This article originally appeared on Golf Business Monitor in January 2017. A follow-up piece is planned for September to find out how tings are going.
Most golf clubs operating in the 21st century know that there are changes afoot in the industry; complex changes that are requiring us to rethink how we attract and retain new members.
One of the biggest changes is the tremendous growth of the millennial market, those born between 1983 and 2000 although there are no formal generational cutoffs. In 2015, Millennials overtook the Baby Boomers as the largest generation in the world, and are now the largest generation in western history.
The 2015 Inkling Report stated that Millennials currently make up one-quarter of the entire U.K. population and are projected to hit 17 million by 2019. In the US, there are nearly 76 million Millennials. This cohort is only now just reaching the peak of their buying power and is the most sought-after consumer market today.
Appealing to Millennials can be a fast-moving target. Generally, millennials are defined as being very social (the “Facebook generation”); the “instant gratification” generation; and the “try before you buy” generation.
This group has also shown a significant preference for spending money on experiences rather than possessions (53% of U.K. Millennials agreed with this statement in the Inkling 2015 report). That’s good news for golf clubs!
Millennials are also one of the most diverse and accepting generations, where the traditional trappings of status hold less significance than in previous generations.
Etchinghill Golf Club (a division of Pentland Golf) in Kent, England, is one golf club that has devised an innovative new program specifically geared towards Millennials.
Etchinghill Golf Club has founded a new division of membership they’ve called “The Ballers” for individuals aged 18-35.
Three tiers of costs corresponding to age ranges were created in order to attract young people, many of whom are still financially struggling after the Recession: 18 to 24, 25 to 29 and 30 to 35 pay £23.85, £46 and £62 per month respectively. For this membership tier, the club also forgoes annual fees in exchange for only monthly dues in order to better justify the value of play.
The model allows for regular access to the course, with a “tribe” of the same age, same interests, and same playing speed. The club also makes a concerted effort to hold weekly meetups where Ballers can play a game and then socialize in the clubhouse afterwards. It’s flexible, affordable, and allows people to play with those of the same age.
The club encourages Ballers to bring their friends and acquaintances to check out the club and the game of golf in a low-impact, fun, and less intimidating environment.
The EGCOA reported in December:
“It is still early days for the Ballers of Kent, but so far things are coming on strong. The programme launched at the end of September 2016, 2 months in and it has attracted 25 ballers in a time period when new memberships usually dying down. The most exciting thing for Andy [Andy Wilson, Sales Manager] is that this has been a soft launch, with a heavy social media marketing campaign already planned out for March.”
Etchingham’s model is a unique one that many other golf course operators will be keeping an eye on in the first half of 2017. If it succeeds, you can expect many others to adopt a similar idea—will you be one of them?
Whitney Reid Pennell, president of the RCS Hospitality Group, is a celebrated management consultant, educator, and speaker. RCS, the creators of Food and Beverage Service Boot Camp™, specializes in operations consulting, strategic planning, food and beverage management, and training programs for private clubs, fine dining restaurants, and luxury resorts and hotels. For more information, phone (623) 322-0773; or visit the RCS website at www.consultingRCS.com.