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Falling memberships sees increasing number of golf club closures

Falling memberships sees increasing number of golf club closures
August 10, 2019

Almost 100 golf clubs across Australia are on the brink of financial collapse following two decades of declining memberships.

As reported by ABC Western Plains, recent data from Golf Australia shows clubs shed 117,000 members in the past 20 years to an all-time low of 383,000.

Plumetting participation has seen 15% of players on the Gold Coast abandon their memberships in the past year alone while patronage dropped by more than 10% on the New South Wales Central Coast.

With drought seen as a contributor to the decline, twice as many members walked away from regional clubs compared to their metropolitan counterparts.

Golf Australia Development Manager David Gallichio said the body was working urgently to stem the exodus and had prioritised resources to distressed clubs, advising "we know when a club closes, two-thirds of people who played there will not play again. That's really concerning for us.

"When a club closes, it isn't coming back either."

While the sport's attrition rate concerned Golf Australia, Gallichio advised "when you look at the national numbers, we are only looking at a loss of 1.7% of our members in the past year."

Advising that membership numbers did not fully tell the story of the game's state of health, Gallichio noted "people are playing more golf casually than ever before, and you will find that rates of non-organised participation are trending up across almost all sports."

The main barrier to playing, he said, was time, and recognised that clubs had failed to respond to the needs of modern consumers.

He added "the world has changed and we haven't adapted to that.

"We need to be offering new and interesting things, not just the standard 18-hole competitions on the weekend."

Last month in Coonamble in western NSW, the RSL club called closed and now the golf club faces the same fate.

Club President Moe Jacobs advised "we're now at the point where we just can't see a way forward

"It's our last resort to close down, but you can't bleed money out of a rock."

This month the club made a desperate plea for financial assistance. In response, the community rallied and Golf NSW sent two specialists to advise the club on its options.

Jacobs said the future of Coonamble Golf Club, like dozens of others, remained unclear, adding "it's just hard to make ends meet when social membership only brings in a couple of dollars."

In the past year Golf Australia has invested significantly in its support division to provide challenged clubs with financial advice, grant-writing assistance, human resources help and agronomy services.

To avert widespread closures, Gallichio said clubs with saleable assets would need to liquidate, stating "there's no silver bullet" noting that recruiting more women and juniors, and offering more playing opportunities for the time-poor and cash-strapped were part of the answer.

He went on to advise "soon we'll be launching Get Into Golf, which is a program to encourage everyone from young women all the way through to seniors to take up the game across the country."

While most clubs in western NSW lost about 7% of their members last year, Bathurst bucked the trend.

Bathurst Golf Club has maintained a membership growth of 15% over the past five years.

Club General Manager, Brad Constable, attributed the success to its wide range of membership options, telling the ABC "we now offer three-month memberships and we also do six-month memberships which cater to footballers or soccer players that normally can't play during the winter months."

Offering multiple price points as well as a flexible payment system helped reduce and spread the cost of membership.

Constable said the club also struck partnerships with local schools to reach the next generation of players.

He concluded "if you can get a junior from the early days, treat them well and have good pathways open, I think you can have that person right through to old age."

Images: Drought impacted the Coonamble Golf Club before its closure (top, courtesy of Coonamble Golf Club) and marketing initiatives have seen Bathurst Golf Club has maintain a membership growth of 15% over the past five years (below, courtesy of Bathurst Golf Club).

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