MANY Australian golf clubs are battling to stay afloat. Recent research from within the golf industry estimates that around 50% of the 1600 Australian golf clubs are in some level of financial trouble, primarily due to the decline in club memberships.
The decline has largely been attributed to golfers struggling to find time to play due to family and work commitments, and membership is no longer an affordable option.
Even if you have the cash, it is not always easy to justify the joining fees when you barely have time to clean your clubs, let alone play 18 holes of golf each week.
It’s also been estimated that of the approximate 1.2 million golfers in Australia - 2 out of every 3 - are social golfers; golfers who are not affiliated with any golf club whatsoever.
So it’s not surprising to see golf clubs are offering discounted, flexible options on club memberships trying to capture this social golf market - often specifically aimed at golfers in the 20 to 35-year-old age bracket. The millennials, or Gen-Y’s, as they are occasionally termed.
Clubs are now actively targeting these golfers, not only to reverse financial woes but to balance out the top-heavy, aging club membership demographic and breathe new life into some staid golf club environments.
After the boom club days of the 1980s, some clubs are trying to play catch-up, finally removing their heads from the sand.
Special deals on memberships range from more flexible membership options, discounts for friends joining at the same time and waiving or discounting the joining fees.
But some people have suggested that these incentives don’t go far enough and clubs need to do more to attract younger golfers such as relaxing some of the more antiquated, dress code rules.
Greg Norman recently weighed into the conversation and proposed a few crazy ideas to the BBC ahead of last year’s Open Championship.
"If a kid wants to get in a golf cart and play loud music, let them do it, absolutely," Norman said.
"If someone wants to play nine holes, fine - but let the son play with his father with his headphones on. Let them dress a little bit differently."
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The idea that golf clubs should be a more appealing, friendlier environment to the millennials is a good one - and one that should be carefully considered. But I can’t help but think whether this conversation is revolving around the wrong generation of golfers.
Gen-Y are the generation that can least afford to be joining a golf club, both financially and time-wise. Even some of the most ardent golfers talk about their late teens and early 20s as the lost years for golf and only return to the fairways in later years.
It’s remarkable that any 20-something golfer would be willing to pay an entrance fee that is non-refundable if they relocate to a different city.
The generation of golfers that clubs should be focussing on are those in the 35-50 age bracket: Gen X. It’s these golfers who arguably have the most time to be playing golf, or at least beginning to find time to play golf again.
We’re generalising of course, but it’s this generation who have more secure jobs, older families, and are more financially (and geographically) stable than Gen-Y.
Not to mention it’s right about the time when the human body begins to dislike playing contact sports, and not coincidentally around the same time the dream of becoming a professional athlete begins to wane.
In comparison, a golfer over 35 years of age is far more likely to justify forking out for a golf membership than a younger one.
But strangely, Gen-X is not the target audience for golf club memberships. Very few golf clubs are trying to lure golfers over the age of 35 with any sort of incentive, and if you’re over 40, you’re lucky if you’re offered a free lunch.
Make no mistake, golf clubs should be aiming to get as many new members as possible - across all age groups. But by neglecting to offer membership incentives to golfers aged over 35, that could mean the difference between a financially secure golf club and one that is close to disappearing altogether.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Michael Green founded AussieGolfer.com.au - Australia's #1 golf blog - in 2007, is a member of The Australian Golf Writers Association and has covered some of Australia's biggest golf tournaments, including the Australian Open, the Presidents Cup and World Cup of Golf.
Michael began playing golf as a 10-year-old in Adelaide where his father introduced him to the game.
He has managed to maintain a single-figure handicap while studying, living and working abroad and keeping a close eye on his three children.
Michael has a PhD in Physics and when not writing about golf, he continues to work in medical research in Sydney.