Should This Be the End of Cheap Pay and Play Deals

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GB72

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I mentioned this in another thread but thought it may be worth a thread on its own.

Since the lockdown eased, my old club, and a few others that I have seen on Social Media, have (as someone predicted on here) posted a significant rise in membership applications as it is the only way to access many golf courses. My question is, is this the way to move forward for golf clubs.

It is often been said on here that cheap tee times on 3rd Party websites have been the finest example of golf shooting itself in the foot. On one hand, clubs have been saying that they are struggling for members whilst, on the other, they have given people a perfect way to play as much golf as they want, when they want at a cheap price. I think on any day last year I could have found a round of golf somewhere near me for about £15 a head. Compare that the membership costs (and I am thinking more of those who can only play once or twice a week at most) and it is no wonder that many go nomad.

Maybe this is the way forward for golf clubs. Simply cut access to non members significantly, remove the option of being able to play when you want with no commitment and focus on just members and societies. I am not sure that you would have to turn many of those paying for cheap rounds in to full time members to recoup the money that would have been received in green fees. With the rise of flexible memberships, points systems etc, there are ways to access golf without the expense of a full membership.

OK, the other side is access to golf as a whole. To some, these deals are the only way that they can access a course and so taking them away would effectively stop them playing golf, so the counter argument may be that it does hinder the spread of the game in general but is it the responsibility of clubs to put the game as a whole before their own interests.

There are 2 very distinct sides to this and I suspect that your view will be based on whether you are a member or one of makes use of club deals but it remains an interesting debate.
 

PaulS

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Right now courses are playing 2 balls with large gaps with most courses trying to satisfy the membership who have paid fees during the lockdown

The minute it’s 4 balls and smaller gaps then pay and play clubs and members clubs will look to bring in the green fees to boost up the coffers

It’s the same with slow play - can’t make judgements on changes when the way golf is being played right now is under strict guidelines.

Come back in 12 months time and you will see nothing has changed
 

Kaz

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Don't think it'll end the deals in the long term but what might happen is more players join clubs to get a game in the short term, like it and keep it going afterwards.
 

Orikoru

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Err no thank you. One of the biggest complaints is how 'expensive' golf is (whether we know that to be true or not, it's a perception people have), this would just be making that worse. I like being able to play different courses, would be dull if I only played the one I was a member at because I couldn't get on any others.

There are still quite a few clubs near me that heavily limit when visitors can play, like it might be Sunday afternoons only on the weekends, and certain midweek days.
 
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GB72

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Right now courses are playing 2 balls with large gaps with most courses trying to satisfy the membership who have paid fees during the lockdown

The minute it’s 4 balls and smaller gaps then pay and play clubs and members clubs will look to bring in the green fees to boost up the coffers

It’s the same with slow play - can’t make judgements on changes when the way golf is being played right now is under strict guidelines.

Come back in 12 months time and you will see nothing has changed
But the point is, should it change. Those people taking advantage of pay and play deals are not going to move to full membership when they can play at a time that suits at a good price. By removing that, you are pushing people towards looking at membership. if clubs had the membership levels to cover the annual costs, the lockdown would have caused fewer financial issues as the already existing fixed income would cover the annual outgoings. You have even have had clubs not having to furlough greenkeeping staff and improving the course during lockdown as the funding was in place to pay them.

I am not saying I support this (actually currently not a member anywhere and maybe a good example of someone who is looking for an option away from full membership) but I still think it is an interesting debate.
 

fundy

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Nothings changed, the clubs that can get through this just with their membership (and a small increase in fees probably), assuming they are able to get catering/bar revenue back soonish, and have full membership or close to may well be able to stay members only

The majority of clubs and courses however have now got a huge hole in their finances that is growing the longer the bar is shut and they arent getting incomes from visitors and societies. Only a matter of time until these clubs clamour for that additional income and for me the majority of clubs are going to be looking to take more not less visitors and societies going forward

A quick jump on golfnow tells me that for monday i can already get a visitors slot for 3 local clubs for less than £20 for 18 holes and have seen at least 2 others on facebook advertising the same

Theres a lot of clubs out there that need to restructure how they do business otherwise for a lot its going to be a race to the bottom imo, at which point we will see a large increase in clubs/courses disappearing

Edit:
Short term clubs may be gaining a few nomads as members, medium to longer term member numbers are far more likely to go the other way with the recession and job losses that are coming countrywide, people not being able to afford expensive memberships (especially as some clubs will be needing to put prices up) and having other priorities for their finances
 
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DCB

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I have always been against the various deals that have come and in some cases gone over the years. There was always only one winner, the person behind the offer/ deal coupon or voucher. Having a 3rd party sell tee times at less than a clubs standard visitor rate isn't going to bring that much extra into the club. The 3rd party seller makes sure he's okay though. The club, well, they get a few £££ but not that much. Even if a large volume are sold this way, the club doesn't win.

The past ten or twelve years have dramatically changed the way golf club membership numbers have been. This may well be a starting point to allow clubs to fight back. Of course there is a wider argument as to what clubs need to offer to bring in new members, but this could be a good starting point for that as well. I always used to deal with the club or the pro directly if planning an away day, for the group of four of us who played regularly we always seemed to get good deals going direct to the club or pro.
 

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Golf club membership offers great value (different from expensive) and flexibility for all. It also doesn’t stop you from playing other courses - in fact you can do so via club membership sometimes at a greatly reduced or even no cost.
 

Grizzly

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There are 2 very distinct sides to this and I suspect that your view will be based on whether you are a member or one of makes use of club deals but it remains an interesting debate.
I see both sides of this - which I suppose I would as I am in precisely this position at present. I'd intended to arrange to join a club from 1st April and get into that way of playing the game as, whilst I genuinely enjoy playing a range of courses, there are downsides in terms of lack of community, lack of handicap and therefore the option to dip my toes into competitions and the like but never got around to it because I was tied up in COVID planning. Now, with my boss pointed referencing the hours I'm owed, I'd love to get out more - but my options are strictly limited it seems. I reckon clubs that manage to balance both may find themselves in a better position long term arising from this situation!
 
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But the point is, should it change. Those people taking advantage of pay and play deals are not going to move to full membership when they can play at a time that suits at a good price. By removing that, you are pushing people towards looking at membership. if clubs had the membership levels to cover the annual costs, the lockdown would have caused fewer financial issues as the already existing fixed income would cover the annual outgoings. You have even have had clubs not having to furlough greenkeeping staff and improving the course during lockdown as the funding was in place to pay them.

I am not saying I support this (actually currently not a member anywhere and maybe a good example of someone who is looking for an option away from full membership) but I still think it is an interesting debate.
The current difficulty in getting tee times is being driven by the current pandemic situation. A combination of:

Reduced numbers of players allowed due to 2-ball limit.
Golf junkies suddenly being allowed to play again after a near 2 month ban.
Very nice weather.
Lots of people being furloughed, so still having an income but having to fill their day.

If in a year's time the world is pretty much back to normal, golf will probably be back to where it was last year. New members are likely signing up to memberships at the moment because they have a lot of free time right now, and plenty of courses are currently operating as members only. But when these people go back to work and only have time to play once a week again, will they stay as members?

I think this is an opportunity for golf in the short term to cash in in terms of tee times and membership sales, but also in the long term to try and then retain these new members. But I don't see the face of golf in this country changing back to being 'members only'. Once 4-balls return, we have a couple of weeks of some crap weather, and the vast majority of people are back to work full-time, then getting a tee time will be like before for most places - easy. And once that happens, cheaper tee times will be available once again.

Supply and demand, as always, rules.
 
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GB72

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Golf club membership offers great value (different from expensive) and flexibility for all. It also doesn’t stop you from playing other courses - in fact you can do so via club membership sometimes at a greatly reduced or even no cost.
This is where i have to disagree with the generality of that statement. I am not in an uncommon position, I work all week and have family to spend time with and so I can play once a week most weeks, twice occasionally, sometimes not at all. My club had nothing but 7 day membership and so actually nearly £1000.00 a year for the amount of golf I was playing was not value when compared to pay and play deals available. You add in to that the time lost this year due to the weather and that is what pushed my decision not to renew. For those who can only play at weekends in the main (and that is quite a few) a traditional 7 day membership does not offer massive value.
 
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GB72

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The current difficulty in getting tee times is being driven by the current pandemic situation. A combination of:

Reduced numbers of players allowed due to 2-ball limit.
Golf junkies suddenly being allowed to play again after a near 2 month ban.
Very nice weather.
Lots of people being furloughed, so still having an income but having to fill their day.

If in a year's time the world is pretty much back to normal, golf will probably be back to where it was last year. New members are likely signing up to memberships at the moment because they have a lot of free time right now, and plenty of courses are currently operating as members only. But when these people go back to work and only have time to play once a week again, will they stay as members?

I think this is an opportunity for golf in the short term to cash in in terms of tee times and membership sales, but also in the long term to try and then retain these new members. But I don't see the face of golf in this country changing back to being 'members only'. Once 4-balls return, we have a couple of weeks of some crap weather, and the vast majority of people are back to work full-time, then getting a tee time will be like before for most places - easy. And once that happens, cheaper tee times will be available once again.

Supply and demand, as always, rules.

I guess the counter to that is also based on the supply and demand element. Clubs are in a unique position to cut off the supply to pay and play golfers and then it is who can wait it out the longest. Is the pay and play golfer going to stop playing or are they going to take the membership option. Are the club going to need that green fee money before they can recoup enough in new memberships.

It is a strange point that golf clubs create and excess supply of the product, sell the excess off cheap and then wonder why people will not pay full price for it.
 

fundy

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I guess the counter to that is also based on the supply and demand element. Clubs are in a unique position to cut off the supply to pay and play golfers and then it is who can wait it out the longest. Is the pay and play golfer going to stop playing or are they going to take the membership option. Are the club going to need that green fee money before they can recoup enough in new memberships.

It is a strange point that golf clubs create and excess supply of the product, sell the excess off cheap and then wonder why people will not pay full price for it.
How many clubs are in a position financially to do that currently? And how many of them will still be in that position in 3-6 mths time having had no additional summer income bar some new memberships

They are also only in that position if they are all doing so, which is clearly not the case already as there are plenty of pay and play options about again already
 

Crow

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Interesting opening question, which brought something else to mind.

Is the availability of cheap tee times at members courses also a reason for the decline and in many cases closure of municipal courses?

Why play at the local municipal when you can get on a members course for the same rate?
Is this a bullet in the other foot?
 

IanM

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I can't see how you can legislate for future policy based on the current situation. Although the debate is an interesting one. I'd say it wont be the end of cheap deals, and nor should it.

Tee times are scarce as (in Wales) we are only allowed to play in ones and twos. After a 9 week layoff in wonderful weather, everyone is gagging to play! So, no visitors at all and courses (like ours) who as a rule, have no bookable starting times have had to enforce on-line booking! Visitor Green fees were deliberately set higher last year to ensure better access for members. We also have a full membership.

There must be a huge number of variations on a theme of how clubs operate, their level of usage, location, branding, polices, pricing etc

In short,
  • Top end clubs, members' club with full membership etc are not going to be seeking the marginal £15 from a visitor.
  • However, there are other clubs where visitor green fees are the difference between solvency and spud-farming!!
 

Kaz

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This is where i have to disagree with the generality of that statement. I am not in an uncommon position, I work all week and have family to spend time with and so I can play once a week most weeks, twice occasionally, sometimes not at all. My club had nothing but 7 day membership and so actually nearly £1000.00 a year for the amount of golf I was playing was not value when compared to pay and play deals available. You add in to that the time lost this year due to the weather and that is what pushed my decision not to renew. For those who can only play at weekends in the main (and that is quite a few) a traditional 7 day membership does not offer massive value.
I agree with you on this. I can also only play weekday evenings and weekends and pay £1400/year for membership. Didn't realise this when I joined, but it turns out that our competition arrangements mean that, as a female, I'm unable to get on on the course before late afternoon/evening on about a third of weekend days. I play a lot, no doubt, but a lot of that is on other courses. I dread to think how much I am paying on average per round at my home course.

Now, of course, there are other benefits of membership and lots of my "away" golf comes by virtue of my membership whether that be team golf or even just stuff that is enabled by having a handicap. Still,if all you are interested is getting a semi-regular game the cost of membership doesn't stack up.
 
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GB72

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It is a fun debate and I will agree that much of what I post is pie in the sky type thinking but I do find it interesting. The big thing that comes to my mind is that golf clubs in general could be losing out on memberships because they inadvertently created a product that was better for many that the ones the clubs was offering. On one hand, there is club membership, pay X amount every year and play one course when you want. On the other hand, you can be a nomad, play a number of courses and only pay when you are actually playing and play at cheap rates as well with convenient online booking.

I was trying to remember the figures from my club AGM and could not but lets say a club took £100000.00 in green fees etc. You would still want societies as those big groups are, in many cases, members elsewhere and also normally come with a food spend built in to the price and lets say they are 30% of the green fee income. That means a club would need, at my former club's membership costs, to find about 75 new members to cover that loss. it you imagine how many people have played the course to generate that income, if you cut off the supply of pay and play golf in the area (may not be the case but clubs in my area seem to act like a cartel and prices, policies etc are similar) then you cannot tell me that 75 of those would not move to join a club.
 
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Members of clubs paying their subs so that a facility is available for those who can't - or choose not to - afford to join a club. Sounds like nomads are onto a good 'un.

However - surely it's all about the subs; a club managing non-members access to tee times; and where the club is in the country.

I'm thinking that if I don't like what might seem like a money-grabbing attitude of a proprietary club - or indeed a members club - on visitor green fees then I look elsewhere. If I know that the club really needs the income as it is reluctant to increase subs - then again - I can make my choice. And much of this is going to be all about the choice available and what the local market can sustain.

Those of us living and playing our golf at members clubs in the Surrey/Hants/Berks borders area (and there are a fair few of us on here) know how much membership costs for a decent members club. And on the basis of the subs we pay I suggest that we do not expect our course to be a free-for-all (exaggeration) for nomads or causal golfers - members expect a high level of availability - it's part of what we pay for.

I suspect that most members clubs in our area do not have any significant dependency on visitor green fees - and most will not be on a 'cheap golf deals' website. You can't play my track 'on the cheap' - unless you know a member :) But of course when you do pay to play my track (it's not that expensive) I hope that you get an excellent and very enjoyable experience - and that's what a higher visitors green fee gives you.

The clubs know that the local market exists for clubs such as mine - but we have to keep the quality of the 'offering' high - and to be seen to be continually introducing improvements. We can't stand still. Keeping the offering quality high costs money and that needs members. Lose members and the income drops - the quality suffers - the membership drops - the income drops...The only way to break that cycle is increased subs and/or more visitors. Both of which risk driving members away. Vicious...

So I don't think that there is one answer - Yes or No - to the OP question. It all depends...and you pays your money...if a club has to sell cheaper rounds to keep viable then so be it. I doubt that where a club needs visitors that reducing access to it will increase membership - it might - but a bit of a gamble.
 
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I guess the counter to that is also based on the supply and demand element. Clubs are in a unique position to cut off the supply to pay and play golfers and then it is who can wait it out the longest. Is the pay and play golfer going to stop playing or are they going to take the membership option. Are the club going to need that green fee money before they can recoup enough in new memberships.

It is a strange point that golf clubs create and excess supply of the product, sell the excess off cheap and then wonder why people will not pay full price for it.
I get that, but cutting off supply of an item or service that isn't vital, isn't going to work. At the moment demand is outstripping supply in golf, but as I mentioned previously, this is because of the current situation in the UK - lots of free time, 2-balls only, etc.
 
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