (like Keysborough recently launched)?  Why not offer an all-encompassing Family Membership for one set subscription? Why not expand your reciprocal clubs to include HEAPS of courses (like RACV/the Sandbelt clubs/the Yarra golf courses do)?  Why not have free golf for kids (like WA’s Wembley Golf Course offers). Why not ALL of these?

If you think you’ll find salvation in, say, a new clubhouse, think again. While it is nice for weddings/corporates, the reality is that golfers will spend 4+ hours on the course, and only 15 minutes in the clubhouse afterwards. As long as the beer is cold, the food is hot and the conversation warm, we don’t really care what surrounds us (as long as it isn’t a block of pokies, which I’ve written about before.).

The fact is, there are heaps of great public access courses out there, and most families are time-poor and financially-strapped. So the competition for a golfer’s cash is fierce.  Even if it is spread out over a monthly payment plan. We want value for our money, some quality golf, and a bit of variety. That’s not too much to ask, is it?

While I won’t name the club that I ended up joining (that’s not the point of this article) I will say that they are progressive, very friendly, affordable and flexible.  The course is nice and my family is welcome.

And yes, the beer is cold.

As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

By Richard Fellner

Winner of multiple Australian Golf Media Awards – including "Best Column" for his monthly Starters Box column as Editor for Inside Golf Magazine – Richard Fellner is the quintessential Golf Tragic—having played the game for over 40 years (but has never gotten any better.) He has played and reviewed courses all over the world, and has interviewed many of the great players of the game (including Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson and Greg Norman). Richard is a member of both the Australian Golf Writers Association and the Golf Society of Australia, and he is a regular guest on many Australian "sports talk" radio shows and networks, including ABC Grandstand, SEN 1116, Melbourne Talk Radio 1377, 2GB and others.

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