In these times, when memberships are on a decline, you have to think out of the box in order to keep growing your membership base. Typically, you will see around a 10% attrition at the end of each membership year - some people move away, some give up golf, some just feel membership is not for them and so on. Unfortunately, clubs have not seen the 10% being replaced year on year and are now in a challenging position to stop the rot.
There can be many reasons why memberships are in decline up and down the country However, there are still successful clubs out there, so it is not all doom and gloom.

I think you need to have a two prong approach – (1) to retain members (understand why they are leaving and fix the problem) and (2) get new members in.

Apparently, a new member makes their mind up within 9 weeks of joining a new club as to whether it is for them or not, read my How to Keep Your Members Happy and you should have no problem in keeping them retained.
However, this chapter is about finding new members, so here are 10 quick ways to get more members -

1. Member Introduce a Member Scheme

The oldest trick in the book! And one that still works time after time. Statistically, the number one reason someone joins a club is because they are invited. Add in an incentive for the person being invited and the person who has invited them and bingo you will see new members signing up. People don’t normally play alone and most people have friends and work colleagues with similar interests, so make the scheme easy to follow with a strong incentive. Don’t think short term, think long term. What is the life time value of a new member? If, for example, your annual fee is £1,000 and they remain a member for 10 years, then that’s £10,000 to the club. They will also spend on F&B, in the golf shop and introduce member guests or other members, so a new member is extremely valuable and worth investing in to get?

So make the incentive generous and available to the new member and the member who is introducing the new member.

2. Join Now Pay Later

If you still have a joining fee (you should as it is a great bargaining tool) then use it to run a Join Now Pay Later scheme. Get your new members to sign up now by just paying the joining fee and let them play for a few months free, in effect using up some of the value of the joining fee over a period of months. For example, join in October, play “free” for the winter and then pay your membership fees in March.

Work out some scheme that works for you as a club and will be well received by the new member.
Often the cost of a joining fee and subscription at the same time is too much for many people and just turns them off.

3. Seasonal Membership

Tasters are great and can often lead to another offer. Let people join for a short period of time, usually a “season” (as in Aautumn, winter, spring) and let them try you out. Then, after that period, they can pay for a full membership. To really add value to the taster membership you could discount the full membership by the cost of the taster to seal the deal, so in effect their taster was for free.

4. 15 Months for the Price of 12

Another old classic and a good one to launch at the end of a season or 3 to 4 months before a new membership season.

This type of membership can make great Christmas presents or, if you are smart, you can target a geographical area of a club near you where some of their members may be thinking of a change?

OK you are giving away 3 months as a discount, but these are generally off season months and a time when people are not thinking of joining a club anyway. The upside is you get some unexpected membership revenue during the off season.

5. 50:50 Deal

The 50: 50 deal takes a bit of working out and co-operation from a neighbouring club. Years ago a lot of people were members of multiple clubs, but this has declined for mainly economic reasons. However there will still be enough of your members who can afford and who would like the opportunity to be a member of another club too.
Here is how it works- cut a deal with a neighbouring club who has a similar fee structure to you and offer them 50 half price memberships for their members to take up and in return they do the same. In order for someone to take advantage of the scheme they must be a fully paid up member of one or other of the clubs. For example, if your membership is £1,000 and your neighbouring club has a membership of £1,000 then 50 of your members are entitled to join both for a bargain price of £1,500.

Each club benefits by £25K and the member can only ever be in one place at any one time!

6. Spouse Program

There is a huge opportunity in incentivising members to get their spouses involved in the club and it is well worth doing the maths to find out how many husbandandwife members you actually have. If you have a lot, then don’t run this scheme as you will just discount memberships you are already receiving and you will stand still financially. However, if you do not have many couples as members then it is worth considering offering an incentive for couples.
A lot of clubs internationally offer the second membership at a discount of up to 30% and often waive the entry fee for the second adult member because the entry fee has been paid on the primary membership.
By having more couples involved in your club, you will see more play and definitely more spend in your F&B outlet.

7. Membership Open Day

Have a Membership Open Day every year and really pull out the stops to make it bigger and better each year. If you have a small marketing budget, then this is the best way to spend it. Get your staff and committee (and members) geared up, put in place some prizes on that day (could be golf shop or F&B vouchers) and make it a really fun day for all.

Create a special interest group/sub-committee to run this important annual event and make sure you set yourselves a big target to achieve.
The day should include –

  • Member guest tournament
  • Open house BBQ (or similar) with fun golf games at your driving range, practice green
  • Get the pro to run some clinics, or demo day
  • Get your beverage suppliers to run a wine tasting/beer tasting
  • Have all of your collateral materials ready and have your show round route prepared
  • Have your staff and committee trained on the 10 steps to selling a membership!

8. Invite Previous Members Back

A good way to recruit new members is to actually invite old members back! Their circumstances may have changed, they might have more time to play again or their financial circumstances may have changed.. One thing is for sure, they will feel very special when a personalised letter arrives through the postinviting them back down to the club.

9. Create Some New Categories

In order to add to you membership numbers, you may have to open up some new categories in order to find the right fit for certain people. Not everyone plays golf, but everyone could play golf. So why not introduce an Academy Membership which gives the new member a number of lessons with the pro, access to your driving range (or practice ground), a few off-peak rounds of golf and some F&B vouchers. It gets them down to the club and once the lessons are finished you can then invite them to join the club.
Other categories worth considering are –

  • Husband wife (as above)
  • Family – just add kids and add some value
  • Mid week
  • Off peak
  • Competitive
  • Limited (pick some off peak times and create a category e.g. Sunday afternoons and Wednesday afternoons)
  • Youth (18 – 25)

And so on ....
One new category which has been working in some parts of the world is –

10. Flexible Memberships

With the modern golf operations management systems that most clubs operate with now you can set up just about any type of membership scheme. Some clubs are now offering flexible memberships where you pre-load your membership with money and then draw down your credits as you play.
The club manager can then set up the season and the tee sheet allocating different times with different credit values For example, a tee time on Saturday morning may be worth 10 credits. however, early morning on a Tuesday could be worth only 5 credits.

During the season you could then play around with your credits (don’t put them up as that would be unpopular!) and you could, for example, incentivise more people to play late afternoon on a Saturday by reducing the credit to only 5 credits. This would then deflect some people away from peak times and spread the play on the course.
The beauty of credits is that members could spend them on guest play and also on F&B, therefore seeing maximum value for their money.