Flexible golf membership schemes have become increasingly popular in recent years, with more and more golfers moving away from full-time subscriptions.
PlayMoreGolf, a flexible online membership category, is at the forefront of this trend and is available at more than 200 courses across the UK.
We speak to Jamie Carroll, director at PlayMoreGolf, to find out more about the scheme and how it benefits both golfers and clubs.
Can you start by telling us about PlayMoreGolf and where the idea for the scheme came from?
PlayMoreGolf started working with golf clubs in February 2016. Before this, the team were involved in the golf industry in different capacities, working for businesses such as De Vere Hotels.
In 2010, we built and ran a flexible membership category across 16 De Vere golf courses and sold more than 20,000 memberships within four years. We also grew our overall membership profit by 53% in a market that was going backwards.
We did this because we could see the traditional golf membership model was becoming less attractive for certain golfers. Namely, golfers aged between 30 and 50 who were time poor, working long hours and weren’t getting enough value out of their memberships.
In our eyes, it wasn’t fair that these people were paying the same for a membership as someone who’s retired and plays five times a week.
We built something that was attractive to the younger golfers and started speaking to more and more golf clubs. However, early on it became clear that loads of clubs have essentially the same challenge – they don’t have the structure, technology, manpower or budget to manage a flexible points-based membership or make it profitable for them.
That’s where we come in. There are millions of golfers who want a flexible membership scheme, so we help clubs target these golfers and once they’re signed up to the scheme, we manage the administrative process from there with our unique online platform.
How do you view the traditional golf membership model – do you think it’s becoming outdated?
There will always be people who want to play unlimited golf and have a more traditional mindset – that won’t change.
Full membership has been going backwards at most golf clubs for around 15 to 20 years, but the hardcore golfer that plays up to five times a week isn’t going anywhere. I would say the sort of people that favour this model are more likely to be the ‘older’ golfers who’ve been members at their club for a long time.
All we’re here to do is provide another membership category for golfers in addition to the traditional model, so that they feel like they’ve got a choice. Of course, we add value to golf clubs, but we will never replace the entirety of the membership categories they offer. It’s simply a case of us helping to supplement the revenue they already generate.
In fact, a lot of people join golf clubs through their PlayMoreGolf membership, and the club receives the vast majority of the money upfront like a normal membership. The common misconception is that we’re taking money and membership away from golf clubs, but this 100% isn’t the case. The golf clubs really embrace what we do and encompass us in their plans.
The receptiveness from golf clubs towards your scheme must be really pleasing for you. To what do you attribute the success so far?
We’re not going to dictate to anyone and are absolutely aligned with what the club is trying to achieve. That’s the main reason we’ve been successful.
The experience we’ve got within the team of supporting golf clubs stands us in good stead when we’re liaising with them. They don’t necessarily know what success looks like and we can help them with that because of the experience we’ve gained from selling thousands of memberships over the years. We’ve got the technology and manpower at our disposal to help guide a golf club in the right way and ensure that they can still be profitable while incorporating a flexible membership scheme.
Having said all of that, getting golf clubs on board isn’t as straightforward or instantaneous a process as some might think. It can sometimes take a while to get through to the right people and you have to go to a few board meetings and committee meetings before you can put their minds at ease.
Once we’ve assured the club chairman that we’re on their side – and that we don’t win commercially unless they do and vice versa – it becomes an easier process.
What are the main KPIs you use to measure success?
The first (and obvious) KPI for us is the amount of people that join the golf club. The second KPI is what we call yield per round.
The golfer joins the club and gets a certain amount of points and plays a certain amount of golf per year. If they don’t use any of their points at their home club, they get to renew and keep them the following year.
However, not all golfers use their points throughout the year. Therefore, a club’s PlayMoreGolf members are very often their most valuable in terms of yield per round. If you have a five-day member paying £800 a year who plays 100 rounds of golf, the value to the club is £8.
If they have a PlayMoreGolf member, they might sweep up c.£270 but that member may only play 10 rounds of golf. Therefore, in straight numbers, a PlayMoreGolf member is worth three times more to a club than a full member. Emphasising this is a key part of the education process when we’re talking to clubs.
Retention rates are another KPI. In 2019, 82% of our members renewed their flexible membership, which was a great result for us. Of the 18% that don’t renew, 8% upgrade to the club’s full membership, which of course is of full benefit to the clubs and helps us maintain strong long-term relationships with them.
What are some of the main things you’ve learnt since being involved in PlayMoreGolf and what are your objectives over the next say 5-10 years?
It’s certainly been a learning curve over the last few years. We started off with four people in the business and we’ve now got 20+.
When we started, we were generating a lot of enquiries but some of these weren’t going anywhere. That’s why we introduced a contactable call centre, so that the responses to these enquiries were more prompt. We’ve also now got a development team of three people, seven people on the road , a customer service team for clubs as well as members and an in-house marketing team. The product has really evolved as time’s gone on and it looks much different to when we first started.
As we’ve grown as a business, a lot of our customers have grown with us. For example, the Hillsborough Golf Club in Sheffield, who we’ve been working alongside for nearly three years. We’ve been crunching the numbers and they’re looking at generating £75,000 worth of profit next year. And that’s just based on renewing at their current rate and not increasing their joiner numbers vs. 2018.
Like a lot of businesses, we don’t always look back at what we’ve achieved. We’re always thinking in the here and now and how we can help clubs become more profitable.
In terms of future objectives, we work with a golf club in Abu Dhabi and the plan is to work with two or three more clubs out there over the next few months. We’re also going to focus more on Scotland and Ireland because we haven’t focused too much on these countries. We have just joined up our first club in Ireland and we’ve had several other enquiries from there. Beyond that, we could possibly venture into mainland Europe, but we need to take it one step at a time.
What’s the most rewarding aspect of your role within PlayMoreGolf?
I know it’s a bit of a cliché, but it’s helping golf clubs perform better from a profitability point of view. A little bit of success in this area can go a long way.
Last year, I got a phone call from the president of a golf club we work with – we’d had decent results with them, but not spectacular – and he said: “Thank you, you’ve helped our club get out of a hole financially.” You don’t expect to get calls like that, but it’s very rewarding when you do.
Helping clubs become financially autonomous is a huge part of what we do. This isn’t just good for the club, it’s good for a tangible growth of the game.
To find out the benefits of joining a golf club as a PlayMoreGolf members you can read their helpful blog here.