It was particularly difficult to bear the suspension of golf back in March, when the coronavirus lockout kicked in and people were only allowed to stick their heads out the window for a quick gulp of air before heading to the basement.
The sight of clean courses being used by the public for such pastimes as family picnics, bike trips, soccer games and sporadic vandalism was an additional cause for belly rumbling in the golfing culture for paying members at clubs around the country.
There were several clubs eking out a hand-to-mouth life before Covid-19 that would make Oliver Twist look like Warren Buffett.
But when golf was permitted again while other sporting sports stayed on the prohibited list, in the midst of the pandemic’s destruction, members witnessed a timely revival.
Kevin Fish, a leading expert on golf club leadership and growth who frequently conducts surveys and research on the general state of the UK, said, “When we entered Covid, some clubs were clinging to their fingertips, thinking ‘this could put us out of business for good,'” Oh. Industry.
“It really gave a lot of a boost eight months later. Usually, clubs have lost six percent of their members over the past 20 years. Many clubs were still collecting dues in March of this year, and there was a real risk that resignations would hit 11 percent or more. So the concern was understandable.
But are you seeing what’s happened? All of a sudden, as golf opened up and other sports stayed off-limits, all these people who had thought twice about their membership were scurrying to get it back. With such pressure on the tee, the closure revealed that you’d better become a member if you wanted to be sure to play golf.
“Clubs were getting a new wave of people knocking on the door. By July, the average number was somewhere between 40 and 50 new members.”
Fish, a former club manager and growth specialist at Scottish Golf, acknowledges that the situation is still “volatile,” adding, “Those clubs that rely on the highly lucrative overseas visitor market have suffered the most, with some looking at a seven-figure gap in their budgets.”
With clubhouses running on small budgets, the full benefits of membership are often difficult to display. “It’s hard to create a sense of belonging in a club because members only use the green lawn and not the other social areas,” Fish said.
“But the crisis has also shaken up longtime golfers to understand their role as guardians of their club for future generations, not just dues-paying customers like at a local gym.”
Many clubs have been given a new perspective in the middle of the tumult of confusion the pandemic has stirred up.
“Golf as a whole needs to be viewed cautiously in light of the crisis, but the lockdown has generally been good for the industry at the club level,” Fish added. On the part of clubs, club managers reported a greater willingness to redefine themselves, whether by the influx of younger members or, in other situations, a loosening of the game rules that also helped to speed up the game.
“Everyone has had the opportunity to take a hard look at their club and how it’s run, and is now ready to get advice to make sure the club is still around for the next generation.”
There’s no room for complacency, of course. Clubs must find a way to consolidate and build on this newfound momentum instead of following up a metaphorical birdie putt on the seventh green with a crippling drive off the eighth tee.
As the cruel social and economic impacts of the corona virus continue to be felt, it will be easier said than done.
“The trick is for clubs to make sure that members care enough that they really can’t live without their membership in the local golf club,” Fish said. In this recession, very few people would cancel their broadband because we can’t live without it. But can clubs do enough to persuade the new generation of golfers that they can’t live without their membership in golf?”