Are the days you play when you want about to change?

We’re used to the seven-day membership being all-inclusive, but industry experts think change is on the horizon

I pay over £1000 for golf club membership. It might seem like a small beer to some of you who live in the south, but it’s apparently grim in the north – it really isn’t – and it’s still part of my salary.

For that sizable expense, I get a seven-day subscription and the ability to play most of it whenever I want. I can probably do it every day if I want to.

That’s what we pay for. The freedom of choice. But could times change? If we revisit this discussion a decade from now, will we still be able to play whenever we want?

The issue of fair use is a debate that vaguely echoes around some golf clubs and some predict it will only intensify in the months and years to come. While the pandemic has brought a dramatic influx of new players to clubs, for many it has also brought a problem they have never seen before.

These new members all wanted to play – often in fact – and alongside the demands of existing players, they tightened the starting sheet.

Suddenly it was the fastest finger to get a precious place in the competition and some players were left empty-handed and grumbling.

The unprecedented demand in the immediate post-lockdown period was such that many clubs rationed the number of rounds players could book.

Some, like Royal Norwich, have kept these arrangements in place. Inspired by a move to a new course and a pandemic surge on the fairways, the club has over 1,200 members and a significant proportion of them enjoy a points option.

An every man for himself on their tee sheet would not satisfy a fraction of everyone. Thus, members can only have four priority bookings on the system within a 13 day period at the Weston Park club. That doesn’t stop them from playing more, but they can only book extras on the day of the game and if the tee times are free.

“Some members will say it’s a terrible thing,” Royal Norwich chief executive James Stanley said in explaining the policy. “But that’s only because they can’t play millionaire golf.

“It will only make them a better golf club because they have more opportunities to engage with it over the time they are members.”

If players aren’t happy with fair dealing at Royal Norwich, they don’t seem to be voting with their feet. Membership is always dynamic.

But easing the pressure on a crowded tee sheet is only part of the equation. Another question is whether membership as it stands is of value to all members.

In an opinion piece for the Association of Golf Club Managerstheir former national captain, David O’Sullivan, asked whether current membership structures provide all golfers with the same opportunities.

He called golf club membership a “good deal for some”, making the fairly obvious – but largely overlooked – point that if retired golfers and active players pay the same fee, one is probably playing much fewer parts than the other.

“Perhaps it’s time to ask exactly what we offer for the cost of annual membership,” he wrote.

O’Sullivan suggested setting a fee covering up to a certain number of rounds per year, with any extra charged on top. After establishing a base, it would be easier, he argued, to be fairer by introducing other memberships that would be attractive to other groups.

He concluded: “A golf club membership fee set at a price regardless of the number of rounds played is only suitable for retirees.

“It’s time to remember that private golf clubs are sports venue custodians with generous tax benefits. We should therefore set dues that are fair for all and do not favor a certain age group.

There will be golf clubs that might have issues with this given how the working player can sustain their returns. There is also reportedly a debate over the weekend usage premium but, even so, the debate seems to be heating up.

These points-based memberships, once considered part of the race to the bottom, anecdotally seem to be proving increasingly popular. If more members begin to migrate to these options because they fit better into their lives and represent better value, clubs will need to focus more on them.

Perhaps the attendance boom is at its peak and overall demand for golf, which has yet to show any signs of abating if Sports Marketing Surveys’ last rounds played review in Britain and Ireland is any judge, will begin to fall back to pre-2020 levels.

But if they don’t and demand for tee times remains high, clubs will be well aware that there’s little that sends a golfer out the door faster than frustration. not being able to play.

Are we about to see a change in membership dynamics? Like many things with post-Covid golf, the future is indeed looking very interesting.

What do you think? Is all-you-can-eat membership here to stay or should we get used to seeing our fees pay for a certain number of spins? Let me know in the comments, or Tweet me.

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