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We can all agree that these are strange and uncertain times. Over the previous 14 months, we have seen unprecedented disruption to our daily lives. Yet, against all common sense, the golf industry has seen a real surge in revenue including visitor green fees and membership. What is the cause of this paradoxical outcome? And can golf clubs capitalise on this membership surge by retaining these new members?  

Some 2020 stats for you from GolfShake:  

  • 6.3% of golfers that had lapsed their membership, returned to golf in 2020
  • 36% of golfers played more than normal in 2020  
  • 13.1% of golfers joined a golf club during lockdown  
  • 72% of golf courses said they are busier  

However, is this likely to continue into 2021 and beyond? Some chatter on LinkedIn suggests member retention of those who joined in the pandemic is poor, with 30%-50% of new members leaving. How can golf clubs make the most of this unexpected opportunity? 

It can be tempting for golf clubs to think short-term with quick wins like cheap green fees and enticing membership offers. Some even create bespoke membership categories like a 6-day membership, and we have even seen a 5 ½ day membership, but is this really the right approach?  

If golf clubs want to grow in a measured and profitable way, they must look beyond mere new member acquisition. They must start to switch their focus from “how do we acquire more members?” to “how do we keep the ones we already have?”  

At Mango Golf Management, we like to approach this issue by breaking it down further into three parts. 

When it comes to member retention, do you learn from those who leave?   

When renewal season comes, this is when clubs will see who will be renewing, and who won’t. However, wouldn’t it be great to know that information beforehand, with a plan to prevent it happening at all?  

Of course, we don’t want to lose any customers, however, in membership specifically, clubs will typically lose around 2% to 10% each year. This can be down to factors outside of the club’s control such as habit changes, new families, or changing jobs. But clubs really should make every effort to understand the reason why they left, so they can learn from any feedback they can improve on for the future.  

Whether that is an exit interview, an email with a survey which incentivises them to take 10 minutes to fill in the form, or if it’s just a simple phone call from the GM, that information you get back can be very valuable and can influence future decisions. If there is a glaring issue with the club itself then these can help bring it to your attention. 

What do your regular customers say?  

What if we focus on your most consistent members, and understand their behaviour? What makes them tick? What makes them content? What makes them stay? Once you understand your best members behaviours, you can start to understand where your club succeeds and where it falls short. Of course, this is not a one size fits all approach, but it will gain you vital insight into what you are doing well, and what can be improved.  

Stay close to your most successful and most vocal members. These members love to be heard and the amount of information they can give you is priceless. So, keep these close to you, enabling you to fix problems sooner.  

Track your “warning signs”. When we discuss behaviour of your members, are you able to track how often they are playing? Are they still contributing to the club, such as to the bar revenue, bringing guests or supporting member events? What we want to understand is, has there been a shift in behaviour, and if so, what, and why? Something as simple and cheap as a quarterly member survey can be so useful to get ahead of any potential issues that could prevent a member going elsewhere.   

Do you communicate regularly with your members? Newsletter, club news, events, benefits, guest vouchers, and freebies. Members love to be invested in their club, so keep them in the loop. Open up a club forum where members can ask the club questions, and make sure the decision-maker responds.  

How do you measure member retention?  

Lastly, how are you measuring your member retention? Do you have year on year targets? Net gain targets? Whichever way you do it, you must be able to track and measure your growth and retention. Great ways to keep members engaged are to track their views with member evenings or an online club forum. Survey them once a quarter and listen to them. What do they think of the course and service? The bar menu? Do the members they think they get value for money? Whatever feedback you get, take it personally as you should want to improve.  

There are many businesses and consultants that will help you with member retention advice. However, at Mango Golf what we do that no-one else does is we go deeper into the why. When we meet at Mango, like Simon Sinek says, we “start with the why”, and this is the philosophy we live by. Why are your members leaving? Why do they choose to go elsewhere, or to your competitors? If we can understand this together, member retention will never be a problem again.