Currently, Golf Property Analysts is privileged to be involved in an assignment assisting a club in the Midwestern US with their long range planning process. Unlike some clubs in today’s environment, the COVID surge has NOT solved all their problems, but like many clubs, communications between the club and its membership are lacking. The club needs capital improvements to address both deferred maintenance and possible enhancements. It lacks a sufficient number of members and combined with a price-sensitive market having limited depth creates a challenge. During a recent discussion, among the topics that came up was of course, the issue of membership development, how to engage (and retain) the existing membership and the best ways to grow the club and reinvest in the facilities.
At many clubs, there are often those members who frequently visit the club, sometimes evolve into club leadership and use the facilities the most. In some cases, the club is the focal point of their non-professional lives. At my club, they call them “super-users”. While it is these “super-users”, who each might play more than 100 rounds of golf per year, that often become synonymous with the club itself, I’ve learned over the years, like many other things, that these super-users are not the key to the club’s success. With most clubs averaging about 60-70 rounds per member per year, it should be no surprise that thriving clubs not only make the super-users happy, but also those members who pay the same level of dues but may only play golf or use other facilities 8-12 times per year. They are the (obvious) key to financial success. The super-users are happy because they have access. The more casual members contribute the same amount to the dues revenue line and just want to be treated well when they do visit. There are lots of them. Their opinion matters – a lot!
Unfortunately, these casual members, that often aren’t as well-known, or maybe as popular with the “in crowd” are often taken for granted. However, it is those casual members, especially when economic times become challenging that begin to analyze their cost of membership. The club can fall on the same hard times that are not too far behind us and still in the rear view mirror. Club leadership needs to effectively & sincerely communicate with these casual members. Transparency, as I wrote about a year ago is a big factor and these casual users need to feel welcome and heard. The “3 C’s”, Communication, Consistency & Culture, are critical to happy members and a club’s success. The club we’re working with is about to embark on a focus group feedback program. Hopefully, the casual members will participate. Hopefully, the board will listen.
Are clubs now “safe” from the post recession blues? A friend in the membership consulting business has said his business has waned a bit, suggesting that some clubs don’t think they need to continue membership development efforts. Whether full or not, clubs should always be in the business of membership development – and retention. Lots of clubs are embarking on costly master plans to enhance and improve facilities to compete with other clubs. Many of these projects come with assessments, dues increases or the establishment of capital dues not previously seen. If the casual users bail, the club is in a pickle.
In most cases, the super-users are willing to pay for it, because the club is a big part of their daily lives. The casual user may not be, unless he or she is engaged, made to feel important and welcome and when the club leadership listens sincerely to their views and comments. It’s also important that the consultant conducting the focus groups is independent and not afraid to tell the board truths they may not want to hear.
If the club has incurred substantial debt, this can create a problem. That said, sometimes debt is necessary to turn the club around. It’s not only a fine line balancing act as to how much debt is manageable and for what, but it’s also absolutely critical to get member buy-in to the concept of reinvestment in the club and those casual, less frequent users can often be the key. Let them be heard. Listen to what they say and make them feel as much a part of the club as the familiar faces. They could be difference between a thriving future and the demise of the club.