Golf clubs in Wales losing members despite Ryder Cup

A greenkeeper prepares the 18th green for the 2010 Ryder Cup golf tournament in Newport
Image caption The profile of the sport is high during events like the Ryder Cup in Newport

Golf clubs in Wales are battling a long term fall in membership with a warning some may not survive.

The profile of the sport has never been higher with the Ryder Cup teeing off at the Celtic Manor in three days time.

But many clubs are increasingly looking to visitors to keep going due to an ageing and declining membership.

Around 40 new nine and 18 hole courses have opened in Wales in the last 20 years with fears there are now too many chasing too few members.

The Golf Union of Wales said it was working with clubs to help them tackle the problem and to increase participation in the sport.

Last year it undertook a major survey on the health of Welsh clubs and said it remained a fair reflection of 2010.

A total of 107 of the 159 affiliated clubs took part with 69% reporting falling membership and just 13% saying it was increasing.

Only 8% said they were not actively seeking new members and only 8% had a waiting list.

Almost a third said annual income had decreased since the year 2000.

Keith Lloyd, chief executive of the Golf Club Managers' Association, said it was not just a problem in Wales, but across the UK and other countries including the Unites States and New Zealand.

"There's an awful lot more people playing but not joining golf clubs," he said.

"It's a trend which has happened over the last 10 years but the last three or four years have been particularly bad."

Mr Lloyd said it was golfers in the 25 to 40-year-old age bracket that no longer tended to join clubs but played on a pay-per-round basis - they have been termed 'nomadic golfers'.

Research by the association found while most clubs were still on a sound financial footing around one in 20 were in serious trouble.

Mr Lloyd, who has run clubs in Aberdare and Cardiff, said since the late 1980s over 800 new courses had been built in the UK and he believed there were around 100 too many.

"Sadly, yes, I can see some closing," he said.

"My real worry is none of us really know the answer because we are not sure where it [the declining trend in membership] is going to stop."

In Wales around 40 new nine and 18 hole courses have opened in the last 20 years - including the Twenty Ten Course where the Ryder Cup will be played.

Hannah Fitzpatrick, of Golf Development Wales, established as a direct result of the successful Ryder Cup 2010 bid, said it was working to address the membership challenge as the health of golf clubs was vital to the sport.

Membership packages

"Membership over the last few years is going down but participation in golf is going up," she explained. "Golfers are choosing to play differently."

Most clubs rely on membership for the bulk of their income although many increasingly look to visitors as well.

She said help was available for them to draw-up business and marketing plans and to offer free 'taster' or coaching sessions to attract new players - particularly women and juniors.

A Golf Awareness Week run in the spring resulted in 700 new members and 200 trial members for the 100 clubs in Wales that took part. It will be repeated next year.

She said clubs needed to offer more flexible membership packages for those who did not play regularly and work harder at retaining members by providing added value.

"We also need to learn from the nomadic golfer - talk to them about their needs and what would persuade them to join a golf club," she added.

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