The New Year was ushered in with some good news for English golf clubs.
Figures are suggesting that memberships increased in 2016, the first time they have done so this century, with the percentage of golfers in England who are now members of clubs more than 46%, dramatically up from less than 37% in 2011.
Yet with an estimated 30 golf clubs having closed in the past six years, and several others on the brink of collapse, the future of many of our nation’s courses looks to be anything but guaranteed.
A week after Golf Club Management released the promising membership figures, Hassocks Golf Club in Sussex announced that they were downsizing to nine-holes to make way for 130 homes, a decision the club announced as essential if they were to secure its future.
The move is a trend which has been replicated across the country.
Last October, Channels Golf Club in Essex, Kyngs Golf and Country Club in Leicestershire, Glinisla Golf Club in Scotland, and Padbrook Park Golf Club in Exeter, all announced their closure within the space of a few days, each citing the economic climate as the major cause.
Reasons for the rise in golf club closures is up for debate, with time, the cost of joining fees and the exponential rise of cycling all postulated as potential reasons.
While courses throughout the United Kingdom are trying to grapple with the problems caused by golfers’ changing habits, the closures look set to continue, at least for the immediate future.
Nonetheless there appears to be a remarkable link between those clubs who have begun offering flexible membership schemes and those which are thriving. Golf At Goodwood was forced to cap their membership after their credit programme proved a roaring success, while Wycombe Heights Golf Centre in Buckinghamshire, saw 150 members join last year alone after replacing the traditional one-off lump sum payment with a pay-as-you-play membership option.
It appears that those clubs wishing to survive must adapt to the changing way in which golfers consume the sport. With few able to justify paying high joining fees or yearly memberships, the modern golfer appears far more attracted to schemes which require only a small upfront amount, followed by small payments each time they get out onto the course. Courses promoting shorter formats of the sport or promoting footgolf also appear to be riding the game’s changing tide far more comfortably than those sticking to more traditional methods.
Meanwhile golf participation appears to have received a boost in the past eighteen months with statistics collected by England Golf suggesting that participation has now plateaued following a period of decline.
National Golf Month have also suggested that over 140,000 people who were new to the sport or recently lapsed have come back to golf over the past 3 years, promising statistics for the various governing bodies who have thrown their resources into boosting participation.
Will these figures translate into an improved environment for the UK’s golf clubs? Only time will tell.
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