Joining a Golf Club involves more than selecting a course on which to play golf. Private Clubs of all descriptions are institutions valued and jealously guarded by their members in much the same way as one protects the family home. Members usually wish to preserve certain traditions and to enjoy the company of like-minded individuals both on the course and in the clubhouse. For these reasons, prospective members must usually be introduced by existing members of some standing, who need to assure their fellow members that the prospect will “fit in”. Whilst this may seem quite daunting and even “unfair” to a non-member, it works both ways, in as much as a substantial investment is often required in both time and dollars to gain Club membership. The annual fee at many inner city Private Golf Clubs is around $2000 and the Joining Fee can be several times this amount. Waiting periods of many years may be encountered.
Prior to joining any Club, the prospect should arrange to visit as a Guest (of an existing Member, usually his proposer for membership should he choose to proceed, or perhaps the Club Manager if he does not already know a member). This serves to show the prospect much more than the golf course - he will experience the atmosphere of the place, its dress code, rules and the types of people who play there. At most Clubs these days, even if the prospective member does not already know enough members to see through his nomination, playing as a Guest will afford the opportunity to meet members who may well support his application.
There is not a Golf Course in Australia where a game cannot be arranged as a Guest.
Balancing the Priorities of Members and Guests
by Matthew Pitt founder of Social Golf Australia
Abraham Lincoln said, “A house divided against itself cannot stand." Australian golf is in a battle today to compete with other leisure activities for the time, expenditure and attention of golfers and potential golfers. The more energy we waste on squabbling over narrow self-interest within the game, the more we risk the future of golf.
Some recent letters to Inside Golf highlight one such schism in Australian golf. In issue 76, Frans Vogel wrote that he could not agree to terms with a golf resort on a weekend group package and he took his business elsewhere. He argued that the club must be financially strong if protecting member’s tee times was worth more than the $15,000 revenue he was offering.
Bankstown GC member Stuart Heidenreich’s response (issue 77) was that golf clubs only survive through long-term and loyal membership, not through visitor bookings. In issue 78, Trevor M took things further, suggesting that Mr Vogel had argued that club members should give up their tee times to visitors.
Interestingly, Bankstown accepts outside bookings, as do most every golf club in Australia. Club General Managers recognise the importance of green fees and bar takings from visitors.
Golf clubs today must maximise the return on their resources to survive. A good example is the way clubs now actively court the wedding market. This is not to say that club memberships are unimportant. Club memberships are the bedrock of every club’s viability, but it would be naive to believe that golf clubs ‘only’ survive through memberships.
Unfortunately, some club members lapse into taking a high-minded approach to visitors – I have seen this at my club. Taking an ‘us and them’ approach simply cleaves an unnecessary division between club golfers and social golfers. Both groups are dependant on each other – the clubs need the green fee and catering revenue and the visitors need the golf courses to play on.
Not all clubs and club members are like this. In December I was a guest (along with other members of our Social Golf Group) at The Victoria Golf Club in the week prior to the JB Were Masters and I was struck by the friendly hospitality from every club member and staff member I encountered. At one of the premier clubs in Australia, I was made to feel warmly welcome and valued as a guest at the club.
In my view, guests should respect the opportunity to be welcomed at a club and accept that there will be limitations on tee times. Many exclusive clubs have one or two weekdays when visitors can make bookings. These are usually corporate golf days but there is nothing to preclude a social golf club from making a booking. Moreover, as a guest, one understands that respecting the club, the facilities, the rules and the members is of paramount importance, if not for common courtesy, then certainly to ensure one is welcome to return in the future.
Many people I know are members of both a golf club and a social golf club. The two are not mutually exclusive and the fact is we all share the game together. If golf is healthy, then we all benefit with better course conditions and facilities. If the game is ailing and participation is falling, then we all stand to lose. This applies to all golfers – whether you are a club member, a social golfer or both.
We are blessed to live in a country with the third highest number of golf courses per capita in the world. This is a remarkable privilege we enjoy. The resources required to create and maintain golf courses are enormous. The vast majority of people in the world do not have the luxury of choice and availability of access that we enjoy with our golf courses. When it comes to golf, we truly are the lucky country.
Rather than focussing our energy on creating a divide between factions in the game, we would be better served by together attending to one of the biggest issues facing the game: falling participation. To address this we need more golfers. We all need to promote the game and get more people playing. We need to make juniors and new golfers feel welcome. We need to focus on what unifies us as golfers with a common goal of the betterment of the game. To do that, we first need to set aside what separates us.
We can all be ambassadors for our game and the more people playing golf, the more benefits there will be for all to share. We can all help by encouraging newcomers to the game and making our fellow golfers feel welcome and want to continue playing. Golf Australia and all the State amateur governing bodies can set the example and lead on these issues, but we can all play our part.
In one respect, we all recognise that we are custodians of the game. Every divot we replace, every pitch mark we repair and every bunker we rake is done through a sense of shared responsibility to others on the golf course with us and those who will follow us down the fairway. It is not a great leap to extend this consideration to fostering an approach of inclusiveness and hospitality among our fellow golfers.
Perhaps the greatest quality of the game of golf is that it is self-regulating. It requires a high level of integrity, character, sportsmanship and consideration for our fellow golfers. If we can learn and apply these principles in our approach to golf both on and off the course, perhaps together we can all give something back to the game. We would all be better served to regard our fellow golfers as comrades in arms with a common purpose and love for the game, rather than just competitors for tee times.