It’s time for clubs to face the facts: the traditional membership model is stuck in the rough.

This became blatantly apparent to me as I recently shopped around for a club to join. Having received the “OK” from my wife to spend some of our ‘hard-earned’ on a membership, I embarked on a quest to some local clubs to see what they had to offer.

Firstly, I was looking for a 5-day membership (my weekends are mostly dedicated to my wife and two boys).  I wanted a good-quality course (obviously), a club that was family/junior friendly (as this is, after all, a family decision these days), and a progressive/forward-thinking Board. Most importantly, though, it had to be affordable.

Maybe I was being naive, but I had assumed that with so many clubs struggling to attract/retain members, there would be heaps of innovative offers/options out there to choose from.

In truth, I was amazed at how stodgy and archaic the majority of membership offers were.  One club, for example, offered ONLY 7-day memberships; another offered 5-day memberships ONLY to women (fortunately, I don’t look good in a dress); very few had any sort of cadet/junior golf program for my boys, while many clubs had membership restrictions and rather large joining fees.

I found myself checking the calendar to make sure I hadn’t been transported back in time. Were they kidding? I mean, these courses were nice, but it’s not as if I were looking to join an upper echelon club like Royal Melbourne (I wish).

Why wouldn’t a club do everything in its power to entice as many golfers as possible? Why not offer, say, a 1- or 2-day membership?  How about a membership “credits” system (like Keysborough recently launched)?  Why not offer an all-encompassing Family Membership for one set subscription? Why not expand your reciprocal clubs to include HEAPS of courses (like RACV/the Sandbelt clubs/the Yarra golf courses do)?  Why not have free golf for kids (like WA’s Wembley Golf Course offers). Why not ALL of these?

If you think you’ll find salvation in, say, a new clubhouse, think again. While it is nice for weddings/corporates, the reality is that golfers will spend 4+ hours on the course, and only 15 minutes in the clubhouse afterwards. As long as the beer is cold, the food is hot and the conversation warm, we don’t really care what surrounds us (as long as it isn’t a block of pokies, which I’ve written about before.).

The fact is, there are heaps of great public access courses out there, and most families are time-poor and financially-strapped. So the competition for a golfer’s cash is fierce.  Even if it is spread out over a monthly payment plan. We want value for our money, some quality golf, and a bit of variety. That’s not too much to ask, is it?

While I won’t name the club that I ended up joining (that’s not the point of this article) I will say that they are progressive, very friendly, affordable and flexible.  The course is nice and my family is welcome.

And yes, the beer is cold.

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



About Richard Fellner

A four-time winner of the Australian Golf Media Awards, including Best Photojournalism, Best Opinion, Best Column and Best Photographic Presentation, Inside Golf Group Editor Richard Fellner is the quintessential Golf Tragic, having played the game for over 50 years (but has never gotten any better!) He has played and reviewed courses all over the world, and has interviewed many of the great players of the game (including Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson and Greg Norman). Richard is a member of both the Australian Golf Media Association and the Golf Society of Australia, and has been a featured guest on many Australian "sports talk" radio shows and networks, including ABC Grandstand, SEN 1116, Melbourne Talk Radio 1377, 2GB and others. Follow Richard Fellner on Quora


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14 Responses to "The membership model is (nearly) dead"

  1. Troy Vayanos  July 1, 2011

    You might be right. This would probably explain was so many golf clubs in Brisbane I know that are offering 2 for 1 nomination fees at present. Maybe a change is on the horizon.

  2. Andrew  July 1, 2011

    This is so true. Just yesterday I sat down with a canadian who did golf marketing there successfully(in canada) and he was stunned when I told him about Richard’s comments above. Not only memberships-also Social Groups! I emailed a few courses to organise a booking for 60 plus golf guys during the week(when all clubs are at their extreme quietest) and all they could offer me was a couple of dollars off green fees-no soft drinks, maybe a prize etc-ZILCH! Shame Australian Golf, Shame.

  3. Michael  July 1, 2011

    Well said Richard. Possibly the most frustrating aspect of golf in Australia. The ridiculous joining fees are outdated, especially for golfers who aren’t necessarily staying in the same city. So inflexible in my experience and I’ve been exasperated on many occasions trying to find a golf club to join.

  4. Dicky  July 5, 2011

    Boycott golf Clubs that require over-priced joining fees.

  5. Andrew  July 11, 2011

    I think you’re confusing joining a club with joining a course. What you’re really after, it seems, is a discounted fee plan for mid-week golf.

  6. Alex  July 13, 2011

    My daughter is a member of a “prominent” club in the Sutherland Shire. I would like to join the club to play with her more often but they have a $5000 joining fee. If I commit to the 5K and she looses interest – then where am I. I already belong to a club on the South Coast so I have a real issue with the joining fee. While the club is private its not THAT flash.

  7. Rodney Forrester  July 16, 2011

    When discussing options of joining a golf club, the joining fee is always an issue. In Sydney, the joining fee is often double the annual fee, or more.
    Richard, just on this basis, the current membership model is dead. It is difficult to justify such large joining fees unless you can commit to being a member of the club for 5, probably 10 years.
    However, how can you predict where you will be in 5, let alone 10 years. These days the average time staying at a residence is 7 years, your job and area may change.
    The current membership model was satisfactory years ago. I hear that all clubs are looking for younger members, in particular, the age group of 28-40 years is lacking in golf membership.
    Why is it so hard to play competitions other than your home club?
    More flexibility and more options are required for golf membership.

  8. John  August 10, 2011

    Couldn’t agree more I have been on the hunt for a club to join for years but the ridiculous fees they charge simply blow me out of the water everytime

  9. Jalen  August 15, 2011

    Gosh, I wish I would have had that information earlier!

  10. Alex Ross-Edwards  November 6, 2011

    The joining fee is outdated I agree and clubs are addresing this I am sure. But free time cost money, you can’t go anywhere today for free and don’t kid yourself you can. Fact is you can’t full stop. Golf is one of the cheapest experience,s one can buy. Do the math, cost of play divided by the hours of use and then equate with other timed consumed fun activities for a family or otherwise. Added bonus of health and fitness coming free with golf purchase.

  11. Jamie  September 24, 2012

    I have previously been a member of a club after playing social golf for a few years and i eventually left as i found within the members clubs.. most members have their own little click they play in each week and as a new member its very hard to find a good game week in week out.. so hence you get left playing with who ever is also at a lose end..
    Clubs need to make a effort to welcome new members.. not just take the money and leave it to them!
    Thanks to the club i was at im in no hurry to rejoin with my hard earned $$$$.

  12. Pingback: Inside Golf editor wins esteemed Golf Media Award : Inside Golf. Australia's Most Read Golf Magazine

  13. Rosalind Redjeb  October 14, 2016

    I belong to an old golf club recently moved and renamed on the Sunshine Coast, Queensland.
    Due to family circumstances I wish to change my Ladies 7 Day membership to a 5S membership.
    Let me explain, 7 days members can as you would believe can play 7 days a week, wrong for Lady members, Wednesday’s is Men’s Competition day so no Ladies are eligible on the timesheet, 6 day membership is Friday through to Sunday, again if a lady golfer you cannot play Wednesday.
    Years ago a 5S membership was available meaning substitute Sunday for Wednesday, makes sense to lady golf members.
    This 5S is no longer available, due to a Board Decision to scrap it.
    Only 6 day and 7 day memberships are available, don’t get me wrong the financial difference is minimal so it can’t be the money.
    I make sense to me, do I make sense to you?

  14. Luke  November 11, 2016

    I am sure that if the sensible approach to relocation (Twin Waters) had been taken then your 5 day membership would still be available. All decisions have consequences for everyone.

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