The wind of change in the golf industry continues to blow at gale force but from my experiences in the first quarter of 2019, golf clubs are beginning to respond in a positive manner rather than simply battening down the hatches.

This change is no more apparent when it comes to golf clubs developing more value for club membership and communicating that value in a more professional manner. The fact that Albatross have taken on over 20 new clubs, keen to use digital marketing to speak to their local golfing audience is testament to this change in approach.

The big shift though is that the vast majority of these new clients are what would be considered as traditional private member clubs. Some of these clubs are small 9 hole facilities and some are more established member clubs with over 100 years of history who still command a joining fee. With the exception of a very small percentage of elite clubs, the membership decline that has plagued the industry has climbed the ladder to those clubs who thought they were untouchable, the clubs who thought their reputation alone would see them retain and attract new members as they always have done.

What does this mean? It means reputation alone is no longer good enough and golf clubs have to communicate their value consistently and professionally. The good news, clubs are tuning into this and those clubs that were the early adopters of this approach have benefitted massively by capturing a new local audience and setting themselves apart from the golf industry’s standard snail pace reaction.

I’m fortunate in the fact that I travel around the UK visiting all different types of golf clubs and experiencing first hand how they operate. I see clubs that are ahead of the game and therefore thriving, and clubs who are yet to understand and react to their difficult situation.

From this I have come to understand that there are several stages at which golf clubs find themselves.

The Danger Stage

Unfortunately, the all too common stage of declining membership numbers. This leads to clubs cutting costs, not investing in their facilities and an alarming decline in standards.

Re-evaluating costs has been a very worthwhile exercise for a lot of clubs who have operated a certain way for so many years. Greater efficiencies in areas such as staff, house, greens and even the pro shop have helped clubs to become more streamlined. However, there is a fine line between making a club more efficient and damaging the club’s standards and product that only assists in the overall decline of the club.

Generally, these clubs are still suffering a net loss when it comes to membership numbers each year and are yet to understand the need to promote the club professionally to the local golfing audience. The fact they are still cutting costs means there is no room to invest in sales and marketing but without promoting the golf club, how can they expect to arrest the dangerous slide to becoming a housing estate?!

Unfortunately for these clubs the gap is only going to get wider as other clubs continue to invest and develop their golfing product and offering.

The Realisation Stage

Often the realisation stage comes at the end of the cost cutting exercise when clubs understand that there is nowhere else to go but to increase revenue. At this stage the decision is made to invest in some form of marketing or advertising.

Some clubs would look to a member with a marketing background for help or perhaps set up a marketing sub-committee to discuss and explore the club’s options. It is likely they would be given a modest budget say £5-£10k to deliver some results and get the golf club out to the local audience.

Traditionally this budget would be spent on advertising in the local newspaper, associated golfing press, a society magazine, perhaps a leaflet drop and for the more forward thinking of clubs they may look to dip their toe into the world of social media advertising.

The important thing at this stage is at least there is a realisation that the club needs a change in approach and is looking to embrace that change.

The Growth Stage

Once a club has had the realisation that investing in promoting the club is an absolute must, they look for a professional approach that can deliver a return on their marketing investment.

Often the volunteer member or marketing committee start out strong but, as with the vast majority of volunteer led initiatives, this tails off when the pressures of day to day life inevitably take priority. However, the club has made the first steps, they have invested in marketing, they have seen the potential and are now ready to take it to the next stage.

The Investment Stage

More and more clubs are now in the investment stage, which is incredibly positive for the golf industry. These clubs were likely the early adopters when it comes to understanding that investing in the club was vital to address the slide of a declining membership.

These clubs have a marketing strategy that works and enables the club to deliver more revenue. Which is reinvested in staff and facilities to improve standards and continue the club’s growth and development. We have seen clubs achieve the elusive waiting list again! fill their society forward book and increase green fee revenue by adding value rather than discounting price.

This stage is not exclusive to those corporate or proprietary clubs although many of them are ahead of the game in this respect and are backed up by a professional approach to sales. They get on the phone to the leads generated through their marketing efforts and convert more sales and generate more revenue. For further information on the importance of the ‘follow-up process’ see our article here.

So what does this mean to your club?

If you recognise yourself as in the ‘danger stage’ the gap is only going to get wider from those clubs in the ‘investment stage’ unless you take action. The action doesn’t need to be dramatic, you could order an audit of costs, or a better solution would be to skip straight to the ‘growth stage’.

I attribute the growth of Albatross to more and more clubs reaching the ‘growth stage’, looking to outsource their marketing to an agency that specialises in golf marketing and which has a proven track record in delivering results.

Any questions?

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About the author

Sam Poole
Sam Poole

With over 7 years’ experience working in a variety of roles within the golf industry, including General Manager at both Sale Golf Club and Leigh Golf Club, Sam has vast knowledge and experience of what it takes to be successful in the modern golfing landscape. Sam has an infectious passion for the game of golf and is quite a handy player with a handicap of 4

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