After a poor start, 2016 seemed to behave itself, so it’s fair to say that everyone is hoping for more of the same in 2017. Last year will be year that is remembered as the year when membership and revenues stabilised. While that was positive for clubs, it was also very positive for courses. After six years of falling membership it was a relief for the industry and the recovery has started.
On course, 2016 had a very slow start with record rain-fall levels meaning that there was no play until late February. After that though the season got underway pretty quickly, and the mild weather in the past three months has allowed clubs to catch up on the slow start.
The signs from clubs and courses are that they have moved from neutral to positive, with almost everyone driving on with their development plans. Fota Island Academy have launched a new membership scheme which transforms the previous model, Lee Valley invested heavily in machinery and course inputs, as did many other clubs. Cobh led the way with nine hole open competitions and Skibbereen offered an innovative pay and pay membership option. Castlemartyr face into the new year after adding over 100 new members in December, and the majority of clubs will be looking to increase membership of the next six months.
On the retail front, the off-course battle shows no sign of slowing up. While the new chains are here to stay, and consumers have been the beneficiaries of the recent price wars, this is not good news for the on course retailers. Traditionally club professionals balanced teaching revenue with shop sales but that could be set for a change if more equipment and apparel sales move off-course. That is not just a problem for the professionals, but also for the clubs as Pro’s perform several essential front of house functions in addition to their own tasks.
There are of course some challenges remaining for the sport and the industry. The game itself is taking far too long. Club competitions are heading for over four hours in many clubs and everyone seems to want to play at the same time – early on a Saturday morning. Cobh was one of very few clubs to launch nine hole open competitions and it will be interesting to see if that trend develops. Handicaps were to the fore in 2016 and the level of dissatisfaction seemed to increase over the past 12 months. The GUI seem to have taken a very different view on handicap building, not least hen the CEO openly branded it as premeditated cheating. News of ongoing handicap audits are emanating from Mallow and the Officers of Munster Golf will have lots of eyes firmly fixed on them as golfers now expect to see action on this problem. The proposed world-wide handicapping system is still been lined up for 2018 and that may help the issue if the governing body isn’t successful.
Although yet another club closed in 2016 (Fernhill), that was good news for other clubs and they put forward some great offers to attract those members. Society golf continues to contract according to sources but the volumes from green fees and open competitions are up in many clubs. All in all there’s a heavy expectation on 2017, lets hope that everyone gets what they want from the New Year.