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  • Alistair Tait

Will the last golf club member please turn out the lights?

Updated: Mar 5, 2020

Littlestone Golf Club is revamping its membership structure to try to attract younger members. (Photograph: Jason Livy) It’s not the only club in the British Isles struggling to boost its membership.

These are not good times for many golf clubs across Great Britain. I’m afraid they only have themselves to blame.

Numbers don’t lie. The most recent figures from KPMG prove golf club membership is not as attractive as it was. According to KPMG’s Golf Participation Report for Europe 2019 published late last year, golf club membership has fallen significantly in the past five years.

Wales saw a 16.92% loss from the 51,445 members in 2014 to 42,743.

Scotland experienced a 14.07% drop. There were 209,812 golf club members in the Home of Golf in 2014. There are now 180,281.

KPMG shows a figure of 645,151 English golf club members versus 712,390 in 2014, a 9.43% drop.

That’s 105,472 fewer golf club members in the last five years.

Many golf clubs simply haven’t moved with the times. Young members haven’t exactly been made to feel welcome at many clubs. They’ve been treated appallingly by some. There are plenty of anecdotes to support that claim.

I’ll give you one that highlights a prevalent attitude in the not too distant past. The son of a friend of mine turned up at his golf club to play at the designated post 3pm time for juniors. He was on the putting green at 2:45 and noticed the course was completely empty, with no groups preparing to play. So he wandered onto the tee at 2:50pm only for the secretary to come screaming out of his office telling him he couldn’t play until 3pm. That boy didn’t play golf for another 10 years.

Thankfully he came back, but think of the number of youngsters who didn’t return to the game because of the restrictive practices they experienced as juniors. Don’t play at this time. Keep out of this room. Make sure you’re seen and not heard.

We still hear stories of promising juniors who aren’t allowed to play in club championships because they’re too young. I say if they’re good enough then let them play.

Golf’s historic treatment of women is well documented. It’s downright shameful. The game is struggling at the moment to make amends for treating half the population with utter contempt for so long. No wonder it’s now an uphill task to entice girls and women to take up the game.

Membership structures haven’t exactly been user friendly to many members in the past. Expecting a 27 year old to pay the same as a 47 year old was just plain barmy. When you’re trying to balance a new career, perhaps a new family and your first mortgage then no wonder golf club membership had to take a back seat.

Littlestone has made a good move in reducing the membership for players in the 25-30 year old range from £1,000 to £650 with no joining fee.

This superb links on England’s south coast obviously isn’t the only club trying to adapt to the times.

Many clubs would do well to copy Goodwood’s long running user-friendly membership system that chimes better with today’s society than the traditional membership structure. Check it out here:

Many clubs have had to do away with joining fees to try to attract members.

In general, golf clubs have been slow to adapt, which is why many are struggling. The days of the old boys’ club are fading fast. Many need to adopt a more business-like attitude. Many have not served their customers well, and are still not. Like any business, if you don’t look after your customers then you have no business.

Will the last golf club member please turn off the lights?

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