The ‘cruel’ trend that shows how much the cost-of-living crisis is hurting our clubs

Have you put the clubs away due to the economic downturn? Alastair Sinclair, who heads up points-based membership operators PlayMoreGolf, says the sport’s Covid gains are being undone

Half of golfers leaving points-based membership company PlayMoreGolf have cited cost as a significant factor in their decision.

The company, which partners with golf clubs to offer affordable membership options, have identified a new trend which suggests cost-of-living is becoming the dominant consideration when players are deciding whether to renew.

With rolling membership subscriptions coming in all year round, points based and flexible firms are being seen as the bellwether for what could happen when golf clubs hit their annual renewals next year.

Alastair Sinclair, PlayMoreGolf’s chief executive, said traditionally half of the company’s annual “leaver population”, which comprises about 20 per cent of the firm’s total numbers, would move up into another membership category at a club.

But he explained that, beginning in May and continuing throughout the rest of the year, there has been a shift. 

Sinclair said players who had joined during the Covid pandemic had already begun to alter their behaviour as working from home patterns changed and they returned to the office more regularly.

“Working from home is beginning to be eroded quite significantly and that’s having an impact on the original population of Covid-related members moving up into membership,” he said.

Now exit surveys carried out by PlayMoreGolf are showing that membership retention is going to be the key factor for the industry in 2023.

“Pre-Covid, we’d have a situation where, on average, about 50 per cent move up a category into higher denomination memberships in a golf club,” he explained.  

“The other half either go back into pay and play or they’ve left and we can’t collect the data to say where they’ve gone to.

“In May, we suddenly saw a quite pronounced change in behaviour. Whereas members were historically going up into other categories of golf membership, or moving into another club, suddenly the concept of affordability became very apparent within the reasons for people no longer renewing.  

“We’re getting nearer 50 per cent of members [who are leaving] saying affordability is becoming a significant reason for no longer being able to continue with golf membership.”

Sinclair said it was vital, as the cost-of-living crisis really starts to bite, that clubs worked with their members to understand what their income streams would be in the year ahead.

But he said the struggles some facilities will face would reveal endemic issues that have been masked by the pandemic participation boom.

“Clubs need to understand and communicate with their members to find out exactly what their intent is moving forward,” he added. “From that, they can start to have a very good understanding as to what their renewals are going to derive. They can then look to see what the shortfall in revenue is going to be and start looking at ways to plug that. 

“There are different parties out there that can help them on everything from green fee strategies to flexible membership. 

“The fundamentals always have to be: know your numbers, understand what the true costs are, and make data driven decisions. 

“It’s not all doom and gloom. It wasn’t doom and gloom before Covid either. It all came down to asset management in its purest sense. 

“There are some great asset managers out there, showing people how to run golf clubs effectively, where the hidden treasures can be unearthed, and to make those clubs financially sustainable. 

“We’re one of those solutions as well. This isn’t the death knell for golf – far from it. It’s going to be difficult, but the industry was difficult before Covid. 

“It’s been cruel, in a way, because people could say everything is fixed but the issues that were there before are still there. 

“Unfortunately, this economic scenario has unwound a lot of the gains that Covid gave. If we didn’t have inflation at more than 10 per cent, I think Covid would have carried a lot of clubs forward for a few years.”

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