Does golf do enough to retain young, time-poor parents as club members?

The answer, unfortunately, is a resounding “no!”

This question was put forth in a great article by Martin Blake on the Golf Australia website: www.golf.org.au/new-parents;-does-golf-do-enough. The article explores how golf is letting itself down by not doing enough to retain (or attract) the all-important (i.e. “Holy Grail”) segment of 25- to 35-year-olds.

For longer than I can remember, I’ve been pushing (nearly begging) clubs across Australia to adopt a more Family-Friendly attitude when it comes to memberships, facilities and offerings. And while a small number of clubs have heeded some of my suggestions (and I applaud these forward-thinking clubs!) there is still a tremendous dearth of offerings in this space.

Yes, a handful of clubs will have, for example, a dedicated (or repurposed) “Kids room” in their clubhouse. A few others may offer the infrequent women’s golf clinic. Some even have an occasional junior membership offering, or special “family days” or holiday events that encourage families to experience the club for an afternoon. And these are great. But they are FAR from enough.

I cannot think of any clubs out there that go the “whole hog” and truly embrace a family-friendly culture: Full-family memberships (one joining fee, multiple playing rights), after-school clinics for women and juniors, a clubhouse creche program to allow new parents to have a hit while their young kids are entertained, or even maternity/paternity allowances/pauses in membership for new parents. The list goes on.

Essentially, we are doing everything in our power to ignore/shun the 25- to 35-year-old young parents. As an industry, we simply assume (and, sadly, accept) that they will leave. We watch it happen, shrug our shoulders, wish them well, and pray that they come back in another 15-20 years (which doesn’t happen often enough.)

We need to be far more proactive in this aspect.   

I cannot stress this enough: women and juniors are the future of golf. Women only make up 18% of our playing numbers. Juniors even less. But when you consider that a recent report suggested that a massive 50% of women worldwide are interested in sport (41% in golf alone), you can see that golf has a huge pool of women “fans” that we need to convert into “participants”.

My wife is a perfect example of this. She has played golf with me a few times, and even once said that if she had a membership, she would consider playing more – maybe once every couple of months. Both of my boys (now 18 years old) have shown a similar/passing interest in golf. Unfortunately, very few clubs have any sort of membership that allows this (or provides good value for, say, five rounds a year).

Speaking of juniors, well, I can say that I have never seen either of my boys bring home a school flyer/newsletter that mentions/promotes golf (apart from one term in a primary-school PE class — which I wrote about in 2015: www.insidegolf.com.au/opinion/are-we-all-doing-our-part-for-golf). In that same period, however, I have seen dozens (and dozens) of promos for cricket, footy, soccer and basketball. Take a guess which sports grabbed my boys’ attention?

We all know that once a person gets bitten by the golf bug, they can be hooked for life. So why aren’t we trying to get more people bitten? Why, instead, are we using a “Shoo Fly” approach, and applying layer upon layer of bug spray?

As always, I welcome your comments.

Note: if your club has a thriving, vibrant and successful family program, please email me. I’d love to hear about it.

See you on the fairways

Richard Fellner

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