For many Australian club golfers, the months of May/June/July represent a sticky time—as we debate the pros and cons of forking over our hard-earned cash to renew our annual golf club membership. In the end—our bodies and partners willing—we generally choose, once again, to pay our subs, hoping that the Golf Gods will finally reward us with better scores over the ensuing 12 months.

It’s an even stickier time, however, for the clubs themselves, as they nervously await the results of the renewals in much the same way as candidates in a Federal election await the voters’ decisions. For clubs that are struggling financially, it’s a “make or break” time that can seriously impact the club’s future.

Compounding the issue for clubs is the often-untimely arrival of a rather large invoice by our very own governing body, Golf Australia. This Affiliation Fees invoice aims to collect annual fees associated with, among other things, administering club handicaps, insurance, etc.

While the payment of the fee itself isn’t necessarily a problem in theory (though many General Managers I speak to are of the opinion that we need to receive better transparency for where the fees actually go), the main problem here is that Golf Australia is invoicing clubs IN ADVANCE for the coming financial year.

Essentially, GA is forcing clubs to pay tens of thousands of dollars, in advance, for memberships that may not come to fruition for months (or if ever). Before clubs have received a single cent from members.

At the time of publishing, I’ve received correspondence from a number of clubs who have received terse emails from Golf Australia requiring immediate payment of fees.  In one email, for example, sent to Burleigh Golf Club in Queensland, a representative of Golf Australia states “I am writing to advise you if full payment of the capitation fees owing has not been provided to Golf Australia by midday Thursday 23 May 2019 that Golf Australia may immediately make arrangements for Burleigh Golf Club to have its access to the handicap system suspended until this full payment is made.”

The problem here is that Burleigh GC won’t know how many members have renewed until the end of June—a full month after GA’s 23rd May deadline!

In a response to Golf Australia’s email, Burleigh Golf Club’s General Manager, Ian Cottle, stated that, while the club would happily pay the fees, it would make more logical sense to do so AFTER the club had finished the renewal season.

“Golf Australia is well aware of the number of golf clubs in Australia that struggle financially, yet you require this not-insignificant bill to be paid 4-5 months in advance of the period of coverage,” Cottle wrote. “Add to this that our Members have not yet paid their subscriptions for 2019/20 as yet, however you require the club to pay this prior to the Club’s receipt [of funds].”

Other clubs are, understandably, equally dismayed regarding this “bill in advance” system.

One club in particular, Rowes Bay GC in Queensland—which has been struggling significantly following the massive floods that ravaged the course a short time ago—feels that it is poor form by GA to be so heavy handed at this time.

“It’s a big imposition on the clubs, especially small clubs, and it’s a bad time of the year for clubs that have been decimated – especially in our area,” says Gary Toplis, General Manager at Rowes Bay GC.

“Our area and areas further north are struggling because of no golf due to flooding. And a lot of clubs don’t collect their subs until September and that money gets them through the wet season,” he added.

Other GMs have told me, off the record, that they feel they are being extorted by Golf Australia, with some feeling that they get very little (if any) actual value from GA for the amount of money paid. (But that’s another debate altogether.)

Another issue at play, we’re told, affects the weakest group in our industry: It appears that smaller clubs are required to pay a base/minimum amount of affiliation fees for 100 members, even if they only have 60 or 70 members. This, in my opinion,  needs to be addressed immediately.

So what can be done?

In these difficult times, with so many clubs under the pump, why can’t GA simply shift their billing cycle to accommodate the clubs? I may be missing something here, but is it not reasonable, for example, that a club not be asked to pay the bill until accurate membership numbers have been established, and funds have been received from members?  Surely it’s just a matter of cross-checking the GolfLink database and seeing how many members are active for a specific club, and THEN generating an invoice for the financial year? (or is the GolfLink system not up to the task? I wonder…)

As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Note: We reached out to Golf Australia for comment, but they did not respond prior to deadline. We are told, however, that GA has recently agreed to adjust Burleigh’s payment deadline to July 2. Mr Cottle has also requested that GA look into changing their policy so that clubs are not placed in this position again in 2020. Inside Golf will report on any progress in this matter.

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