How clubs can look to retain members in 2021

Kevin Markham

Seapoint Golf Links. Photo by Kevin Markham

Clearly an essential focus for golf clubs this year is how to hold onto loyal members and the new tranche that arrived on the back of Covid-19. Consider the different age groups, the different types of members, the different reasons for joining a club… and wanting to belong to a club. You will never please all of the people all of the time but assessing the best ways to keep your members is still a long and winding road of appealing not only to the largest sections of your membership, but also the most important.  

There are ideas floating around already as the year of Covid-19 is put behind us. There has never been a year like 2020, so this is undoubtedly an opportunity to try fresh approaches to dealing with, talking to and retaining members. Here are some of the obvious ones:  

  • A Membership Discount? 

Looked at in the simplest way you could offer membership discounts after the limited play of 2020. However, that doesn’t work in its most basic form as you are reducing the club’s essential income and endangering the quality of the course condition. You also have to raise that membership fee again in the future. Your loyal members will appreciate the difficult times that everyone has gone through and will stick by you because they understand the importance of what a golf club offers. 

  • In With The New 

Much has been made of the cohorts of new members and how they will abandon golf as soon as their preferred sport/s reopen. That may be true (depending on when those sports open fully) but anyone who takes up golf and falls in love with it will be playing it for many years to come. It is one of the greatest advantages of this sport.   

You may lose 50 percent of those new members when it comes to renewals but always leave the door open because you never know when they will return. At some clubs over 100 new members joined, which means that even with that loss you’ll still have over 50 new members. If you haven’t already done it – and there are many clubs that have – sort out long-term members who could take a new member under their wing, introduce them to the club and how things operate. You should also take the opportunity to ask them if there are areas where the club could improve itself. Fresh eyes could bring fresh ideas.  

  • In With The Old 

Existing members obviously deserve considerable thanks for sticking with you in 2020. How that is implemented across golf clubs will be interesting to see. How do you reward members without spending too much? One option is free green fees for another club (do a swap with a neighbour). This has proved popular over the years for those who pay their annual sub promptly. You could have a complimentary summer barbecue, although numbers might require some clever thinking for that to work.  

Some clubs have already provided an extended membership of 13 or 14 months for the price of 12. This also has the benefit of moving your annual sub cycle from the dark and depressing days of January, when golf is not high on the list of many members, to March, when members are getting excited by the prospect of the spring and summer. You might even get your subs paid more promptly. You could offer a complimentary 25 percent addition on every member’s bar and restaurant allowance, give everyone a free lunch or a free pint, or make all coffee free for 2021.   

  • Sign of the times

One final and simple option is to write a letter to your members. Not an email or newsletter. Make it personal. Have it signed by a real person (e.g. one of your Captains). Show members you care. And explain in that letter what difficulties you faced during 2020 (and into 2021) and what you were able to achieve thanks to the loyalty of your members. Sometimes a ‘thank you’ is all it takes. You could always throw in a 15 percent off voucher for the Pro Shop or restaurant. 

From small to big there are no wrong answers here… except the one where you choose to do nothing at all. If your members have stood by you then you need to find some way to acknowledge and reward them. That builds loyalty and makes for a stronger club. 

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15 responses to “How clubs can look to retain members in 2021”

  1. Stefano avatar

    Didn’t renew my membership for 2021 and changing club.
    Didn’t play for more than 12 weeks during 2020 due to lockdown, club Didn’t offer any discount or offers for 2021, they instead asked to all members to pay earlier due to low cash flow when the second lockdown came through couple of weeks ago, which I’ve found it ridiculous. So paying fee for 2021 with the impossibility to play, not a hope.

  2. Damien Mulholland avatar
    Damien Mulholland

    The GUI -sold us golfers out, they allowed golf an individual sport to be shut down twice in 2020. Plus club owners claimed the covid payment / Grants on offer then very cheekily asked us golfers to pay an increased membership, we might be Irish but we’re not totally green.
    Golfing friends vote with your pockets and pay per play or tell your club that your not willing to support the GUI by paying the GUI levy and that’s it.
    Competitions can still be played just run them like it a golf society.
    GAA allowed to continue because of money( how many times is the ball handled by different players during a game and horse racing the stable staff/ jockey / horse box not to mention food and mixing with others in the game .
    Golf is one man / woman one set of clubs / only using your own ball and it’s all individual and safe.
    Thanks Damien.

    1. Christy+mcg avatar

      Well said damien your correct on every point and I for one will not rejoin a club that’s charging full membership, pay and play is where I’m putting my money,,unfortunately I love competition and will have to pay gui fee,but there is a chance here for clubs to refuse to support the gui and organise their competitions to reflect that,we dont need to be fully dependent on the gui as they will send us down the river again,I still question what are they doing for ordinary golfers whom they get vast amounts of money,millions in fact,enjoy your golf damien,,

  3. Aaron Farrell avatar
    Aaron Farrell

    Well said Damien , and for the mental starts of the people of the country getting out in the open of a golf course and playing with friends and meet in new people on difficult times golf should have been encouraged and as it’s completely and individual sport there no health risks to anyone but yet the country bends down to the GAA and yet I am a GAA person this was the wrong decision.
    The correct decision was for the golf to be encouraged.

  4. Paul Keogh avatar
    Paul Keogh

    Golf clubs need to be a lot more creative if they are asking for €1,000+. The casual golfers might only play 25 times a year and maybe 10 of these will be society golf rounds at €25 a round.

    1. Colin Shanahan avatar
      Colin Shanahan

      Referencing the article “there are no wrong answers”, well there are and it seems to be the one I’m experiencing and its that clubs are doing nothing at all and not bothering to communicate with members. I joined a new club last year and as a new member having already suffered through two periods of paying fees for no access to the club the trend is continuing into 2021. Throughout all the lockdowns the club have never reached out to members and addressed the issue of fees or even how the collected subs will be used to maintain the club. I feel if there was open dialogue with members it may be easier to swallow having to continue paying for a service which we cannot avail of. While the GUI are the governing body and have a lot to answer for the clubs need to step up and start looking after their own members before they start cancelling memberships.

  5. Liam Bennett avatar
    Liam Bennett

    We had just enough time to get our clubs in the boot of our car when the GUI shut us down, how foolish are we to pay membership to the GUI when all they seem to do is stab us in the back. It’s also strange that Northern Ireland golf clubs were open during the last lockdown, I think we are in the wrong golf union.
    Thanks for nothing GUI,or Judas should I say.

  6. Ted avatar

    It’s certainly up to the GUI to take a hit here in regards the fee they get from all members of all Clubs associated with them. Defo moving the annual fee back to running from March to March is a no brainer and as outlined in previous comments, it’s not like staff of courses and Clubs haven’t got a form of payment while out of work like with all workers on the island, a Covid payment was paid.

  7. Tony Ridgeway avatar
    Tony Ridgeway

    It was a difficult 2020 for everyone including golfers.The simple way to reward loyalty is to extend the 2021 season from end of March to end of March 2022.I believe members will appreciate this gesture.Clubs that do nothing will leave a dour taste in members mouths.We are unsure again how 2021 will pan out so common sense needs to prevail.

  8. Brendan King avatar
    Brendan King

    Of course we would all like to be out playing golf and I totally agree that it is a very safe & healthy activity. However, the GUI is not running the country, it’s the Government that make the decisions. Bernard is correct, ‘’Golf Gate’’ sealed the fate of golf – the reality is that the media would have a field day if in their view, the exclusive game of golf, was allowed to continue, while every other non-elite sport was closed down. By the way, the GUI don’t exist anymore, the governing body is now Golf Ireland. Regarding the earlier post which compared Northern Ireland to RoI, please note that Golf Ireland is also the representative body in N.I., so blaming them doesn’t make any sense. The logical outcome of everyone moving away from club membership and opting for ‘green fee golf’ instead, is that a large number of golf clubs will close down and we will be left with a few wealthy, exclusive clubs, that will have no interest in green fees. The vast majority of golf clubs in Ireland are member owned, there isn’t some corporate in the background creaming off vast profits. If you don’t support your club, you are ultimately hurting yourself.

  9. Ken avatar

    Have to agreed with Damien well said mate.. the courses never shd be closed. My club moved the subs to march after first lock down. I reckon it probably be March before were back afain! So they may do something else they wont be getting subs off me.

  10. JW avatar

    Agree with Brendan King- most clubs are pretty much member- owned. A lot of clubs are under financial strain- the cost of maintaining courses is high and the cost likely does not lower significantly during a lockdown. It’s not like locking up a gym for 6 weeks-maintenance is still required.
    If people have problems with subs or feel incentives should be granted, they should get involved with the administration and see if some flexibility can be applied to annual subs. It’s also likely that green-fee and restaurant and bar income was poor over the year in many clubs.
    It would be a shame if clubs started closing- and they will if people try to pay as they play- when the pandemic has got more people out playing and rediscovering the virtues of the game.
    Lastly it is the government that closed the courses- “golf-gate” didn’t help- while the problem was really around a dinner as opposed to golf, the action was taken purely to get the population in general to buy into the lockdown.

  11. Carmel Clarke avatar
    Carmel Clarke

    From my perspective golf clubs varied with Lockdown rules .. in our club everything but Pro shop was closed .. even the toilets which I totally disagree with as members had no option but to use the bushes on the course as toilets .. I’d like to know who decided to close toilets for members while pro staff had use of facilities ! We travelled to many courses during the summer and had most facilities available with guidelines

  12. Alan smith avatar
    Alan smith

    My understanding is gui/golf Ireland exist to support, maintain & promote golf. The amateur golfer, at the grassroots level who are in the main members of golf clubs throughout the country HAVE to pay a compulsory levy to gui/golf Ireland. In reality what have we got from them over the past 12 months? All clubs & their members surely have to question their continued support for this toothless outfit.
    The value of their existence in these times I would suggest is zero . When the going gets tough, the tough get going etc etc ……… where are you, I can’t hear you gui/golf Ireland.

  13. Sheosamh in Conaire avatar
    Sheosamh in Conaire

    Why do us golfers pay a gui levie?
    The fat cats of gui dont help us in any tangible way.

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