With nearly 100 clubs across the country said to be on the brink of financial collapse following two decades of declining membership and a widespread and extended drought, managers are responding by emphasizing “new and interesting things.” Bathurst GC has bucked the trend with 15 percent membership growth over the past five years, which its GM attributes to offering a wider range of membership options, flexible payment systems and multiple price points, and partnerships with local schools to help attract future members.
Almost 100 golf clubs across Australia are on the brink of financial collapse following two decades of declining memberships, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) reported. New data from the Golf Australia organization shows that clubs in the country have shed 117,000 members in the past 20 years, to hit an all-time low of 383,000 total members.
Fifteen percent of players on Australia’s Gold Coast abandoned their club memberships in the past year alone, the ABC reported, and patronage dropped by more than 10 percent on the New South Wales Central Coast.
In response to widespread drought that has affected much of the country for an extended period, the ABC reported, twice as many members have walked away from regional clubs that have had difficulty maintaining their golf courses, as compared to their metropolitan counterparts.
David Gallichio, Development Manager for Golf Australia, told the ABC that his organization was working urgently to stem the exodus and is prioritizing resources to help distressed clubs.
“We know when a club closes, two-thirds of people who played [golf] there will not play again. That’s really concerning for us,” Gallichio said.
While acknowledging concern over golf’s attrition rate, Gallichio described the trend as a “gentle decline,” the ABC reported.
“When you look at the national numbers, we are only looking at a loss of 1.7 percent of our members in the past year,” he noted. “People are playing more golf casually than ever before, and you will find that rates of non-organized participation are trending up across almost all sports.”
The main barrier to playing golf, Gallichio said, has been the time it requires. His organization has recognized that clubs have failed to respond to the needs of modern consumers. “We need to be offering new and interesting things, not just the standard 18-hole competitions on the weekend,” he told the ABC.
The crippling financial effects of drought have taken their toll on clubs throughout Australia’s rural New South Wales and Queensland provinces, the ABC reported.
In Coonamble, in western New South Wales, the RSL club operated by the Returned and Services League that supports the country’s military and veterans is “now at the point where we just can’t see a way forward,” club president Moe Jacobs told the ABC.
In recent years, the ABC reported, Jacobs and his volunteer staff has tried to retain members and attract new players by promoting social games, but the club’s running costs outstripped its earnings.The club recently made a desperate plea for financial assistance, which generated a response where the community rallied and the Golf NSW (New South Wales) organization sent two specialists to advise the club on its options.
But Jacobs said the future of Coonamble GC, like dozens of others, remained unclear. “It’s just hard to make ends meet when social membership only brings in a couple of dollars,” he said.
In the past year, the ABC reported, 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. A multi-pronged approach, however, is needed to “future-proof” the sport, he added.
“There’s no silver bullet,” Gallichio said. Recruiting more women and juniors, and offering more playing opportunities for the time-poor and cash-strapped were part of the answer, he said.
“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,” Gallichio added.
While most clubs in western New South Wales lost about 7 percent of their members last year, the ABC reported, Bathurst Golf Club bucked the trend. It has maintained a membership growth of 15 percent over the past five years, with its General Manager, Brad Constable, attributing the success to offering a wide range of membership options.
“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,” Constable said.
Offering multiple price points as well as a flexible payment system has also helped to ease the hip-pocket hurt of membership, the ABC reported. And Bathurst has struck partnerships with local schools, Constable said, to whet the appetite of the next generation of players.